By on December 17, 2010

While the US government was saving Chrysler with the Chrysler Corporation Loan Guarantee Act of 1979, American Motors had to go to the French government for its bailout.

The debut of the AMC-Renault Alliance (essentially a Kenosha-ized Renault 9) in 1983 so impressed the writers at Motor Trend that they gave it the Car Of The Year award that year. 17 minutes later, everyone realized that the Alliance combined the very worst aspects of French build quality and Wisconsin marketing savvy, with predictable sales results. Still, enough Alliances limped out of the showrooms that we can still see them in junkyards every so often. Here’s one I spotted in a Denver self-service yard a few weeks back; looks like it was still in pretty good shape when its last owner finally gave up.

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41 Comments on “Renault Alliance: Still On the Scrapheap of History...”

  • avatar

    I had a white two door 1984 Renault Alliance. For one year on a lease as my company car in Colorado.
    After spending a year watching my Citation towed across the Rockies on a weekly basis – (numerous problems, too many to list here), and having my lease end on a Ford Escort, (which was my first decent company car since the Fairmont Futura), spending time in a Pontiac J2000 and a Cavalier to discover that they were also POSs, my bosses asked me to choose my ride for a change. I went with the COY, the AMC/Renault Alliance.
    I loved it. It was economical. It was fun to drive with the five speed manual. I had a giant sun roof installed which popped up and allowed open air driving. It was a good car for me.
    What made it unique were a couple of things I really liked about the car. One – since I was on the road 24/7, it was important to know what the various fluid levels were. I ordered the “Silent Sentry” option which was a little box of lights mounted on the left side of the IP which checked all my fluid levels when I shut off the engine. If everything is OK, I would get a series of green lights, and when a fluid was low, I would get a red light next to the fluid needing to be refilled. It worked like a charm.
    The Alliance road extremely well and was excellent on curving mountain roads. It was my first experience with French engineering and I liked it. It was the best riding car I had at that time and since I spent so many hours in it, I really appreciated the ride quality.
    The interior design was excellent. The seat sat on pedestals, instead of tracks. So, not only did the driver’s seat recline, it also canted which being 6’3”, allowed me thigh support and comfort. The seats were excellent. This pedestal design also allowed for placement of extra stuff under the seat against the door frame. There was a lot of glass around me and the cabin was shaped with plenty of room, even for the rear seat. I popped off the huge sun roof, rolled down the windows and had a fun mountain car to spin around the Continental Divide in. I got sun burned a couple of times and had to remember the car was like spending the day in a convertible.
    The car looked great, in an European way, since it was French.  Although it was a smaller sedan, it still had dual headlights and a larger car styling. It had modern monochromatic plastic bumpers which sealed against the fenders and grille. Priced in the same league as an Escort, the Alliance looked a lot more expensive than an Escort, a Chevette, a J2000, a Cavalier or a K Car. The Frenchness of its design was really pretty slick and novel for its time.
    When the Alliance was presented, it was better in many ways as its competition at the time. I did a lot of research and have spent hundreds of thousands of miles in its competitors at that time and was always impressed with it.

  • avatar

    The Alliance was a POS but in Quebec where I grew up they sold an awful lot of Renault 5’s. They rusted out but were bone simple to maintain and lasted forever. They were a hoot to drive and if you got stuck in the snow two guys could lift one end and move it back onto the road. Fond memories eh!

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    2 memories stick out on these….I remember reading an article which stated that the convertible version of the Alliance would do .91g on the skidpad….which at the time was the rarified air only the ‘Vette and Porsche and Ferrari lived in.  Of course it wasn’t true in the real world….also, I remember the Michael Keaton movie Gung Ho was filmed in the Kenosha plant where the A(pp)lliance was built….okay, assembled…er…put together.  What an ironic hoot it was to see a movie about Japanese car makers where the car involved was a poor-excuse POS French nightmare of a car…. 

  • avatar

    Neither the Alliance or the Encore ever graced my driveway, but a neighbor had a Le Car, which proved troublesome.  So by virtue of guilt by association I stayed away.
    I do know that all was not lost by the demise of AMC, because the big Premier provided the know-how for the LH platform at Chrysler – which meant good-bye to those stretched K-platforms that Chrysler was selling.  Horay!
    By the way, you shop at an interesting bone-yard.  Lots of Japanese hardware in the background.

  • avatar

    One of the engineering features that I noticed on the Alliance was that the water pump was mounted very high. Thus, the loss of about 2 quarts from the cooling system, which would be a minotr problem in any other car, would render the water pump completely innefective, and a severely overheated and probably trashed engine would result.

