By on January 8, 2010

french style, seventies version

I knew the F-10 coupe was reminding me of something else in my CC repository. And then it hit me: the Renault R 17! Unfortunately, this one’s front end wasn’t available, but here’s a nice one:


The R 15 and R17 coupes were based on the R12 sedan, and it’s hard to say exactly why Renault chose to offer two coupe variants, with different roofs. But Renault sometimes worked in mysterious ways. Here’s an R 15:


And here’s the whole family, with an enthusiastic Renault owner:


Finally, my shot of the Eugene car’s interesting dash:

CC 49 072 800

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17 Comments on “Curbside Classic Outtake: Datsun F10 Doppleganger Discovered? Renault R 17...”

  • avatar

    F10 and R17?
    Not even close…..

  • avatar

    The difference is that the Renault looks good. The R15 looks even better, and I’d have no trouble getting enthusiastic about that enthusiastic Renault owner! (Unless that photo’s as old as the cars are)

  • avatar

    There is one of these parked often at the Sound Transit train station in Tukwila, WA. It was cool to stumble upon it when I was picking my son up from the train. It has been there most of the times I’ve stopped by. Made for a great “Car Photo of the Day” guessing game on my website (one wonders where Paul found his CC inspiration?) ;)

  • avatar

    Well as you yourself Mr Niedermeyer said, Japanese design at the time was largely derivative so…

    And yes, the Renaults do look much nicer.

  • avatar

    These Renaults are beautiful! Esp the yellow one. I love the French.  Cugnot is proud.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    The Renaults were beautiful indeed and as you wrote Paul, the problem with the Datsun was that the detailing was cr*p.
    The Renaults have a contemporary relative that is also beautiful, the Laguna Coupe:

  • avatar

    Beauty is obviously subjective. On this one my vote is Ugly, even Oooogly.

  • avatar

    Them thar hot pants are soooo 1970s.
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  • avatar

    There’s absolutely nothing ugly about an R15 or R17.  Drive one, and they get even more pleasant.  Oh yeah, the difference between the two?  The R15 had the pedestrian R12 engine, performance to match, and was available with an automatic.  Call it the French equivalent of a 6 cylinder, Cruise-O-Matic Mustang.
    The R17 had more power, more performance, better handling, and was manual transmission only.
    Actually the only thing ugly about those Renaults were what passed for a dealer system in the mid-1970’s.  It still remember the Erie dealer: Fifteen miles west of town on US20, a weed encrusted foreign car repair shop strewn with rolling basket case Lancia’s. etc. and a showroom big enough to hold one R12.

  • avatar

    It was like seeing a ghost (or a past girlfriend…) appear, an apparition from a dream (or a nightmare…). I actually owned a R-17 in the early 1980’s, a 1974 model, in fetching (or was that wretching?) bullfrog green (which even my girlfriend at the time called “puke green”), while I was a grad student. It was a major love/hate relationship.

    The love part: the car had major character, and I love cars with character. You know what I mean. It doesn’t mean being the fastest or best handling or most luxurious, but personality, fun to drive. Which it had in spades. It was quirky in that uniquely French way, had the magical ride that was both firm and fun in the twisties but still pillow-soft on rough roads (that only the French seem to have figured out how to do), and it felt exotic (at least on a grad student’s meager budget; back then I used to go to the plasmapheresis center in town twice a week to sell my blood plasma – for $8 a pop – lying on cots next to other hungry grad students, and the guys who were just let out of Bloomington County jail, who told stories of the liquor stores they’d held up). In Indiana, people didn’t know what a R-17 was. I don’t think these things were ever that common anywhere, but in Bloomington Indiana (I.U. – go Big Red!), it was like a UFO. And I put some miles on it, driving it back and forth home to New York a few times (850 miles each way), and hauling 200 miles up to Chicago on weekends. Did I say it was fun to drive? I felt so sophisticated crusing around in my Renault (“ren-oh”).

    The hate part is probably obvious: uniquely French reliability. It was a miracle if I could go two days without something breaking. Weird stuff. Electrical problems that made Lucas systems seem like the ultimate in reliability and simplicity. A clutch that changed its take-up point with each push of the pedal, sometimes engaging at the top, sometimes right on the floor, sometimes not at all. You never knew. A heating system that didn’t. Qualified Renault mechanics were so common in Bloomington Indiana, so I took it to a VW place (the most exotic “foreign car” place in town) and begged for mercy.

