Getting to know the Renault Fregate
The latest model to emerge from the great Billancourt factory of Regie Nationale des Usines Renault is the Type R.1100 Frégate, a competitively-priced six-seater saloon for world markets, endowed with a 2-litre four-cylinder o.h.v. engine, three-speed-and-overdrive gearbox, and independent suspension front and back.
Considerable attention has been drawn to this car by an ambitions Continental high-speed test undertaken last winter by a small fleet of Frégates for the delectation of leading motoring writers. We did not partake of this hustling holiday but we have since had the pleasure of trying the Renault Frégate for a long weekend in England and, although it is at present available here only to Diplomats and G.I.s, our impressions may be of interest.
Let the writer say at once, he found the Frégate both disappointing and intriguing. Dissapointing only because, with so willing a mile-eater, there is a tendency to forget that this is an inexpensive car built down to a modest price level, so that “tinny” doors and locker lid, needing a slam to shut them, “dried-milk” control knobs and jamming locks come as something of a shock. On the other hand, this truly spacious six-seater intrigues because, although it looks like a handsome American car robbed of its ornate exterior ornaments and, in fact, is nearly as roomy, it handles very nicely and goes remarkably well on a swept volume of only 1,996 c.c.
It is not a car of pronounced character, except for the added back-seat comfort of i.r.s. (by universally-jointed drive-shafts to wheels coil sprung on trailing links) and an unusual gear-change. Its cheif metits, apart from being a genuine six-seater with good luggage space (only slightly impeded by a vertically-carried spare wheel) are the ability to cruise, whenever conditions permit, at 70 m.p.h. and its comfortable suspension allied to excellent control.
The engine is noisy until the overdrive top gear of 0.84 to 1 is engaged, when the aforesaid cruising pace is achieved effortlessly, with the complementary factor of low wind-noise round the body. Indeed, after 50 m.p.h. in normal top it definitely pays to go into overdrive. The gears are quiet, with a slight hum in overdrive.
The ride, over the worst surfaces, is outstandingly good and is devod of pitching and reasonably welldamped: moreover, although the Frégate rolls and dips its nose under hard braking, it certainly does not imitate a small sailing craft in this respect. Its steering is geared 4 3/4 turns look to lock, but the lock puts a London taxi almost to shame, so that the impression is of decently high-geared steering on normal roads. The steering is smooth but not light: you steer against castor action which destroys all trace of sogginess and lost motion, and no column judder or return motion occurs via the wheel. The cast or return is quite mild.
In the matter of handling the Frégate merits high marks. Oversteer there is, but it is consistent and not the sort promoting sudden breakaway, and consequently the car can be held to its line round corners. It can be driven fast with a sense of security if not quite one of epicurean pleasure, although such ambitions on roundabouts result in tyre scream. But the oversteer tendency calls for continual steering correction along straight roads. It should be remarked here, and digested by certain British manufacturers, that Renault advise having the steering adjusted if more than 3/4 in. free play develops at the wheel rim.
The 11-in. Bendix-Lockheed hydraulic brakes are exceedingly powerful and progressive, and normally call for a mere caress on the pedal. They stop the car “four-square” but had a slight squeak on the car tested, which incidentally, was one of only three registered in England, and had done 6,700 miles as a demonstration and Press car. The hand-brake, set horizontally under the facia on the right, is a trifle too far forward but holds well and works pleasantly. The gear-change, by column lever on the right-hand side, is unusual. Bottom, second and top are in natural locations, with reverse opposite first and overdrive-top (0.81 to 1 against the top-gear ratio of 1.16 to 1) below second. It took some time to become accustomed to going forward out of normal top into, not second but overdrive, and to find second when required from top, between reverse and this overdrive top: a change perhaps not entirely acceptable to British family-car drivers or the more timid of the fair sex. But it did add interest to driving the Frégate, although too rapid movement of the light gear lever results in gear crunch. The clutch is light, smooth and positive. Moreover, overdrive is a useful ratio, offering effortless running with a minimum expenditure of petrol. It is intended that the driver selects it after reaching 37 m.p.h. in normal top, and in practice it is best selected at between 40 and 50 m.p.h., as naturally acceleration is not so brilliant in overdrive as in top gear. For brisk motoring second gear can be profitably held to 40 m.p.h., and top gear is a universal ratio in which the Renault will crawl at 5 m.p.h. and pull away well from 15/20m.p.h. In overdrive the maximum is over 80 m.p.h. and even in second 48 m.p.h. can be reached before valve bounce intrudes.