    I went to a presetnation of teh Alliance when it was introduced, with top engineers and managers and stykling people at AMC. Most of the presentation revolved around how they settled on teh number of lug nuts. Renault wanted to use 3, like they did in France. Theoretically 3 is enough. AMC wanted 5, like all their other cars. It took, apparently, many trans-atlantic conferences and negotiation at the highest levels in the 2 companie, to settle on 4 lug nuts.

    When I realized that the Chrysler LH cars were made from a Renault platform, I decided not to invest in Chrysler stock, which was then a little over a dollar. I figured that no Renault, however well designed, was going to sell in America. I was wrong, and the stock went into th teens without me.


    • 0 avatar

      ‘Lugnut engineering’ is one of those things that only die-hard automotive fans might find interesting. Besides how engineers come to the conclusion of the ‘just right’ number of lugnuts to use, it’s one of those old-school topics that occasionally comes up when discussing how Chrysler used left-hand thread lugnuts on the driver’s side wheel studs from 1940 – 1970.

    • 0 avatar

      The LH was not based off a Renault platform anymore than the 300 is a Mercedes E Class. A Renault Premier was used as a test mule for the new LH front suspension. A picture of this mule was published in the buff mags of the day and is doubtless the source of that rumor. Undoubtedly AMC engineers now working for Chrysler used what they learned from both Renault and working at a small company like AMC/Jeep (namely, how to do more with less).
      In 1990-91 Chrysler stock dropped to a low of $9 and some change per share. By then rumors of the new Grand Cherokee, Viper, and LH cars were known. I told my eye doctor that if he had couple of grand available he should buy into Chrysler when in dropped into the 15’s (it was higher at the time of my exam) and sell when it went up to 45. After the low of 9 it topped out at over 65. I don’t know if my doctor followed my advice but he would have tripled his money.

    • 0 avatar

      This sure brings back memories. I worked for many years at an AMC-Jeep dealership that morphed into Chrysler. The Alliance was an awful car, truly one of the worst P(s).O.S. ever built. I remember the Medallion, we were saddled with them by default. The PRV V-6 lost oil pressure at like 80,000 km and it was fatal, there was no fixing them. The car was never designed for a V-6 anyway and all the steering gear was like 3/4 the way up the strut, which resulted in all of it being cooked by the exhaust manifolds. This wasn’t a big problem on the Medallion but when it grew into the LH, the stuff was burn to a crisp in like a year.
      The LH was truly one of the worst cars ever made, the air intake was mounted low and FACING the road, and hitting a big puddle of water could result in catastrophic engine failure. We actually sold loads to them because they drove quite well when new; it was just that six months later they started to self-destruct.
      It is now all the vogue to beat on Honda and Toyota but the “Big 3” stuff built in the 90s was absolute trashola compared to anything the Japanese makers are producing today. Heck, only Ford produces in quantities that even comes close to what they were making even fifteen years ago.
      Thankfully, Frogmobiles are banished from these parts. Just like their army, any car with any French DNA surrenders very early on.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a Renault 21 with this engine once, and it was an interesting beast. 1.7 liter, 90 HP if memory serves well, but very quick. Max speed was about 120 Mph, overtaking a pleasure.
      But you are right, cooling system was poorly designed, always loosing coolant, breaking hoses etc. And the rest of the car was no better either. So i sold it and bought a Volvo 440 with the same type of engine, and it was bullitproof. I guess it all comes to quality control.

  • avatar

    Although the Alliance might have been a POS, it certainly wasn’t a bad looking car (particularly the convertible). I vividly remember Academy-award winning (but down-on-his-luck) actor George C. Scott hawking the 1986 Alliance in television commercials. A year later, AMC would cease to exist as Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca would buy the company (mainly for the Jeep brand) from Renault.

    Ironically, the AMC-Renault merger may turn out to be similiar to Chrysler-Fiat. Will history repeat itself 30 years later with the Fiat 500 being today’s Alliance? Only time will tell.

  • avatar

    Uhm, no thank you. One of the unfortunate consequences of being old is that you remember (some) things…
    I remember the Renault Alliance Heater Core disaster. Legend has it that Renault had people who they paid to try and track every one of these cars down – even in the junkyards, where they would leave a new heater core in the box on the passenger’s side floor. Why, you ask? See the recall information below. 