    The best demonstration of reliability was on one of my all-night drives back to New York, coming home for winter break, somewhere in western New York around Binghamton, driving in a snow fall (not quite a “storm”, but enough). I floored it to get past a slow truck – and the pedal stayed on the floor. After about 30 seconds of standing on the brakes, they were completely cooked; depressing the clutch resulted in the engine revving to about, oh, 187,000 rpm (or maybe it just sounded like that). I then had to alternately coast with the engine turned off and then re-start it for a few seconds of full-throttle burst to get the speed back up, doing this every 30 seconds for about 20 miles, to get to the next exit ramp, and then to a gas station in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. The problem was easily temporarily fixed, a throttle cable sheath that broke and bound up the cable (heavy wrapping with electrical tape lasted for the rest of the year I owned the car). But, the experience was emblematic of 1970’s French mechanical systems and their “relability” (the other 3 students who were car pooling back to New York with me were very amused; all of them ended up taking a bus back to school rather than risk their lives for another 850 miles with me in that Renault).

    After a year of maddening problems, I sold the car to someone who worked in my lab. A really sweet, innocent, midwestern girl. I felt guilty. She graduated soon after that. The next time I saw her, a year later, she told me she drove to Alaska and back, well over 10,000 miles, and not a single thing ever went wrong. She thanked me for selling her such a good car, and said she absolutely loved it and would never sell it. I wonder if she’s still out there, somewhere in Indiana, driving bullfrog green. I hope so…

    Despite all that, I miss cars like the R-17. I’ve owned 100 cars in my life so far (literally and exactly), and there just aren’t that many cars with character anymore, and not for a while. Sure, “modern” cars are much faster, much more reliable, much more comfortable, better gas mileage, etc. etc. etc. But most of them (at least the reasonably priced ones) just don’t have much soul. They’re sterile and sanitized applicances. In the 70’s and 80’s the streets were full of cheap and cheerful Renaults, Peugots, Datsuns, Toyotas, early wankel Mazda’s, bizzaro early Subarus, Opels, quirky Saabs, “exotic” Karman Ghias, even AMC Pacers. I had them all. They were nowhere near as reliable, or fast, or comfortable, or economical, as today’s econoboxes. But, they were somehow just more fun to drive, more engaging. I miss them (now I drive a Honda S2000 and a Mazda RX-8, which to me are the best examples today of reasonably priced fun cars with character).

    God I love “Curbside Classics”! Every one is like a trip down memory lane, because so many of these beasts are the cars I drove and knew and loved back in the day. Keep ’em coming!

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      carnick, thanks for sharing your great story. That’s why I keep them coming!

    • 0 avatar

      Amen to you comments regarding ‘interesting’ cars.  And I agree completely.  There’s something about a Renault, a Datsun F-10, a Saab Sonnet III that turns me on in a way that no 21st century machine ever will.
      Reliability is overrated.  I’ll happily put up with the strangeness of various cars just to drive something that is obviously NOT vanilla, or been through so many consumer seminars that it has no worries about offending anyone.

  • avatar

    if memory serves, the yellow r17 as seen in the ’70’s picture above was sold in the states as the gordini. very cool with the canvas sunroof…

  • avatar

    Wonderful story, Carnick! My parents sold the family Peugeot 404 wagon in 1970, which we had gotten upon arrival in Paris for the year, Aug 1965. I still miss that car, and I wish I’d taken it over. I don’t remember anything like the reliability problems you describe for the Renault, but my father had to take it two towns away for service, which he did not enjoy. Did I say I miss that car? I took my first legal drive in that thing–35 miles of bliss. But I suspect I also miss the year in Paris–I was 12–and the aplomb with which that thing took Paris’s cobblestones. The 404 was also probably the most beautiful car ever made. Or at least among the top 5.
    But sheesh, Carnick: you’ve had an awful lot of cars. I’m probably about your age, and I had two as a teenager, and I’m on my third in adulthood (an Accord with a stick). And my intellect and my gut are fighting about whether I will get a 404: if so, that will be lifetime #6. In fact, I just drove a 404–about 3 blocks before it stalled out, due to bad gas from having sat for so long, according to the owner. That experience, which my intellect had hoped would cool my gut’s lust, seems actually have inflamed it.
    Vive la France!

  • avatar

    The Renault does it right. The Datsun does it ugly.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    They’re both interesting cars visually. While I knew people who owned Renaults in the 70s and always wound up hating them, the 17 I rarely saw when new but liked the style.I had a lot of experience driving a friend’s F10 , bought new. At the time I was appalled that he bought it as it was universally panned in the car magazines as being cramped and ugly , unlike the 17 which while unique I wouldn’t call it ugly. And it looks a lot more spacious. I recall that in the F10 I had like 2 inches of headroom and I’m only 5’5″.But I agree, both have a ton of quirky personality, sorely missing on almost all cars today.

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