The facia of this Frégate is well arranged, with instruments before the driver (they include speedometer with trip and total mileage readings, petrol gauge, water thermometer, oil gauge, ammeter and clock). a large cubby-hole (with lid which is spring-opened by pressing a knob) before the passenger, and a central cubby-hole closed by a grille which would be ideal for storing fauna collected during a counrty journey or those Brockbank rats which abandon American cars as they enter fast bends – but perhaps it is intended for a radio.
A knob on the left of the facia releases the bonnet. Eight pull-out knobs grouped in fours each side of the aforesaid cubby-hole control, respectively, heater, air conditioner, ignition advance (British makers, please copy) facia lamp dimmer (another nice feature), screen wipers, starter (this control came out some 5 in. and we feared for it’s future security), choke and cigar lighter – not that we had any cigars. There is an ashtray in the facia sill, another on the back of the seat for rear compartment smokers. The winking turn-indicators are operated by a finger-light lever on the right of the steering column, the lamps by a rather delicate rotary switch on the end of a left-hand extension. The right side of the instrument panel lights up with the side lamps “on,” the left side with ignition only “on.” The Yale ignition key goes in a switch directly below the steering column, rather badly placed, especially as a bent key would not turn unless firmly persuaded. It locks the steering as well, to foil thieves. There is a “soft” horn, for saying thank you to lorry drivers after they have waved you by, controlled from the lamps switch, and a “loud” horn, for continual use by Frenchmen, operated by a half-horn-ring on the wheel, not always easy to find when on lock. The facia lamps wink in keeping with the turn indicators while these are in use.
Good points remembered are the comfort of sensible bench seats, both having fold-down armrests, excellent visibility through the big screen and rear window, a good mirror, easy front seat adjustment, good headlamp beam, good treadle accelerator, usefully wide doors with “pulls,” front ventilator windows, the pleasantly unadorned bonnet, and twin interior lamps working when the doors were opened. But the Renault designer should write out several thousand times the fact that one door wasn’t too easy to open, that his locker lid distorts abominably, that the dimmed beam of the headlamps is inadequate (and not much improved by two foglamps with switch below the facia out the extreme right) and that plastic petrol pipes, one actually resting on the top water hose, worry some of us a good deal.
The, body is rattle free and a tall passenger remarked that its roof is sensibly free from those cross-beams that contact the human head at humpy bridges. There was a trace of petrol fumes, however. The doors possess useful, if noisy, “stops” to retain them while fully open. The screen wipers were good but worked noisily. The screen-squirts didn’t. The screen reflects the facia, etc., in daylight to a troublesome degree. The pedals are set too high off the floor. Although we liked the fuel filler hidden beneath a spring-loaded flap in the rear mudguard, its cap would have been better chained-up or otherwise secured. There are useful elastic-topped door pockets, and a very deep parcels-shelf forward of the back window. There is a normal door lock in the passenger’s front door, beneath a weather flap. The screen visors are uncomfortably close to the eyes.
The engine started reasonably well, was smooth unless allowed to pull away from unfair speeds, and in spite of the hand ignition control it seemed quite “pink” free, at full advance, both on premium and cheap fuel; the compression ratio is, of course, moderate. It called for no oil or water in 437 fast miles, over which the approximate fuel consumption was 24 m.p.g. The tank holds a useful 13 gallons. A sensible, well-illustrated, instruction book, in English, comes with the car.
The Renault Frégate, then, although not so impressive as expected, offers admirable travel facilities for six people with no nonsense, being economical, pleasant to drive, handling so well that it is tolerant of mistakes and enjoyed by a keen driver and possessing all the necessary equipment laid out simply but effectively. It goes far better than the size of its square engine would lead one to expect and it meets very adequately the requirements of the world’s family motorists, with the luxuries of all-round independent suspension and overdrive top gear as part of its specification. No price is quoted for this country, but the Frégate can perhaps be classed as the French Vanguard. – W. B.