Jan 14, 2012

The 1976 Renault 5

The following two posts are from my other blog, The Magnum Chronicles, which I am deleting as I never update it anymore. Hopefully, you'll find these two posts amusing.

When I was a kid in summer camp my folks mailed me a care package, which consisted of a lot of candy and brownies (making me the most popular kid in the cabin) and also, because I was a car freak even then, a car brochure for a 1976 Renault 5 (which would later be repackaged as the "LeCar").

 I've always hung onto this brochure for some reason; it is an interesting example of a company trying to put the best face on a pretty crappy product.

In the late 70s the VW Beetle was seemingly everywhere, and this car was very popular in France. Seeking to capitalize on the success of small, fuel efficient imports, Renault brought this glorified go-kart to the U.S., forgetting about how spectacularly they had bombed with the Dauphine, pictured below, and would not do much better in the future, either with the Renault Fuego or their alliance with American Motors.

The Renault 5, launched in early 1972, was an extremely under powered, cheaply made car, and although later editions were improved with better construction and turbo engines, this is a car you don't see around very much simply because they had the lifespan of a croissant in a cafe. 

Since there wasn't much to work with, the Renault marketing department had to do the best with what they had. Care to see what I mean? Then let's take a look! (Click on the pictures for larger views)

This is the cover of the brochure. Here we see the main characters, who are enjoying a day with their Renault 5s, washing their cars in a brook in upstate New York. 

The woman in the foreground on the right looks remarkably well dressed to be washing a car; maybe she's just doing the drying so she won't have to get wet.

One couple leaves their brownstone in Manhattan for a day in the country. Note the matching bowling bags in the trunk and the picnic basket the woman is carrying.

Meanwhile, in the Upper East Side, their friends head out with no bags whatsoever; maybe they'll be mooching from the picnic basket. Some friends; they didn't even bring a bottle of wine!

Below are pictures of the Renault 5 in downtown Manhattan traffic. Note how vague the brochure is in describing its handling abilities. Vague declarations of quality is a trend you'll find throughout this brochure. If you can't describe specific engineering advancements, use non-specific praise instead!

"What a pleasure! No hassle moving in and out of heavy traffic...no effort on congested streets or in tight parking places. No worries...oversize polyurethane bumpers absorb shock up to 5 mph without damage. Rack and pinion steering and a turning radius of only 32 feet make this the perfect car for the city." 

Note also how there is something blocking part of the lens in the top middle picture, a clear indication this brochure was produced on the cheap.

"A ride in a Renault 5 is so smooth it's almost unbelievable.." Now that's a vague statement if I ever read one. So would the ride be smoother than, say, a Rolls Royce? How does one define smooth, anyway? Is it incredibly smooth when compared to the ride in a Sherman tank, or the Fred Flintstone-mobile? A covered wagon?

Here we are in Ancramdale, New York. The butcher also pumps the gas, apparently. I hope he washes his hands before cutting the slabs of beef for the rural folks. The ladies are examining a T-shirt that reads "I've Seen Ancramdale, NY". Attached to one of the pillars is a sign advertising a store called Blue Barn Antiques, which our travelers will be visiting shortly. 

Ancramdale is a small town located in Columbia County, in New York's Hudson Valley, about an hour's drive south from Albany. It looks like a quiet place; note the wandering dog looking very bored.

This picture above was taken in 1976; below is a picture I found of what the general store looks like recently, taken from VRBO, or Vacation Rentals By Owner (below left). Apparently it's available for rent to live in and is now called The Farmer's Wife

At the turn of the century, it sold provisions and had a post office in it, and was called Barton & Hoysradt's Store & Post Office. Here's a poor quality picture of it. Below is the passage that accompanies this page (below left).

"When you fill up the tank in the Renault 5 you know it's going to take you a long, long way. The EPA rating of 40 mpg on the open road and 28 mpg in the city (depending on the driver and road conditions) is sure-fire proof of the ideal combination ...a responsive engine in a small car. You have a choice of either regular or low-lead gas because the Renault 5 engine is so clean and effecient it doesn't need a catalytic converter ...a claim few can make!"

This photo is meant to show how nifty the convertible roof is. 

Opens with a touch of a button? Nay, foolish car buyer, you must slide the fabric roof back yourself, and when closed, you must hope that a hard rain won't give you a shower on your way home. Don't forget the cream rinse!

"The perky stying of the Renault 5 makes it adaptable for any occasion. It can, for instance, be a glamorous, sporty car with an open roof." the brochure reads. Sure, when I look at this car, glamour is the first word that comes to mind. 

"Or you can take it on a cross country trip. A perfectly-balanced suspension system and the unibody construction take it through rough terrain with ease. Factory applied rustproofing and undercoating protect it along the way."

Perfectly-balanced suspension...as opposed to an imperfectly balanced suspension? Or a slightly balanced suspension? 

And since every car manufactured in 1976 underwent rustproofing, boasting about it indicates how much the writers struggled to come up with something to brag about with this car. Note that the only armrest is on the driver's side door; a passenger armrest isn't even an option. 

I love the features mentioned on this page, features so common in most cars their brochures don't even bother to mention them, as it's just expected. Not so with the Renault 5!

"A full view of the road is guaranteed through a huge winsdshield kept clear by two- speed, wide-arc wipers and adjustable washers. And take a look at that interior...the cluster of instruments clearly marked is at your fingertips for safety and convenience...a day-night rear view mirror is standard. There's luxurious padding throughout, even on the steering wheel...the environment is controlled by fresh air grilles, a heater and defroster...and the spacious headroom and legroom are unique in a car this size." 