    However, while I’m sure that this Alliance had the fix done, I don’t think that even those replacement heater cores were built to last 25 additional years.
    Used 1986 Renault Alliance Recalls
    Recall Date: 1992-04-10
    Cars Affected: 540,000
    Recall Date: 1988-05-31

  • avatar

    The Alliance and Encore were the Hyundai Excels of their day. They sold half a million of them by 1986 yet they were scarce on the ground only a few years later. The ’83 and ’84s were hitting junkyards before production ended in 1987. Just absolute garbage. I read an Austrian car magazines wrap up of their one year test of a Renault 9, which was the European market version(and COTY 1982). After a year they took the car apart, which was their standard procedure for long term test wrap ups. What they found was that many, many mechanical components of the Renault 9 were shot after a year. It was the worst car they ever tested, and many European countries were building marginal cars at the time.

    I recall that these cars were recalled for heater core issues in 1992. Most of them were already in the junkyard, but Chrysler had to find every one of them that might possibly be returned to the street or used for parts and deposit a new heater core in it. I wonder how this one took so long to make it to the shredder. I haven’t seen one in decades, even though there were probably 10 of them in my neighborhood in 1985.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Very utilitarian looking, in some ways like the Versa is today.  C&D even managed to find a turbo one to thrash at some point for I believe when they decided to go ice racing.  It promptly shattered it’s turbo and spit it down the exhaust pipe.

    • 0 avatar

      I think that was a Fuego.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Aren’t they pretty closely related?  (Forgive me, the only Chryslers or AMCs I care about are RWD.)

    • 0 avatar

      The Fuego was the coupe version of the Renault 18, which was a bigger and older design with a longitudinal engine. The Alliance was a Renault 9 with a more modern, transverse engine layout. I suspect the Fuego turbo had an engine based on the one in the Alliance, but I don’t know for a fact. The hatchback version of the Alliance was the Encore, which was the Renault 11 in Europe.

  • avatar

    We had a rental Alliance in Chicago when visiting in 1985. I was impressed with the car at the time. However, a few days later by the time we turned it in, my former positive impression turned somewhat south. We owned a K-car and the Alliance felt no where near as durable (this WAS 1985, you know, and we owned a K-car, remember?).

    I thought it was a noble effort on the part of AMC, but it was their last gasp, for in a couple years, they, too, were history. Yes, I’m getting old, too!

  • avatar

    Believe it or not, the Alliance actually sold rather well during its first two years on the market. If I recall correctly, it was only outsold by the Ford Escort among subcompacts for 1983. Remember, when this car debuted, GM was still hawking the ancient Chevette, and the VW Rabbit was suffering from its “Americanization” makeover, along with less-than-stellar quality, too. The Omni and Horizon from Chrysler had been out for five years, without any real changes.

    But then word got around pretty quickly about the disastrous reliability, and sales tanked for 1985. The debut of the great 1984 Civic line, along with a much-improved Escort midway through the 1985 model year, didn’t help.

  • avatar

    My best Alliance story: back in the mid-80’s, a high school friend and I were stopped at a light in his Alliance and were subjected to the wrath of a Cadillac Fleetwood driven by an inattentive woman.  The insurance company totaled the now-noticeably shortened Alliance.  My buddy’s dad bought it back, along with an Alliance that had severe front end damage.  Weeks later, a Frankenstein Alliance emerged from the garage.

  • avatar

    I once owned an ’85 Encore GS(the hatchback version oi the Alliance); I think AMC did much better on their half of the bargain than Renault.  It’s build quality was good, it handled very well,  but mechanically it was another issue; Renault’s quality control was about on par with GM’s.  I had lots of mechanical issues with it, and it certainly didn’t help that the local FrancoAmerican dealership couldn’t seem to fix anything properly.  I finally gave up on them and started going to an independent auto repair shop for a couple of years until the pressure plate on the clutch started going south and at that time I parted company with it.  My experiences with it confirmed my decision never to own another French car.

    • 0 avatar

      My uncle had some kind of Alliance, and I remember him needing to replace the CV joint boots: apparently there is a large cone-like tool with which one is supposed to –stretch– the small opening of the new rubber boot so one can slide it over the bare CV joint knuckle. I never got to see this tool, and I don’t know how or if it got changed.

