Renault started work on the Fuego (it means fire, by the way) at the beginning of 1976, with a design team of specialists led by stylist Robert Opron. The resulting car is based on the mechanical components of other vehicles in the Renault range, although it is wrong to describe the Fuego as a “Coupe bodied 18”. The body style is quite dashing and is reminiscent of the 924 Porsche. It has a strong black stripe running all round the car from headlamp to headlamp, dividing the lower part of the body from the upper and emphasising the large glass area of the passenger compartment, as well as creating the impression of forward movement. Considerable attention has been paid to aerodynamic efficiency, as one would expect, and Renault claim a very low drag coefficient of 0.347 — better than any other car in the Renault range, and better than the Fuego’s competitors.
The accommodation is along well established coupe lines with two doors and an opening rear hatch covering a shallow luggage area behind the rear seats, which may be folded down individually or together. The major difference is in the rear hatch itself – it is almost entirely of glass, having only a narrow matt black edging strip, and wraps around the quarters of the car, making it possible to load from the side, should circumstances make this desirable. Renault themselves never use the word coupe to describe the Fuego, choosing instead the rather laboured expression “two-door, four-seater”, presumably to prevent customers thinking that the car is really a 2+2, although it is obvious that the car is aimed at the coupe sector of the market which has been dominated for so long by the aging (but still agreeable) Ford Capri.
The Fuego is available in six guises — the TL with 1,400 c.c. engine, and four speed manual transmission; the TS with 1,650 c.c. engine and four speed manual transmission; the GTS with the same engine but five speed transmission; the Auto with the 1,650 c.c. engine but a three speed automatic gearbox and two two-litre engined cars, the TX and GTX, both with five-speed boxes, but the GTX having a number of extra refinements such as front fog lamps and Pirelli P6 tyres. Prices start at just under £4,500 for the TL and go up to a shade over £6,650 for the GTX, although one could spend more as there is an impressive list of extras and accessories available to suit individual requirements. The two models which are most likely to appeal to readers are the GTS and GTX and it was in examples of these that I travelled some 2,000+ miles towards the end of last year.
The major difference between these two cars is the power unit — the GTS (which is the model which Renault expect to sell in the largest numbers) has the well proved 1,647 c.c. engine, with pushrod o.h.v., developing 96 b.h.p. at 5,750 r. p.m. The GTX has the same engine as the 20TS, a Douvrin built two-litre four-cylinder with a single overhead camshaft and developing 110 b.h.p. at 5,500 r,p.m. Both cars have five-speed manual transmission with the same first and top ratios, but the GTS has slightly lower ratios for the intermediates than the GTX. The GTS is fitted with 175/70 x 13 Michelins while the GTX has 185/65 HR 14 Pirelli P6 tyres, and these give 20.8 and 21 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. respectively.
The suspension follows well established Renault practice, having wishbone and coil springs at the front and a rigid rear axle supporting the car through coil springs and located with a central A-bracket. Hydraulic dampers are used all round and anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear. The steering is by rack and pinion, mounted above the transmission housing, and power assistance is standard on the GTX. The front disc and rear drum brakes are servo assisted and the handbrake operates on the rear wheels.
When combined with the aerodynamic shape, these recipes make for a pair of well balanced, comfortable, quiet and relatively economical cars. My test of the cars started in some pretty rough conditions near Nice, with a GTS. The plan was to drive up through the Basses Alpes to Briancon and thence to Grenoble where we would take the Autoroute and blast up to Paris. It didn’t work like that. First, the Basses Alpes were covered with more snow that we had bargained for, and each pass we approached was closed, necessitating a further detour until we eventually gave the weather best and made for Sisteron and Gap. When the N85 finally deposited us at the Grenoble end of the A48, having achieved a mere 300 miles in nearly 12 hours driving, we found the road reduced to a single lane due to blizzards and the next hour took us only a further 45 miles. Once through Lyon, however, things improved, and the remainder of our journey to Calais (we had wasted so much time we decided to drive through the night to win it back) was accomplished in a remarkably short time at an average speed which would be illegal in this country. By the time I reached my home, the car had covered some 1,000 miles in a little over 24 hours, nearly 12 of which were taken up with 300 miles, and two of which were occupied in crossing the channel on one of Townsend Thoresen’s fine ferries (waiting time included, of course).
In the treacherous ice, snow, and slush of the untreated roads in the Basses Alpe, the car proved to be really sure-footed and remarkably manoeuvrable in adverse conditions — I managed to miss a large BMW which came round a blind bend on the wrong side of the snow-covered road and to drive round another BMW which had spun on a slippery hairpin. The brakes proved themselves very effective when a Citroen exercised “priorite a droite” when it shouldn’t have done — luckily on this occasion the road was dry. In the foothills, it became apparent that the five-speed gearbox was essential for the middle engined car if it was to have any kind of performance the change was very pleasant and was without any vices, so it was a pleasure to use the top three ratios to suit the degree of the bend or the severity of the gradient: even so, the GTS felt as if it lacked urge. On the clear roads north of Lyon, however, it soon became apparent that the Fuego GTS has very good high speed cruising ability. At speeds which would have lost me my licence in this country, the car is stable, comfortable and impressively quiet. Top speed is certainly over 105 m.p.h. My overall fuel consumption for the French part of my journey was a very commendable 28.6 m.p.g., while consumption taken over the 2,000 or so miles I drove this car was 31.7 m.p.g. The engine required half a litre of oil after 1,500 miles.
