By on March 14, 2012

By 1985, it was clear to everyone that the Renault Alliance, product of the strange AMC/Renault mashup that failed to save the “not too big to fail” Wisconsin automaker, wasn’t quite as good as the ’83 Motor Trend Car of the Year award suggested. Still, enough Alliances sold that you still see them in the junkyard every now and then. Here’s one I spotted in a California self-serve yard last month.
The base Alliance L sedan listed $6,650 in 1985, and that wasn’t much more than a Chevy Cavalier sedan. If you wanted a Civic sedan that year, you’d have paid $7,092— if you could find a Honda dealer selling at list price in the mid-1980s, which was unlikely. So, the Alliance, with its European design and made-in-America patriotism, looked good on paper.
Unfortunately, even the wretched Cavalier seemed reliable in comparison to the Franco-Kenosha product. The Alliance got great fuel economy and had a comfy ride, but: Renault in America. When Chrysler bought the shattered remnants of AMC in 1987, it euthanized the Alliance.

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56 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1985 Renault Alliance...”

  • avatar

    Same color, same interior. Automatic, A/C. We had one of these as a rental car on a trip to Chicago back in July 1985. I was rather impressed with these at the time as they ran well and were economical. Who knew they would fall apart after a year or so?

    Our 1981 Reliant was a Sherman tank by comparison…

  • avatar

    I remember their jingle at that time…an annoying chant:

    “the one to watch,
    The One To Watch,

    Indeed…the one to watch, but never buy.

    I wonder if Carlos Ghosn has an eye on Fiat’s so-far-botched relaunch here in the US. After all if that damaged brand can regain some equity here, there’s hope for Renault!

  • avatar

    My family bought a red ’84 Alliance with 4spd manual transmission, AM radio and no air con/no power steering/crank windows. It replaced our awful ’77 Dodge Aspen Station wagon. We were really lucky with the car and never had a problem with it. The worst was a stutter caused by fouled plugs, but that was fixed with a new set that I installed with my Dad.
    It was also the car that I learned to drive on. It was really an easy car to learn on. The shifter was precise and the clutch light. The curb weight was light too, so the steering wasn’t too heavy, and we got up to 45mpg on the thing. Needless to say, I didn’t get any speeding tickets with it.

  • avatar

    It’s such a shame that French cars have the reputation that they do here in the U.S., since they make some absolutely gorgeous and totally desirable machines in Europe. Just take a look at the Citroen DS3, Peugeot RCZ, Renault Megane or even the Renault Clio. They define the genre of hot hatches, a species of car that I personally am head over heels in love with (fun to drive, economical on fuel, stylish, practical, upscale in comfort, and now well made) but that never really caught on in America. With gas prices now probably forever above $4 a gallon, I would bet that those wonderful hot hatches would now sell well here. But, the French automakers remember the pasting they took in the market here before, and combined with the lingering negative perceptions, it’s very unlikely they will ever return.

    The reality is that most of the French cars sold here in the 60’s and 70’s were pretty miserable. I had the pleasure/pain of owning not one, not two, but three Renaults back then (R5, R16, R17). They were all horribly unreliable, but despite that they all had loads of character, the kind of personality that most other brands cannot even dream of, and were great fun to drive (when they ran).

    The other reality is that today’s French cars are nothing like the sputtering, rusting heaps that were peddled here in the past. I travel to Europe regularly and have driven many of them. I think their build quality (and reliability according to people who own them) is as good as anything else on the market. Their styling (though personal and subjective) I find far superior and more appealing than any other brands I can think of – the French know design better than anyone. Combined with their performance+economy balance, I think they’re fabulous. They have that elusive element of personality and character that so few cars today manage to get right, and they just feel *special* to drive.

    Now if I could only find a way to get a DS3 and a RCZ into this country legally….

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      That interior looks so much better than the outside, I guess it got banged up a lot. Too bad they were so mechanically bad, they drove nice and had nice interiors at a good price.

    • 0 avatar

      According to European sources such as What Car? and the TUV, the French makers are still found mostly in the lower (bad) half of the reliability lists.

    • 0 avatar

      Mark me up as a French car fan! I agree, they have a very nice ride, different somehow from other makers.

