Friday, August 13, 2010

The Red Renault

by Bob Beardsley

Simulated Photo of the Actual Renault!
I once bought a 1965 Renault R8 for $300.  The paint on the 1965 Renault was a dull, burnt red-pink.  Really burnt because the original red had oxidized into its present unappealing condition. The paint even felt rutted to the touch. Not that a Renault with a good paint job would ever be characterized as good looking.  I inspected the engine -- which was located in the rear of the car -- looking for serviceable life. As soon as I popped the hood latch I sniffed gas. The engine’s fittings and fissures were spotted with rust and oil.   The car did not look roadworthy.

Once in the car, the smell of old, weathered seats – I think they were made of a type of a leather  -- filled my nostrils.  A relaxing odor reminiscent of very old leather chairs you might imagine in a British men’s club  It gave me the sense this vehicle had provided years of comforting and faithful service. I was surprised that the driver’s seat felt very accommodating; warm, soft and welcoming. The entire interior, including the seats, carpeting, paneling and dash, displayed an non-offensive tan color.

The small dashboard peered out from behind the steering wheel. The odometer permanently registered 87,000 miles and never advanced, while the speedometer only registered speed in kilometers. The gas gauge appeared to be functional.  There were no more instruments. This minimalist approach did not trouble me, and I found it rather reassuring that I didn't have to bother with much data. Driving the Renault would be like discarding your watch, freeing oneself from the conventions of society.

The black wooden gear knob rose from the center floorboard on a gangly metal stalk. This is where I discovered that the heart and soul of this Renault. The rounder, wooden knob was worn and soothingly smooth to my touch. Any instructive gear patterns stamped on the top of the knob were long ago rubbed out, but no matter.  The shifter and transmission worked flawlessly together. Driving this apparent wreck of an auto was a pleasure. The car gave me years of good service.
In all the years since and considering all the cars I have owned, I never felt more safe or more at peace than in this unlikely auto that I paid $300 for in 1971.

P.S. The car served me well for three years and I only parted with it after a major accident.  A young lady ran a light and smashed into the front of the Renault, squishing and collapsing the trunk like an accordion closing. This absorbed most to the energy and spun the car around for 150 feet. I was uninjured because this odd duck of an auto had the engine in the back.  Had it been in the front, the impact and result would have been much worse.


  1. I remember that car, you took your life in your hands driving it to Newark, If I remember correctly you were broadsided and the whole front end was ripped off - that made you feel safe and at peace?

  2. The car was totaled when woman ran a stop light and the hit the front of the car, spinning it around several times without flipping or me injured. Had the engine been in the front of the Renault, the collision would have been much worse. Instead, the front crumpled absorbing some of the impact and I walked away uninjured. The car kept me safe right up til it died.