  • avatar

    My best friend’s dad is a used car manager at a Ford dealership in Florida, so they always had different cars in their driveway. One day around 1994 he brought home for his daughter a 1984 Alliance sedan. It was actually in rather good condition. As I stood there and scratched my head in amazement that he would actually bring that thing home, he explained to me that it was a good deal for him. He said that (at the time of course) “Whenever I have an Alliance come in, regardless of condition, it’s $200 if it’s a stick, and $400 if it’s an auto”. So he basically bought his teenaged daughter a car for $500 that she drove for a couple of years till he finally swapped it out for an ’89 Tempo.
    Here in my town in northeast lower Michigan, there is a lady that somehow got her hands on an I’m guessing 1987 Alliance coupe. Other than the loud exhaust it looks to be in above average shape. In fact, it has survived much better than the late nineties Town and Country she had to finally have hauled off due to it literally rusting away in her driveway after only a year, so go figure…

  • avatar

    Interesting that Robert Opron styled the Renault 9/11, which was the basis for the Alliance. Considering all the Citroens that he styled (along with the Renault Fuego and 25), he either must have been sleeping or Renault clamped down on him hard. The 9/Alliance is one of the most “un-styled” recent cars I can think of. Ask a five-year-old to draw a boxy car and there you have it. It would have made a dandy Moskvich or Wartburg. The 11/Encore was better, but not by much.

  • avatar

    I drove a rental Alliance when they were first introduced.  It had a very smooth ride and plenty of interior space for a compact car of the time.  With the automatic/1.4L combination, it was woefully underpowered.  Reliability problems quickly killed its reputation.  By ’87, the final year of production, the local AMC dealer sold off its remaining new inventory for $3-4K a piece.  This was even less than a new Hyundai Excel.

  • avatar

    This was the car that made many of TTAC greatest sin cars such as the Pontiac 2000 turbo look positively good in comparison. I remember seeing these turds for as little as 4 grand brand new when they finally pulled the plug which was as cheap as you could get back then. I never owned a GM or Ford of this time period that was a bigger POS than this car which liked to break down at the worst possible times. At least the GM and Fords didn’t leave us stranded, eat heater cores and head gaskets and the exterior trim didn’t get all warped and fall off!

  • avatar

    The first car I ever owned was a spanking new 1984 Encore. The ride was sublime, the handling was quite good, and the cargo area could swallow just about anything. Unfortunately, as someone else has noted, the combination of the 1.4 with an automatic made for a car that was so underpowered that it was very scary to drive, even on residential streets, and the CV joints/boots self-destructed very quickly. The trade-in on the car 5-1/2 years later was a whopping $50.

  • avatar

    Lets stop and ponder.. How was the Alliance/9 received on its home turf?

    At the time I was ‘Chevette’ and young & dumb. I chose it over the Ally cause GM was just down the road.  To me [at the time] GM mean’t I could visit mom & pop cottage in the sticks and not have to worry about finding a replacement shield etc. And there goes my point I don’t think AMC did a good job backing the Ally. Sure heater prob but how many other competitors had recalls? The Chevette may be remembered as indestructible but I found the automatic choke an absolute bugger. Stalling and losing power and leaving me stranded [dangerous] on the HWY shoulder. I remember too GM couldn’t figure the problem for the longest time – a sensor on the Thermac. Sure the Alliance 1.4 with auto was a traffic slouch but then a Chevette with auto was too…

  • avatar

    My MIL owned one of the GTA versions of this car; I never drove it, but my BIL did, and he liked it quite a bit. It came with a monochromatic paint scheme (very sheik in the late ’80’s) 15″ alloys with some version of Michelin “X” radials on it and a five speed tranny. He ran it through the hills of Pittsburgh, apparently having a great deal of fun with it. But it suffered from build quality issues, not related to my BILs hooning.  I don’t remember what finally did it in but IIRC she traded it in on a Dodge Daytona IROC in 1990. (For a then 50 year old woman, her mother had some ‘interesting’ taste in cars, she seemed to like the sporty ones.) That Renault didn’t last much more than three years. I think the Daytona made it to 1998.

  • avatar

    Ok, I’ll step up and defend French cars.
    The Peugeot 504 D had a reputation of running forever.  I had an 87 Citroen CX GTI.  Fabulous car.  The only system that failed on me was the automatic transaxle – a ZF 3 speed, same as Saab, BMW.  If failed because the car had sat for a couple of years when new and the clutch material disintegrated from the sitting.  Not a difficult repair.  We loved the car, sadly it was totaled in a 4 car accident.  I only wish it had been a 5 speed.  Wasn’t the Dodge Omni really just a Simca?
    Alfa in the 60’s also used beautiful brass lug nuts, counter threaded on the drivers side.  Just the way lug nuts should be.  Maybe Chrysler/Fiat will bring back those lug nuts.  Jaguar knock offs, also counter threaded.