There's only one air grille on the dashboard, which I'm sure makes this car very uncomfortable in either hot or cold weather (no mention of air conditioning, you'll notice). Well I'm glad the rear view mirror is standard. It'll come in handy while I watch cars and semi-trucks come up from behind and blow my doors off in their wake. With a puny 1.3 liter engine, you sure won't be using it to watch cars recede behind you. Padded steering wheel...it doesn't look very padded to me; in fact it looks rather flimsy. And you mean to tell me I get a heater and defroster thrown in at no extra charge?! Where do I sign????

Our two couples are on the move again, along with the professional photographer who's traveling with them, shooting the pictures for this brochure. In fact, the woman standing up through the sunroof seems to be holding one of his (or her) cameras as a prop. 

Of all the pictures in this brochure, I like this one the most. I have no idea where exactly this ferry crossing is located, but it looks like a really beautiful place to take a drive on a Sunday afternoon.

"...you get quiet, smooth action from the fully synchronized manual transmission...four forward gears and reverse. With front wheel drive you negotiate curves in style...streightaway passing is easy with a top speed of 87 mph...and the sturdy, durable 1.3 liter engine with 5 main bearings means you can drive as hard as you like."

And best of all, the reverse and fourth gear is standard on all Renault 5s! A top speed of only 87 mph? This car has 58 horsepower. No, I didn't forget to put a 1 in front of that number. Fifty-eight horsepower. The engine is so small there's room for a full-sized spare in the engine compartment!

The only cars you'd be passing are Yugos and Buicks driven by little old ladies. A performance car this isn't. With a puny 1.3 liter engine you'd need a lot of time to get your French bread in this one. Capable of going from 0-60 mph in under an hour!

Finally, time to eat!

I knew it! The guy driving the green Renault has his hands on the picnic basket. What a moocher! 

As you can see, upstate New York and Vermont are spectacularly beautiful places in the summer and fall; too bad the winters are grindingly, treacherously long and make Siberia look like Miami Beach.

"You can really pack it in when you own a Renault 5...with this car, everything goes! Renault can do it all...it carries a wagon-sized load. It makes a long trip comfortable...It gives the best of mileage and saves you money on gas. And it's a smooth ride all the way home." 

They forgot to mention that if you put too much into this car, it will slow down if you put on the fan or wipers. Before taking on riders, make sure they understand they're the car's auxilliary propulsion system.

I couldn't find any pictures of Blue Barn Antiques; I doubt if it's still in business.

It Grows On You

It grows on you, claims the caption for this series of pictures. Grows on you like a fungus? An incurable skin disease? This phrase implies a purchase you initially regret but eventually come to accept. Now that's car marketing! It grows on you! Give it a chance! It's not that bad!

Note, incidentally, that our two couples are not driving in these pictures. Obviously stunt drivers were required to keep the cars from tumbling over in a stiff breeze at high speed.


"Okay, roadside assistance... roadside assistance... what page is that on...c'mon, I know there's a section on it here somewhere..."

This is a very peculiar passage to put into a car brochure: "A smart thing to do...the Renault 5 manual covers in detail all you need to know about your car's operation and maintenance...a must for every owner." 

Is this car so lacking in features that they have to devote space to the owner's manual? How sad is that? Check out the features they focus on below. This is not a car you buy if you want frills, that's for sure.

"Instruments at your fingertips for safety and convenience" reads the caption on the left. 

Every car made has the instruments at your fingertips for safety and convenience. Is this supposed to be a breakthrough in automotive engineering? 

Pardon me while I gasp with astonishment; I'm so used to having to reach under my seat to activate a car's instruments.

This caption reads, "Sun visor vanity mirror is standard equipment on all Renault 5s". A tiny $.50 mirror glued to the sun visor is a feature they trumpet. 

"Front parcel shelf is roomy, convenient and functional"

In the Renault 5, you don't even get a glove compartment. You get a parcel shelf. A flimsy parcel shelf. A thin piece of molded plastic. And in the base model, reclining seats are optional. You sure don't get a lot thrown in with this car. 

Note the full-sized spare tire in the engine compartment. 

Don't drive this car in high winds, and if it rolls over...well, your next of kin will appreciate the money you saved. 

Well, our four main characters are heading back to Manhattan after a day in the country, and this concludes our examination of the 1976 Renault 5, a flimsy, cheaply built car that looks like a VW with hemmhoroids and performs almost as well. 

I can't recall seeing one of these on the roads these days, and it doesn't appear as if they have much of a following. Rightly consigned to the automotive dustbin of history.

From Renault's website, the Renault 5 is described as follows: "More sexier and powerful than its competitors, it asserted itself as 'the' small car of the 1970s and 80s. Its high tech and high style were confirmed by high sales of over five million units." The Renault CEO in 1968, Pierre, Dryfus, planned a car that was "more stylish and faster on the open road", and further claims that "it's technological advances related mainly to engine power", which ultimately led to the Renault 5.

Faster on the open road? The Renault 4 and the 2CV must have had the powerplant of a Lawn Boy if this car was more powerful. Putting typical corporate spin on the cheap construction, the website states, "Plastic was proud to be plastic and no longer sought to imitate leather". In 1977, at the height of the global oil crisis, the Renault 5 was the number one selling car in the French market.

Renaults are known for their race cars, both Formula One and in cross country, rally car races as well. Despite all this, they've never caught on in the U.S.

In these ads, Renault tried to build up excitement about the car by implying it was zippy and sports-bred.

I love this ad with the surfer dude whose board is sticking out of the sunroof. As if a true board head would be caught dead arriving at the beach in one of these, his board protruding from the roof like some kind of malignant horn.

1 comment:

Gene Thorn said...

Blue Barn antiques was right along side but set back behind the Ancramdale Store. My Granparents owned the Ancramdale store in the late 70s. If you look closely at your picture of the Ancramdale store you can see the Antique Building to the right of it...