The GTX has the urge which the smaller engined car lacks, and provides a 0 to 60 time of a shade over 10 sec. compared with the GTS’s figure of 12 sec. Unfortunately, I was not able to drive this more exciting version far enough to be able to obtain sensible fuel consumption figures. Performance apart, the Pirelli P6 tyres and slightly stiffer anti-roll bar settings make the GTX handle slightly better than the already impressive GTS, and it certainly clings to a dry road in an unbelievable fashion, going round corners on the proverbial rails when the GTS would be skittering frighteningly.
I found both cars to be particularly comfortable, although I felt that the GTX warranted better trim (it is just the same as the GTS, save for a leather rimmed steering wheel). The cord faced seats are just right, the padding striking the perfect balance between firmness and softness so that the body is held in position and yet isolated from any mechanical or road vibrations: even after the marathon through France, I felt no stiffness or any discomfort of any kind. The thick carpet of the footwells has been extended up the sides of the body to armrest height, but the trim above this is of moulded plastic, as is the dash panel and centre console. The height of the steering column is adjustable by means of a simple toggle lever placed conveniently under the column above the knees. The GTS wheel was plastic coated and had two broad spokes arranged in an upturned V — the GTX wheel, as already mentioned, had a leather rim with four near horizontal short spokes connecting with a padded centre. The instruments are clearly marked and are arranged in a shielded console visible through the upper segment of the wheel. The speedometer is to the left of centre and contains the usual odometer and trip recorder. To the right is the tachometer, with the most economical engine speeds clearly marked in green. Between these two are small half-dials for fuel level in the 12 1/2 gallon tank and coolant temperature. Below these is an oil level gauge which shows the theoretical sump contents when the ignition is turned on, but the engine is not running. I say theoretical, because this gauge disagreed with the dipstick on the GTS. It might also cause the unwary who only browse through their handbooks (like me perhaps?) before driving new cars, a few moments worry, about a total lack of oil pressure since the needle reverts to the left of the scale as soon as the engine is started. A neat row of warning lamps tops the instrument panel which is flanked by six push-in switches operating the hazard warning lights, the single rear foglight, front foglights (GTX only), rear screen demister and rear screen wash wipe. The sixth is a spare. The left hand steering column stalk controls the wipers and washer — the wipers are very good and the r.h. arm has pantographic action to ensure that the maximum area is cleared for the driver’s benefit. I was, however, annoyed that I could not operate the washer separately from the wipers; I prefer to wet my salt-covered screen before wiping it. Right hand stalks control the lights, direction indicators and horn. A clock is positioned to the left of the column, and was a cause of frustration on both cars — in the GTS, the intensity of the light would not decrease with the panel lamp adjustment and yet the clock is positioned ideally to reflect in the screen. On the GTX which has a digital clock, the steering wheel spokes make a neck bending operation necessary to read it.
The heating and ventilation system worked well, and was controlled from the central console, above the radio. Four fresh air vents are positioned along the dash, and the doors are connected into the heating system.
Interior stowage space could be better — there are map pockets in the doors, but these are difficult to get at with the door shut as there is little clearance between the door and seats, and an armrest-cum-door-shut (which also contains the controls for the electric windows) obscures the top of the pockets. The glove box pivots outwards above the passenger’s knees and is of only moderate size. It is flock lined, and managed to get everything put in it covered in black whiskers which were nigh on impossible to remove. A small coin tray is provided, but obscured by the handbrake lever.
Only one external mirror is fitted, adjustiable from inside the car. A nearside door mirror would be an essential extra tor anyone driving regularly in traffic, and I felt it was especially unfair of Renault to give us r.h.d. cars to drive through France with no l.h. mirror fitted.
Central door locking is not provided rather surprisingly in view of the large number of Renaults which have this feature as standard, and the catch for the rear hatch is very annoyingly positioned in the driver’s door pillar: this would be fine if the hatch would shut properly first time, but on the GTS one of the two catches invariably failed to lock on first shutting, making a walk to the driver’s door necessary to open the other catch. . . . In a moment of temper after a second walk to release the hatch, I slammed it too hard and the cover for the rear window wiper fell off into the luggage area. I also found that the hatch on the GTS tended to rattle rather annoyingly towards the end of my time with the car — it had something of the order of 3,500 miles on the clock.
There was evidence of poor quality control, for the rear washer did not work on the GTS, and the front one of the GTX failed due to a faulty connection and I was told when I collected the GTX that a rear shock absorber bush would soon need replacement . . . so cheer up BL, it happens to the opposition as well. — P.H.J.W.