I’d clean forgotten about the Renault 12 until approximately 8.57pm on Saturday 10th April 2010. A Twitter-based discussion over the Triumph Dolomite veered off in the direction of old Renaults. Then, a small debate over the existence of the Renault 13 led me into the virtual path of the Renault 12, a car that has long since left the filing cabinet in my head. But now it is back.
It is fair to say, that I was never a big fan of the Renault 12 when I was growing up. It looked like a miserable car and everyone I ever saw driving one, looked equally as miserable. So I came to the conclusion that either the Renault 12 was so bad, it made you feel miserable or it was only appealing to miserable people. Either way, I saw it as a miserable car and I’m actually feeling rather depressed writing this paragraph, so I’ll move on.
Over the course of 11 miserable years between 1969 and 1980, some 2.5 miserable, I mean million, Renault 12s were built. That’s like the entire population of Toronto, all driving Renault 12s. What’s amazing is that on the official Toronto website, they compare their city’s population to the number of Renault 12s sold globally. Allegedly.
But what of the Renault. It was always envisaged that the 12 would be what is often referred to as a ‘world car’. The new Fiesta is a prime example in 2010, but as the swinging 60s made way for the 70s, this was a true ‘world car’. Away from the French homeland, the 12 was manufactured in far-off climbs, such as Brazil, Australia and Argentina. It was also built and badged as a Dacia in Romania, with the Denem being sold as recently as 2004. Indeed, it was a Dacia Denem that allegedly found itself lodged in the front of James May’s Lamborghini on the Top Gear trip to Romania. That James – he’s always had a thing for Dacias.
But back to the 12. It is hard to believe now, but the family Renault was generally lusted over by businessmen in the 1970s. As Britain fell in love with the motorway, so the sales-rep fell head over heels for the 12, attracted by the comfy seats, soft suspension, reliability and high spec. A little French flair in comparison to the Escort or Cortina. Yep, the Renault 12 was everywhere in the 1970s, although by the 1980s it was beginning to find itself lodged firmly within the ‘Bangers Under £500’ section of the local rags. The rot had set in. Quite literally.
Today, Renault is synonymous with making cars for the petrolhead, with the Renaultsport Clio, Megane and Twingo lighting up trackdays and B-roads. But all of these need to bow down and worship at the feet of one of the coolest fast Renaults of all time. The Renault 12 Gordini.
Now this is more like it! Introduced in 1970, the 125 bhp Gordini had twin Webers, disc brakes all round, uprated suspension and a choice of pastel colours. Each had double white stripes, but it is the French Racing Blue version which does it for me. I’m suddenly not feeling so miserable anymore. But there’s nothing like a piece of bad news to bring you crashing back down to earth with a bump. The Gordini was never sold in the UK and there are no right hand drive versions ever built. What were they thinking? It would have undoubtedly given the Capri and RS Escorts a run for their money and would have certainly cheered up my walk to school. Sorry Renault, I can’t forgive you for not importing this. Miserable company. I mean come on, look at it…
The Gordini wasn’t the only ‘hot’ version of the 12. In South America, the locals were treated to the Alpine, a rally-inspired edition that included a fibreglass bonnet, race-spec suspension and a 1.4 litre engine generating some 108 bhp. Despite being very well received by the motoring press, only 493 were sold. Cost was one issue, with the basic price some 40% more than the TL version. I’m not so sure that cost was the only issue. For me, it lacks the style and flair of the Gordini, looking, as it does, like Mad Max had spent too much time in Halfords. However, an urban myth does suggest that if you squint hard enough at the picture, it does magically transform into a Lotus Esprit JPS edition. Go on, squint. Really hard. Move away from the screen if it helps. Bit further. Little more. Keep going. Getting it yet? Maybe try again later.
Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any Renault 12s for sale in Britain today. Rust has once again proved too much for the car. For a car that safely took our fathers between meetings and between trouser presses, this is a shame. It may have made me miserable as a boy. But I would let out a small cheer if I saw one tomorrow. I’d probably run over and hug the driver if it was a Gordini. Misery loves company after all.
One final thing. There is no Renault 13. Miserable lot.
Grateful thanks to Martin Bergner (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Martin.bergner) and Wurger90(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Wurger_190)for images