      Here in Brazil, they’ve been back for 20 yrs. After a strong start, their market presence waned as they got a reputation (fair one at that) for expensive maintenance. Now, they’re toeing the line w/ market leaders (Fiat andVW) in terms of parts pricing and they gaining market share. Renault particularly. They are growing at such a clip that it’s possible that they pass Ford and change the status quo in sales. As to the PSA twins, Citroën has been gaining traction while Peugeot has been going nowhere.

      As I’ve said before, if they can make it and be trustes in Brazil, there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t gain a foothold in America.

  • avatar

    For a 3 box layout from that era, the styling of the vehicle was much better than the k-car; the front end being particularly clean.

  • avatar

    In 1983, a secretary at the company I worked at bought a new, well-optioned Alliance. It was her first new car and she was so proud. It was kind of heartbreaking to watch her mounting dismay as the car gave her troubles and slowly fell to pieces. She ended up getting rid of it for a slightly used Corolla after 18 months.

    A tidbit: AMC actually announced an Alliance for the 1988 model year, and magazines like Motor Trend provided pictures and info. The biggest change was available two-tone paint jobs. Chrysler changed its mind at the last minute and decided not to go through with the ’88 Alliance after all.

  • avatar

    After the Citation, the Cavalier, the 2000 Sunbird and the Escort, I selected a new Alliance.

    It was better than all of them. Since I was on the road daily and putting thousands of miles on these cars, I wanted a car that rode well, got great gas mileage, was dependable and easy to maintain. The Alliance easily met all those criterias.

    Unlike the other vehicles, the Alliance, like the Cavalier that year, looked like a small sedan with dual headlamps, a trunk, and color coordinated bumpers with chrome inlays. I had a huge custom sun roof installed, which when removed, made the car seem like a convertible.

    Inside, the Alliance had a fantastic interior. Visibility was excellent. The seats sat on pedestals, allowing the seat to tilt as well as recline and move forward or aft. This opened up the spaces between the doors and the transmission hump giving rear occupants usable foot space. I also used these spaces to store maps and other office supplies.

    I ordered it with the Silent Sentry. With all the problems I had with the GM products, I wanted to prevent future problems. The Silent Sentry checked all the fluids in the Alliance when I shut down the car. Naturally, the car had to be parked on a level grade to ensure accuracy. It worked.

    The dash was well designed. Before the age of airbags, the Alliance dash had a very nice parcel shelf in front of the passenger. It held sunglasses and other items without dumping them on twisty mountain roads.

    The Alliance road better than anything in it’s class. It was the nicest riding small car at the time.

    I did mountain driving every day. The Alliance with the manual was no problem getting up over mountain passes and handled the roads well. I had no problems.

    I got over 40 miles per gallon, which was as good as the other cars, and better than most of the cars on the road at that time.

    It never broke down. I put 30,000 miles of Colorado and Utah driving on it and pushed it into jeep trails to the remotest areas of each state. Never had any problems. I never had to take it to the dealer for any kind of servicing. This was simply unheard of at that time.

    I really don’t know anyone who had problems with this car, partly because I don’t know many people who had this car. I heard that it’s reputation was tarnished because of some engine overheating and some other issues, and I don’t doubt these reports. But I never had a lick of trouble with my Alliance.

  • avatar

    I’m amazed at the good testimonials here on behalf of the Alliance.

    One thing the car had going for it was a great name.

  • avatar

    I remember going to Los Angeles for the first time shortly after these cars came out. I was picked up at LAX by a “private” taxicab operator driving an Alliance. I was surprised at the choice in car. Even though there was another beefy guy in a suit sharing the back seat with me, I had plenty of room and the trip was uneventful.

    A friend of mine had a later model Encore (the hatchback version of the Alliance) and drove it to 49 states and most of Canada.

  • avatar

    These cars reputedly had two different wheelbases, depending which side of the car was being measured. Too much Merlot during assembly line breaks?

    • 0 avatar

      Dunno about the alliance, But the Lecar’s wheelbase was something like 2 inches longer on one side. I can’t remember but it had something to do with the suspension design, it was to make room for whatever part it was that they used. The car also had the engine mounted behind the trans, causing the engine to protrude into the passenger compartment a bit. It had a small doghouse cover similar to a van.

      • 0 avatar

        I think they had trailing arms in the back with transverse torsion bars. Although many companies have figured out how to use similar designs with symmetrical wheelbases, Renault just put one torsion bar in front of the other and let everything else fall where it did.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve always known the ‘two wheelbases’ story as being the Renault 16, which was a rather radical car for it’s time. And for that car, it’s true. This is the first time I’m hearing it in terms of the 9 and 11, er, Alliance and Encore.

