A Section Devoted When Deemed Necessary to Cars the Engine Capacity of which does not exceed 1,000 c.c.
Winter Motoring in a Renault R8
Having tried the then-new Renault R8 (or R.1130) in Spain last spring, I looked forward to longer acquaintance with it at home. The opportunity arose last month and although winter weather precluded performance testing I did enough varied driving to form a very high opinion of the R8, which, even when pounded over snow-filled by-roads, gave no trouble of any kind. It is truly a very likeable car.
Better looking than other “shrunken-Corvairs,” it can be summed up as a vastly improved Dauphine. The revised body shape and radiator behind the engine give enhanced accommodation for occupants and luggage—for the latter there is an 8¾ cu. ft. front boot that readily swallowed spade, gum-boots and other snow impedimenta and a very useful 2¼ cu. ft. well, about as deep as the average brief-case, behind the back seat. For oddments, driver and adjacent passenger have rather fumbly but deep underfacia shelves. So the inditement that rear-engined cars can’t carry much is out. So, too, is criticism of their heaters, for the watercooled R8 contrives, using a front-located heat-exchanger, to supply adequate warmth for a coatless driver in the worst-winter freeze-up. This heater also gives admirable demisting. If fresh air is required there are fully-adjustable shuttered and rotatable vents each end of the facia.
Already one begins to warm-up, literally and metaphorically to the R8. It has many other merits. The leathercloth-upholstered scats are astonishingly good, and their generous squab dimensions contribute to a high degree of comfort. Then the new 5-bearing wet-liner alloy-head 65 x 72 mm. (956 c.c.) engine with its o.h. valves inclined in a common plane and push-rod-prodded from a high-set camshaft, develops 48 b.h.p. (gross) at 5,200 r.p.m. and fairly thrusts the 14¼ cwt 4-door package along, to 64 in 3rd and to a cruising gait of 70 in top. It does this to the accompaniment of typical “Dauphine noises” until the 4.5 to 1 top cog is meshed, when quiet motoring, apart from a happy buzz from the engine, is commanded.
On the subject of gear-changing, in Spain everyone frowned darkly over this, but Renault have presumably done something, or else the lever movements are acceptable in a r.h.d. car, because the R8 now has a really delightful gearbox. The slender central lever has to be moved properly across the exceptionally wide gate, and a snap change from 3rd to 2nd may hit reverse, but generally this is one of the nicest, lightest, finger-and-thumb changes I have enjoyed for a long time. There is no synchromesh on bottom but it goes in easily. There is a distinct transmission whine, but the gears themselves are quiet, which is sensible, for the individually-ported engine, geared 15.2 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top, loses power if the revs fall, so that popping the lever into 3rd is part of the enthusiastic R8 driver’s normal procedure.
It is easy to say glibly that a car is one of the handiest-ever in town traffic, but this certainly is very true of the compact little Renault. In this it is helped by splendid all-round visibility and Lockheed 10 in. x 1.57 in. disc brakes on all four wheels. These are superb brakes, vice-free, silent, light, with hardly any free pedal-movement, which stops an R8 like a hard rubber ball hitting a wall. Before you call them an expensive luxury on such a light car, remember that they may have been adopted to reduce unsprung weight at each wheel.
Certainly the Renault’s coil-spring suspension functions extremely well. I concede that a rear-engined car seldom handles with quite such a sense of security as a properly-contrived f.w.d. design, but, having said that, let me emphasise that overmuch oversteer has been banished in the R8. Moreover, they say St. Christopher helps those who help themselves, and on ice or in mud this is easier with a rear-engined car than with any other form of 2-wheel drive vehicle. It rides very comfortably, too, with a highly commendable absence of pitching. Disgustingly rough going embarrasses it more than, say, a Morris 1100 which hasn’t any springs, but even then shocks do not jog the occupants. If anything, the back seat ride is better than the front, a rare achievement in so small a vehicle.
