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Renault Le Car, Coupe
Aug 26, 2002 (12:39 am)
I just ran across the now-expired thread about the Renault R-5. Having inherited a '76 R5 and putting 188,000 miles on it over 22 years, as well as having experience with dozens of other cars, from Fords to Lamborghinis, makes me qualified to comment ! The main problem with the Renault was a lack of competent mechanics in this country and a "couldn't care less" dealer network which didn't want to be bothered learning the car or the replacement parts system. It's French, and it required a whole new way of thinking about its repair. The R5 did not have head gasket problems. Nor did they have rust problems, at least in coastal California. Parts were scarce and expensive ($ 300 for a water pump !) but it was a reasonably well designed car. It used a timing chain, rather than a rubber band as its competition did. It had a number of minor bugs in the electrical system which were easily overcome. It required super grade fuel and even pinged on that, unless the timing was retarded more than factory specs. Yes, they were ugly, but there are even more hideous 2003 model cars by GM and the Japanese on the streets. At least my R5 didn't have the unbearable "LeCar" logo on the doors ! The Achilles' heel of the R-5 was the camshaft, which drove the accessory belts. Replacing the transaxle required removing the pulley from the end of the cam, and using an impact wrench would crack or shatter the camshaft hub at the pulley end(ever seen an engine running with the belts all stopped ?). Many a hapless mechanic finished off an R5 this way. All in all, the problems the R5 had were no more significant than modern cars costing twice as much (example-take a look at Ford Taurus 3.8L complaints on the web, or the Cadillac variable cylinder 8/6/4 engines, or the Oldsmobile diesel cars of the 1980's). The R-5 could carry more stuff than a full sized American sedan, and long items could stick out the sunroof. Would I want another one ? No way, but it was really just a car which got a lot of bad press and incompetent mechanical service from ignorant people.
Geoff Fors, Monterey CA
#2 of 55 In Total Agreement
Aug 26, 2002 (7:11 am)
Except I think it was a very attractive design-had a lot of charm. I espically liked the long wheelbase to short overall lenght ratio. It gave it a really fantastically commodious cabin-the back seats were quite reasonable. I almost bought a new 1981 as my first new car. My local dealer was also the East coast importer,so they were quite common in my town.
But to get the huge canvas sunroof,you had to buy the deluxe model,which made it a little pricy,and at the time I was really against "loaded" cars back then. Bought a new Citation for about the same money and kept it for 12 years...
Aug 26, 2002 (8:41 am)
I hardly think all the problems you mentioned are just "bad press". The car had many inherent engineering issues, as you say, the head gasket. It was a real pain to work on, and, as you say, parts were expensive.
Certainly Renault, a company with many years experience, could have designed a better, stronger and more accessible automobile.
Let's face it, it was a nuisance to own, and while there are other cars that are a nuisance, at least with most of them you got great performance or fabulous good looks. With an R5 all you got was the nuisance and a few "Awwww...how cute".
On behalf of all the tortured R5 owners who suffered under this car, (not you, fortunately!) good riddance to it. The car even had a bad reputation in France. It's the R4 that everyone there respected.
#4 of 55 R-5 Engineering
Aug 26, 2002 (12:20 pm)
I am not sure where the headgasket issue is coming from. The R-5 did not have headgasket problems unless it was boiled over. What it did have was a wet sleeve cylinder design, i.e. pistons were in liners which sat in the block and were sealed at the bottom with a paper ring and by the headgasket on top (as in Caterpillar tractors.). The bottom paper rings could fail with age, and were torn if you removed the head vertically without rocking it sideways first to break the seal with the liners. Electrolysis also affected the liner seals. Hard to work on ? Yes, especially the starter, which required removal of the engine and transaxle. The R-5 was supposed to compete with the VW Rabbit, which is what most people bought instead. The Rabbit had some cheaper mechanical designs but certainly held up better. But as I said, there are plenty of other cars I have worked on which could give the Renault R-5 a run for its money in the bad-design department. Let's take the Lamborghini Countach carbureted version, for example. You cannot change the air filter elements without removing the entire, intact, intake manifold assemblies from the engine. But then the engine or the head-to-water jacket seals would usually fail long before the filters needed changing anyway... Or the Jaguary XJ-6 with its rocker arm mounts which fall out of the head with age, and Jag's ridiculous solution in the form of added metal fingers to keep everything pushed in place. Gads, what memories !