    • 0 avatar

      That sounds much more like engineering design than assembly quality.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    The Alliance and Encore, as well as the earlier LeCar, were all fairly common in my hometown during the 1980’s. It has been at least a decade since I last saw one on the road.

  • avatar

    My first car was an 84 Encore, the hatchback version of the Alliance. Ride and handling were excellent, the hatch could swallow prodigious amounts of cargo, and fuel economy was good, even with an automatic. But said automatic coupled with the base 1.4 engine made the car frighteningly slow. Interior bits started falling off within a few months, and various front end components were shockingly fragile. For most of the time I owned the car, the steering wheel was about 20 degrees off center. I got $50 in trade-in after 5 years, and I think the dealer was being generous.

  • avatar

    As I recall, the president of Renault was assassinated on a Paris street by an unhappy Alliance owner, so someone must have had a bad experience.

    A friend who had one was traveling in France at the time. Based on her experiences with the car, I pegged her for a likely suspect, but she had an alibi.


    • 0 avatar

      To be exact and sponsor “the truth about Renault”, George Besse was assassinated by members of the Action Direct far left group in retaliation for his decision to close factories and lay off workers.
      My dream Renault would be the R5 Turbo II not the Alliance.

  • avatar

    I had a serious crush on the Alliance. Went to buy a convertible but was taken aback by the sticker. Looked at a sedan at a used car lot, but it was knocking like crazy despite low mileage.

    A neighbor had the hatch, I guess it was an Encore, with its slush box stuck in third gear. He drove it to work every day, sounding like a military helicopter as it started up the steep parking lot. He offered to sell it for a few bucks, and it was the pale yellow I like those cars in. I was awfully tempted.

    I was having the timing belt replaced on my beloved Colt station wagon and commented to the mechanic that I realized I was paying market value of the car, but didn’t care. He said a little old lady brought her ten year old Alliance in constantly for repairs and was never discouraged by the repair price.

  • avatar

    I haven’t seen one of these actually on the road in at least a decade. About a year ago, I passed by the driveway of someone with TWO Alliances on blocks; it looked like one was a project and the other was a parts car. I wonder why someone would even bother…

  • avatar

    There is one in my wife’s family still being used as a daily driver. No idea where he gets the parts.

  • avatar

    Had a boss who bought one for his daughter. The sun really killed the interior. It basically melted. The speedo needle curved like an old hags finger.

    It was abandonded after awhile when she got a new ride. Some 6 or 7 years later I decide to revive it for general hoonage duties. I did not spend one dime fixing a few coolant and vacuum leaks. And in 2001 gas was $2 (oh the horror!) and I started using it for its economy, which was good as it had EFI. It was horribly slow in the mountains. Actually made one angry.

    Boss found out we were joy riding it and decided to sell it. Positively no one wanted it. Went to charity.

  • avatar

    I test-drove an Alliance about fifteen years ago, and I remember it as being a pretty pleasant little car. I was scared about the reliability and lack of parts, so I passed.

    I had a friend who owned an ’82 Fuego, and that was a fantastic little car. It handled like it was on rails, it looked great and futuristic, the interior was fantastic, the turbo gave it somewhat decent power, and the gas mileage was great. But it started falling apart horrifically. I remember him being quoted $800 for a new radiator. I also remember the rotten-egg smell caused by the alternator overcharging the battery. I think he just ended up junking it.

  • avatar

    I drove an ’85 Encore-the hatchback version of the Alliance. I traded in my POS Buick Skylark and initially I was quite pleased with it. The handling was great, fuel economy quite good and it had an excellent interior. Unfortunately its reliability while better than the X-car Skylark(talk about damning with faint praise!)was not great. It certainly didn’t help that the local FRanco-American dealer couldn’t make most repairs properly.
    While it suffered none of the major break downs that plagued the X-car, it had enough mechanical issues, electrical gremlins and other problems after four years I had had enough and got rid of it. After my experiences with it, I had no desire to ever own another French automobile.
    I’ve heard the Alliance suffered from rust issues, but I suffered no such problems-probably because I had it rust proofed after purchasing it. A couple of years after I traded it in I ran across it and it still looked quite good, the exterior appearance anyway.
    As soon as Chrysler acquired AMC, it seemed as if these vehicles
    disappeared from the scene almost instantly-I almost never saw another one after 1988(save for my Encore). It was as if some unseen hand had instantly swept them away, never to be seen again.