    • 0 avatar
      martin schwoerer

      My 1999 Citroen is the most reliable car I’ve ever owned, and I’ve had a few — Mercedes’, Opels, and what not. It delivers 30 MPG when driven at a constant 100mph, and 33 at a constant 80mph. It’s quiet, light-footed, comfortable and apart from passive safety, I can’t think of a reason to replace it.

  • avatar

    One of my best friends and “compadre” had one R11 (Encore) when we were at the university. I remember it being a slow car, however it was comfortable and very stable.

    These cars, R9 and R11 were one of the first “conventional” Renault. The SuperCinque must also be included in this list. They started using transverse engines.

    Rear suspension in R11/R9 uses IIRC, torsion bars.

    What I always remember of the Renault cars I have seated is the seats. The R19 16S, R21, and even the R11 (IIRC my friend had swapped in Fuego seats) had the most comfortable ones.

    I have another friend that after selling his slant-6 Valiant, bought a R18, then a R21, then a Mègane I…

  • avatar

    My parents bought me a brand new Encoure in 1984 for my 16th birthday. It had suprising speed for its little motor, which truly surprised me, and the handling was supurb!

    The one I had was a basic bare bones model with a four speed manual transmission, but when I the car got stuck in reverse on one occasion and the clutch went out shortly after that, my father took it away because “I was being to hard on it”, a claim that I vehemiatly denied.

    While I was in the military, I found out that my father had to replace the clutch in the car again (He kept it for himself) I chuckled and told him that he had to quit being so rough on it. This created a triade from him telling me that it was just a follow up to when I was driving it prior to his taking it away. Less than a year later, I found out that he had sold it and took a beating on the trade in.

    The reason why he sold it? The clutch had been replaced multiple times (and I believe it got stuck in a gear again, although he refuses to talk about the car with me anymore)

    I actually liked the car, but looking back on it, I’m glad I got my Toyota Celica.

  • avatar

    It is obvious that the POS comments were written by those who never actually owned an Alliance. I owned a 1983 for 14 years and 136,000 miles in Michigan and Illinois salt roads. AMC recalled it for the heater core (which never failed on its own) and the 4 speed synchronizer. Once those were fixed, it was the most reliable vehicle I have ever owned and loved driving it.

    CJinIA, I hope your father dumped his mechanic. The linkages on the gear shifter needed occasional adjustment and repacking the CV joints with occeasional new boots. But, that was cheap maintenance. Replacing the clutch three times? You got robbed. Stuck in reverse? When the shifter linkage jumped a position, you could go under the car and simply put it back and you are on your way.

    If you define that as a POS, compare it to my friend’s Subaru of the time, that locked the manual tranmission when you tried to downshift to 3rd driving on a busy street or the Toyota Corolla that needed constant mechanical valve lifter adjustments or Rotary engine Mazdas that dropped an engine at 40,000 miles.

    I wish I could find a car here today that did nearly 50 MPG was cheap and reliable and drove though 16″ of snow so well. By the way, many of you have forgotten that Renault now owns most of Nissan and the R16 platform is alive and well in many of their smaller products. They are infinitly better than the bigger Altima’s and Maxima’s that are really yuck to drive. It will be interesting to see the Renault influence on the new versions of larger Nissans coming this year.

  • avatar

    Wow – yes I still miss my Renault today, and it is interesting to read about the stability of the drive and the experiences of others at the time! I had to double check if mine had 4 wheel drive because I was always in awe at how great mine was to drive in the snow, ANY SNOW, all SNOW, and ICE! Amazing!

    But I think mine had the warped head, because the car would always overheat in summer. Being a non educated person having to make their way in the world I will never know if that was the reason, I just did not want the car to over heat! Everything else was great! Well I managed to get my Oldsmobile Ciera in trade for that and that Ciera ran for a LONG time after I learned and assisted in car repair! I wish it would have been the Renault, but the Ciera did great too, on snow too!

    Thanks for reading, I will always wonder what could have been of my Renault I owned (83, automatic, sun roof, boy how I loved that sun roof!) – It was a unique car for sure, and I love unique things! I still miss the car!

  • avatar

    Worst car I ever owned. I’ve lost count of the number of times it was in the shop. The timing belt broke–twice!–and trashed the valves. It had overheating problems, oil leaks, water in the trunk, I’ve forgotten what else.

    Too bad. It was a fun car to drive. But the quality control was sub-zero.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Suktub

      My first car. My parents made me get it even though I paid for it. I hated it so much. So I stopped changing the oil and the engine caught on fire. My dad was so mad but I didn’t care.

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