Aug 26, 2002 (2:38 pm)
Oh, you are so right about those other cars...they had some features that were diabolical. But at least you got something for your torment with a Lambo or an XJ6.
This is why people today are restoring XJs and Lambos and why R5s have long been turned into lawn furniture on Taiwan.
I'll probably get into big trouble for saying this, but I think Imperial is right about the head gasket issue. They gasked blew after the first overheat, and the reason so many were allowed to overheat was I believe (gulp) because the R5 was purchased and driven mostly by women who did not at the time have much car-consciousness as they do now, nor the instrumentation to help them. So the red zone in the temp gauge (or was it just one of those 50 lights across the dash that you were expected to memorize?) was merely the suggestion to "pull over sometime". Renault should have installed a factory whistle or air raid siren on the temp gauge to warn drivers, both men and women, that an overheat on an R5 was fatal----there was NO SLACK in these cars. A similar situation probably killed of the RX7 twin turbos ( I mean the "no slack" issue).
The inboard rear brakes on the XJ6 were real fun, too, and on some mid-engine Ferraris of the time you have to remove the engine to service it.
Aug 26, 2002 (4:18 pm)
I'm not debating these problems,just suggesting that compared to the leaf-sprung Chevette or Datsun B210 the R5 had a lot going for it.
as the Lambo or XJ6 cost so very much more,of course they offered the car entheuist a lot. But compared to the "Opel by Izuzu" or Pinto,the Renault,even if not as long lasting,was a good car,Mazda GLC(was that one really good?)notwithstanding.
#7 of 55 Taiwan Lawn Furniture
Aug 26, 2002 (7:44 pm)
The Renault R-5 just had a red light which was shared by several functions and was called the "broken belt light" (!). If the alternator belt fell off, it lit. If you overheated, it lit. So you really didn't know what was happening unless you stopped. Another light was "EGR", and it was hooked to a taxi-meter-like clock in the speedometer cable and went off precisely every 30K miles (wasn't hooked up to anything else !). One problem I encountered was a water pump pulley which was just pressed onto the shaft. It would fall off at speed and there you were, stranded. But after re-engineering something for twenty years, it becomes like your child and you find it hard to find fault with it. One time I ordered a new R-5 camshaft and it came from Saudi Arabia. It was almost a foot longer than the whole engine and the box had all sorts of Arabic graffiti all over it. It took 2 months to get the right one. There is a website called Katriina's Renault World (Sweden) and they are nuts about Renaults, and you can see all the latest models there. I was giving tech advice there for awhile but just got worn out. You can buy a really nice collector car in the USA for what they are buying derelict Renaults for in Europe. Oh, on the suspension - the R-5 used torsion bar suspension with rear trailing arms, a very advanced design, however I always got the sensation I was going to fall over when making a high speed turn.
Aug 26, 2002 (9:18 pm)
Yes, they could roll their bodies.
Torsion bar suspension was developed by Packard in 1955. It's an old design. Chrysler products used it long before REnault as well.
I can't imagine anyone restoring an R5 or paying more the $300 for one. I'm sure if there was a lucrative market for them in Europe someone in the US would be buying them up and shipping them over in container loads. I never have heard of such a thing from all my imported buddies, and I'm sure they'd be on it if it was a real market.
Geez, choosing between a Chevette, a Datsun B210 or an R5. It sounds like some kind of hell that car lovers are cast into.
Aug 26, 2002 (9:20 pm)
It sounds like the 1970s, and your description is apt.
#10 of 55 Torsion bar suspension
Aug 26, 2002 (11:00 pm)
My comment about torsion bar suspension being advanced didn't refer to the time of use but rather the quality of the design. The first patent on torsion bar suspension was taken out in Germany in 1936 and then copied by all and sundry. There aren't very many cheap cars which feature it, to my knowledge.