In respect of accommodation, heating and ventilation, seating comfort, performance, safety and suspension comfort the Renault R8 is an extremely well-balanced car. It is also great fun, as well as being restful, to drive, has 15 in. Michelin tyres that should last well, and there is a genuinely “sealed-for-life ” coolant system. For a short time after starting-up the temperature warning light comes on but unless it stays alight there is nothing amiss.
This brings me to the interior arrangement. There is twotone upholstery on the doors, which have very convenient pullout interior handles with stiff, looped pulls beneath them, and good fitted carpets. The front windows wind, the back ones slide; there are no ¾-lights. Equipment includes facia ash-tray, safety swivelling vizors, substantial rubber-capped bumpers and small but efficient Cibie headlamps. I appreciated the high-set front number plate, which is thus immune from damage, or obliteration. There is a courtesy interior lamp behind the rear-view mirror but no ash-tray or lamps for the rear compartment. The 4-doors shut easily and securely and have good “keeps.”
The facia is notably simple, with neat central triple heater quadrant controls with fan push-button. It has a grey finish, nondazzle like the matt-black screen-sill, and there is crash-padding above and below. Back-seat passengers, incidentally, find the rollover tops of the front-seat squabs acting as safety padding. The Jaeger 90 m.p.h. speedometer panel incorporates temperature, ignition, oil-pressure, main-beam warning lights, a calibrated fuel gauge, and flashers’ warning of Renault-diamond shape. A button under the steering column switches on the side lamps, after which the 1.h. stalk control moves up to select dipped and full headlamp beams. The horn push is on its extremity. The r.h. stalk operates the flashers but cancels rather too easily. A pushbutton on the facia brings in wipers that really clean the screen; to park them the r.h. side of this control is depressed. Beyond the r.h. fresh-air vent a tiny button works equally effective Transpar washers, which didn’t need constant replenishing and never froze. The central handbrake is well placed.
That is the sum total of an R8’s controls. The front-wheel arches intrude into the car but the pedals are not too seriously biased to the left and can be worked safely by a wearer of gumboots. The ignition key inserts inconveniently close to the steering column but it starts the engine and locks the steering, as required. The automatic choke relieves the owner of any starting doubts and the engine commenced promptly in Arctic conditions.
The rack-and-pinion steering is light, although on lock it pulls against the self-centring springs that give very rapid return action, free from kick-back and accurate. It feels higher geared than 3¾ turns, lock-to-lock suggests. I drove the R8 750 miles, after which less than ½-a-pint of oil topped-up the sump. Petrol consumption, checked in severe winter conditions calling for lots of gear-changes, and with considerable London-travel, averaged 38.1 m.p.g. of Esso Extra. The tank holds 6.8 gallons. The front boot-lid is self-balancing, released by pulling a rather awkward toggle within the r.h. facia shelf. The lid lifts to disclose ample stowage space, in which the Fulmar Super 12-volt battery sits in cool isolation. With it is a simple master-switch, so useful if an electrical bonfire breaks out. The lockable lid of the oblong rear engine compartment opens when a press-button is operated, has to be lifted by hand, but props up automatically. It has to be opened for fuel replenishment. The plugs, S.E.V. coil and distributor, and oil and fuel fillers (Renault do not make a rear engine the excuse for a front-mounted fuel tank) are all accessible. An interesting point is an external fresh-air funnel feeding the Tecalemit air cleaner above the Solex carburetter.
The car is Michelin-shod, the spare wheel below the boot floor. A jack lives in the engine compartment and a starting handle is provided. Eight points need greasing every 3,000 miles. I recall taking out a Dauphine when it was a new model and looking, with an engineer friend, askance at such things as clipless fuel pipes and “bent-wire” door keeps. Yet, since then, doctors, engineers and journalists of my acquaintance have told me that after disillusioning troubles with other makes they have gone over to Renault, on account of their day-in, day-out dependability. The willing, comfortable 83 m.p.h. R8 is the best Renault of all; a splendid little car I would always enjoy taking on a journey. In this country the de luxe saloon sells for £671 35. 9d. purchase-tax paid.—W.B.