  • avatar

    I drive `99 Renault Laguna 1.8 l 120 hp which ( IMHO ) in terms of chasis dynamics is somewhere between a typical Buick and, say, a Lincoln Town Car. It rusts easily, has some electrical system issues but keeps on running, gets good mpg. However French cars are synonymous with unreliable, because they are. Especially electronics and sophisticated diesel engines are expensive to fix. Oh, they are cheap to buy but not to maintain.

  • avatar

    If there ever was a car that deserved the title malaise this was it. The fact that virtually none existed on the roads in my area since the early 90’s is just another case in point. Horrible performance, serious rust issues, electrical nightmares, leaks and interiors falling apart after a few years were all common on these. Incompetent dealers that rarely had in stock parts or little to no clue how to fix them made matters even worse! Our local rental car agency Rent a Lemon carried these for a few years. They spent more time in the shop than in renters hands according to the very informative owner. From 1987 onward they never stocked them and instead carried Escorts and Cavaliers which fared much better. They are still in business now and still carry these cars spiritual successors the Focus and Cobalt to this day along with Corollas and Civics.

  • avatar

    I remember these cars well, as a neighbor actually had an Alliance Convertible. I thought it was pretty nice looking, but then I’ve always had a thing for small convertibles. So I started paying attention to them, with an eye on picking one up for next to nothing as a commuter-toy as I had a nice 20 mile windy road commute in those days.

    This is what stopped me….. the infamous heater-core recall. This notice was from 87 but other earlier years had it too:

    Model Affected:
    1987 Renault Alliance


    Read more:

    I seem to recall a legend that Chrysler hunted down every one of these in the country to make sure the heater core was replaced and even if it was in a junkyard, left a new heater core in a box on the passenger’s side floor.

  • avatar

    These cars get a lot of crap, mostly deserved. This was, however, my first car! I had a 1985 Alliance L, 1.7L 5-speed manual, even with the same interior as shown above. (This one is an auto) They rode brilliantly, and here in the snow belt they were simply excellent on the road in the snow. The skinny little tires essentially sliced through deep snow!

    • 0 avatar
      Zach Roether

      The photos of this blue Alliance bring back memories, as this was my very first car. However, I had the 1.7L saddled with the 3 speed automatic. Great handling, decent gas mileage for the era, and pretty good all around. I drove it on a few trips from Oregon, down into California and back. Later, I drove it from Oregon all the way to Louisiana, with no issues. However, on the return trip, I had a few cooling issues… (it broke down twice). Nothing too major (luckily) and I was able to get it back to Oregon. Eventually I got a better car and gave it to a family friend. The worst problems I can remember having with the car ware all related to the starter motor. However, I do remember being told that the starter motor was basically impossible to get to without a LOT of work.

  • avatar

    Didn’t steal many sales from Chevette & Pony or K-mart. Make of that what you will.

  • avatar

    I drove a handful of Renaults and Peugeot company cars during the ’70s and ’80s and never had any major problems with them. My job required me to drive across much of France, sometimes Germany and The Netherlands (including Belgium) so I was definitely putting a lot of mileage on these cars.

    I never broke down or never had an issue which deemed the car undriveable. The biggest problems these cars had was rust related and that was common to virtually all cars back then except most German brands.

    French cars aren’t as poorly made or unreliable as people make them out to be. Many French cars have gained a solid reputation for quality and durability in hostile environments such as the deserts of North Aftica/Middle East and the jungles of Southeast Asia as well as South America. Cars like the Peugeot 404, 504 and 505 were praised for their durability and reliability.

    And Americans have to understand one thing: the market for cars in Europe in the ’50s up to the ’70s was about cheap cars. Consumers wanted affordable cars that got them from A to B. That meant that most mainstream manufacturers offered them what they wanted: affordable cars. In order to make them affordable there had to be some form of cost-cutting and that usually meant cheaper materials which wore and tore quicker thus resulting in potential reliability issues. After all, reliability issues are generally caused by faulty materials which results in something breaking and thus not functioning. Water and humidity entered the cars after a few years due to rust or poor rubber sealing.

