The latest Renault Dauphine

It seemed appropriate for the Editor to road-test the latest Renault Dauphine immediately after returning from a visit to Germany, where Volkswagens abound, because in America the Renault is second only to the VW in the sales-race amongst European imported cars, and the Régie Renault factories in Billancourt and Flins are turning out Dauphines at the rate of over 1,500 a day, in machine shops liberally equipped with the most up-to-date transfer machinery.

There is no need to deal in detail with the latest Dauphine, because it differs little from the previous model, about which a full road test report was published in Motor Sport  dated May,1956.  The improvements made recently consist of an increase in horsepower from 26-1/2 to 31 at the former peak engine speed of 4200,  slightly softer suspension, better sound-damping on the roof and few very minor changes.

This little 845-c.c. four-door saloon with the graceful lines buzzes along confidently at 60 m.p.h. and will attain nearly 70 when pushed. But acceleration is limited by the wide-ratio three-speed gearbox, in which not much over 50 m.p.h is possible in middle speed.

The short, lively little central gear-lever of the Dauphine has been criticised by a contemporary, but we are all for individuality and would not condemn it out of hand, in spite of its diminutive size, wide lateral movement and lack of reverse guard; far less pleasing is the absence of synchromesh on bottom gear.

The wheel arches intrude into the Dauphine’s front compartment and restrict leg-room, and we dislike the location of the brake pedal, which is small, offset towards the near side and close to the steering column. Also, it is necessary to press firmly on this little pedal to atttain reasonable retardation.

The suspension permits too much up-and-down motion and side winds deflect the Renault, so that the driver is kept busy working away at the steering, which is geared over four turns lock-to-lock (the lock, however, distinctly generous). The Dauphine has the merit of four doors but is of a “tinny” construction. The stalk-type lamps control (left) and flashers-control (right) are excellent but the flashers cancel too readily with small deflections of the steering wheel. On a long run the buzz of the power unit, even though it is at the rear, where it is commendably accessible, can become tiring to the occupants, while the screen-wipers sound like a dentist’s drill. Visibility is good, the seats comfortable, and the Dauphine corners fast without noticeable roll, but the tendency is to oversteer and the handling in general can be described as “fussy,” and somewhat tiring to the driver. The steering is light but not so light as that of the VW. The inaccessible location of the ignition-key-cum-starter and absence of decimal readings on the distance recorder, which is frequently blanked by the speedometer needle, are minor irritations. The heater/demister has simple pull-out controls under the scuttle but the side windows tend to mist up on cold days unless plenty of heat is kept on. The quarter-windows lack gutters and when open will direct rain to the front seats, and their catches are crude. The front doors are lockable only with the ignition key.

We were glad to see one of the notably durable Oldham batteries beside the engine, the tyres are Michelin, and praiseworthy points are illumination of the front luggage compartment by the headlamps, bonnet and boot lids which stay up automatically, spare wheel accommodated behind the front number-plate, brake fluid visible in a glass reservoir, and provision of a starting handle. The Solex 281BT carburetter has an automatic choke which starts the engine promptly.

The Renault Dauphine means a great lot to Régie Renault and to France.  It is smart, being Italian-styled with individual  lines not duplicated in other Renault models, it is willing, ideal in congested traffic,and notably economical  —  pottering about under not entirely favourable conditions we got 44 m.p.g. of Esso Mixture. With the seven-gallon tank this represents the useful range of over 300 miles. But the Dauphine is not a serious competitor of the Volkswagen and we doubt if it will ever overtake the sales of the German car in the U.S.A.  No doubt Italian styling has to be paid for but whereas the little Renault is partly assembled in England, which should lower import duty, the VW is not  —  yet the price of the French car, £758 17s., is the same here as that of the de luxe Volkswagen. In Germany the Dauphine costs the equivalent of £50 more than a de luxe VW. Some people will vote for four doors but the Dauphine is less roomy than the two-door German car and not a great deal more economical of petrol. A three-speed gearbox spoils any small-engined car and we await  with interest the advent of the Gordini-Dauphine, which will have a 38-b.h.p. engine and four-speed gearbox  —  W. B.