IMPRESSIONS OF THE RENAULT 750 WITH FRELEC AUTOMATIC CLUTCH
APART from the fact that British automobile engineers are shy of independent suspension of the back wheels, rear engines and air-cooling, they have not so far arranged automatic control of the clutch on inexpensive economy cars.
In France, however, two-pedal control is provided on two of the “best-sellers,” the 2 c.v. Citroen being available with a centrifugally-operated clutch, and the 4 c.v. Renault with an electrically. controlled clutch.
It was for the purpose of trying this clever two-pedal control that we called at the Acton works of the great Renault organisation where factory and car parks were full of handsome 2-litre saloons, and departed into the smog in a Renault 750 saloon with Frelec Embrayage .Automatique.
The foot controls consist only of the rather heavy treadle accelerator and the small circular brake pedal, no clutch pedal being required. In starting from rest the clutch is engaged by accelerating the engine and for changing gear a very ingenious method is used. The little central gear-lever feels quite normal, retaining the 750 Renault characteristics of rigid positive action and rather considerable lateral movement. In fact, it incorporates an electrical switch which, on initial movement of the lever, frees the clutch. From rest the clutch engages a little jerkily but there is no fear of stalling the engine; thereafter gear-changes can be made as rapidly as the lever can be moved. There is no need to speed up the engine but some skill is still required, because if an attempt is made to drop into bottom gear too rapidly without revving up, the change is muffed. Incidentally, resting the hand on the gear-lever causes the clutch to disengage.
Some people may query the point of the Frelec clutch, because gear-changing itself is not rendered automatic and to engage a clutch may seem too simple to justify its elimination. Yet a novicedriver gains enormous reassurance by being able to come to rest merely by releasing the accelerator and applying the brake, while experienced drivers find that the reduced effort resulting from an idle left leg is well worth while in traffic driving. For a one-legged driver the Frelec must be a boon indeed. This was no ” round-the-houses ” test, for I drove the Renault 750 for 722 miles, during which “Mr. Frelec,” who hides his magic inside a mysterious box beside the engine, functioned impeccably. So much
so that, coming back to my own car, it seemed a bore to have to lift a foot onto a pedal and depress it every time a change of ratio or a stop became essential !
Apart from its technically-intriguing and eminently-practical two-pedal control, the little Renault has been simplified by having an automatic carburetter choke and a starter-switch incorporated in the ignition switch and worked merely by turning the key, so that the former choke and starter levers on the floor are eliminated.
Granted that the baby Renault rattles and emits considerable exhaust hum, it pleases me by its willing performance for a fuel consumption of around 42 m.p.g. It cruises at better than an indicated 60 m.p.h. under reasonable conditions, has the turning circle of a taxi, and accelerates briskly. On a night journey to watch the M.C.C. Exeter Trial it gained our approval because, once the best setting for the radiator blind had been achieved, the heater kept us comfortably warm without being oppressive. The seating position and steering-wheel angle are not particularly conducive to long spells of driving free from cramp, oversteer makes it necessary to steer along straight roads, and it is easy for the foot to slip from the tiny, bare metal brake pedal. The petrol gauge was vague, the circular interior light seemed odd, and a quart of Castrol was needed to restore the sump level, while a gearbox with more than three forward speeds would be appreciated.
Against this, the level ride of the little car over rough roads is highly commendable, its dimensions make it outstandingly convenient when parking or poking past slower vehicles on narrow roads or in fog, and the advantage of four doors cannot be denied, although it is a pity they are hinged at the back. Sideways visibility is rather masked by the screen-pillars, inevitable, perhaps, in a decently-shaped low and small saloon, but forward visibility through the tall screen could hardly be better, while the power of the headlamps would do justice to a far faster car, although adjustment was necessary.
As usual, I found the Renault 750 enormous fun, and sufficiently fast transport for normal purposes in spite of the modest sweptvolume of its rear-located power unit. The automatic choke works admirably, for the engine commenced instantly when its bonnet was deep in snow, after the car had been partially in the open all night. And driving it over frozen roads serves to underline the good sense of having a wheel at each corner, each one independently suspended !
The price of this de luxe Renault 4 c.v. with Frelec clutch is £664 7s., inclusive of purchase tax and import duty.—W. B.