    My experience with the French cars from the ’50s and ’60s is that most, not all, but most, were cheaply made, but generally reliable. My first car in 1966 was a used 1956 Citroen 2CV with the 425cc engine and four previous owners. It was extremely cheaply made and flimsy but it never broke down or had any major problems. I kept that car up until early 1971 when I sold it and took in my first company car at my new job: a 1972 Renault 12. Never had any issues with that car and my subsequent Renault/Peugeot company cars.

    My experience with French cars has always been great. Then and now.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    In the 80s I was living in San Antonio and working for a company that rented cars from a rather quirky rental company . As employees we got a substantial discount on renting their cars for personal use. They had larger cars available but if you were willing to rent a subcompact with a stick it was extremely cheap and no mileage charge .I had a GF in Dallas and a GF in Houston and had coworkers who had the same so a number of times we rented what were always Renault Alliances or Encores.Only a few were actually sticks; at the time they were a year or two old . Had always heard Renault horror stories from friends who owned them but as rentals they were OK. I thought the pedestal seats were quite comfortable, actually thought they were not all that unattractive and even when they had the auto I don’t remember them being that much slower than other cars of the era However on one trip to Dallas our Encore broke down halfway there; luckily my buddy and me were able to push it into a gas station. The cheapo rental agency told us to leave the car there so we took the bus back home. They offered us a free rental. The next time I rented from there I had barely left San Antone when the A.C. went out (in August), this on a year old Alliance. I didn’t rent from them again.

  • avatar

    Nice find had just about forgotten about this car. I owned an R17 which i picked up used and drove to work in New York City with it for about 4 years. Nice car. Great interior and seats with a very nice body style. Other than oil changes and tune-up a very nice car. My wifes co-worker had an alliance that i used once and skidded off the road with and totaled. I felt bad so i brought a Encore with a bad engine and put the engine from the totaled car in to the Encore and she drove the car for 4 more years. Easy car to work on but it loved to go thru distributer caps. Had to always keep a spare cap in the car. Gas mileage on both cars was great.

  • avatar

    I had one of these in the late 80’s. I remember being passed decisively by a VW bug while climbing a mountain pass on I-70 west of Denver.

  • avatar

    The throttle body injector was a common and expensive failure on this car, a few hundred dollars easy. My step mom bought one of these. The absolutely slowest car I ever drove. The rear wheel bearing failed and the wheel fell off going 45 MPH.
    Calling it a POS is an insult to excrement.

  • avatar

    Being close to Kenosha, these were all over my area in the late 80’s, but usually slowing traffic. I called them ‘dweeb-machines’ [It was the 80’s you know].

    By spring ’85, these were given away with near 0% loans, and $5499 prices. They all but diappeared by 1995.

    Collage friend got new ’85 Encore after graduation that June, was traded in two years later for a Subaru Loyale. Said ‘we got rid of that junker’.

    And, I second the coment that one can buy a new Renault compact at your local Nissan dealer!

  • avatar

    I remember the rocker front seat.Nice idea.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A junkyard I used to frequent in the late 80’s had a whole section dedicated to these. And this was only a few years after they were introduced in the states. A friend of my sisters had one 2dr red stick, few options. He got a few years out of it and traded it in for of all things a Hyundai Excel also 2dr red,stick, few options.

    In the mid-90’s I looked at an Alliance GTA which was the performance version with a 2.0 thinking it was a better car But with a mere 60k on it blue smoke was emitting from the tail pipe. Even though it was $900 I took a pass did not want to deal with a engine rebuild or at minimum a valve job.

  • avatar

    My grandfather bought an Alliance coupe from his sister in 1988 the day I was born. Actually, it was BECAUSE I was born, and he was stranded in Washington DC after his Volvo died a horrible death. It was the car whose back seat I leaned to HATE by age 7, due to a lack of leg room, and the fact that you had to ABUSE the passenger seat to get it to lean forward. When my grandmother bought a Neon coupe in 1998 (now my car. love it), I celebrated the extra three inches or so with great gusto. I hated the Renault with a passion as a passenger, but looking back at it, apart from developing a giant hole in the exhaust before it finally got sent to the scrapyard in 2000, they really didn’t have any problems with it.

  • avatar

    I just bought a 1985 Renault Alliance 1.7L limited in really good shape. Its a convertible andrides well.
    I have it parked next to my Lexus and it doesnt look like an eye sore.
    Just drove it from Philadelphia where I bought it on ebay to Chicago where i live.
    [email protected]

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