Intimacy with the Dauphine

1,250,000 Miles’ Development Endows the New 845-c.c. Renault with Many Good Qualities, notably Excellent Handling and Roadholding, Outstanding Performance for its Size, and Economy.

Just after Easter we left our rear-engined, all-independently-sprung saloon at the Renault depot at Acton and motored away in another rear-engined, all-independently-sprung saloon — the new and much-discussed Renault Dauphine.

The version which awaited us at the Renault Company’s English depot was a very eye-catching little car, its Dauphine-blue finish nicely set off by whitewall Michelin tyres, while the interior was cheerfully upholstered in blue and grey cloth, the large rear window rendering the interior pleasantly light.

This new Renault economy car has a larger engine than the famous 4 c.v. and bigger dimensions to match. It has restyled, very handsome lines, which belie the fact that its power unit is in the wide back boot, and the body remains a useful four-door four-seater saloon. The Dauphine is the outcome of some four years’ and 1¼ million miles’ development and testing, following a year devoted to designing the prototype 109. It is significant of the policy behind the Dauphine that the long-established French manufacturer sent test cars all over Europe, from Greece to the Polar regions, and also tried it out in Canada, before releasing it dramatically to newspapermen at a secret venue in Corsica early this year.

The result is a thoroughly well-tried small car, attractive by reason of its appearance, and able to follow-up this good first impression by reason of outstanding handling qualities, a comfortable ride and notable economy, allied to better performance than previous baby cars have been able to claim.

The Dauphine inherits many features almost unchanged from the justifiably-popular 4 c.v., which remains in full production and of which over ¾ million have been sold.

For example, the controls are virtually unaltered, and the engine is an enlarged version of the older power unit, giving 27 b.h.p. at 4,250 r.p.rn. instead of the 21 b.h.p. at 5,000 rpm. which the 748-c.c. version developed. The wheelbase is 7 ft. 5 in. instead of 6 ft. 10½ in., and although the car is an inch lower than the 4 c.v. headroom is unimpaired, as the occupants sit comparatively low.

The restyled front wings are both visible to a driver of average height and the short central gear-lever (which sometimes jigs about when the car is in action) is well placed. The gearbox remains three-speed, which calls for skill in engaging bottom gear from second, although this is to some extent offset by the good middle-gear performance. The circular clutch and brake pedals are unduly small and should have rubbers, and the clutch is a trifle difficult to engage smoothly, while a carburation flat-spot low in the r.p.m. range and a stiff throttle spring give rise to rather jerky take-off and initial pick-up in bottom gear. The central pull-up handbrake lever is convenient to the point of dispelling any criticism.

The steering is rather dead, because normally road-wheel reaction isn’t felt; the wheel vibrates considerably and the action is a shade on the heavy, or firm, side. It is low-geared steering, calling for four turns lock-to-lock; the lock is taxi-like and there wasn’t a trace of lost motion. Certain road surfaces, seemingly smooth, produce pronounced kick-back from the front wheels. There is quick and strong castor action. The two-spoke steering wheel has a diameter of 15½ in.

In these respects, and in the layout of some of the minor controls, the Dauphine and the 4 c.v. are about identical, but as intimacy with this new Renault increases many intriguing features come to light. The luggage space under the front bonnet is enormous; the concave metal floor of this compartment is unlined. Only the Tudor 6-volt battery protrudes, the small glass brake-fluid reservoir conveniently visible beside it; and the forward-hinged lid of the boot is released, and can be re-locked, by operating a convenient metal handle (hard on the hands, however) under the centre of the scuttle. The lid has an automatic wire-and-pulley prop, and an ingenious feature is that the inbuilt 5½-in. Cibie headlamps are contained in the lid, where they are less liable to damage than headlamps set in the wings, while windows in the rear of the lamps serve to partially illuminate the luggage space. The light lid of the rear boot releases by means of a rather crude exterior handle; the lid has a wire-overpulley automatic prop, but that on the test car made an appalling noise while the lid was being raised, although it appeared to be well greased. The lid cannot be locked, which would be an advantage as the fuel filler is beneath it. There is a convenient lamp for illuminating the engine at night.

The width of the rear boot renders the engine very accessible and fuel, oil and water fillers, dip-stick, petrol pump primer, Ducellier coil, distributor, etc., are all well placed. The Solex d.d. carburetter has a Tecalemit air-cleaner (an elaborate system of air-filtration is available for export models), the plugs were A.C., and the scissors-type screw jack is accommodated in a stowage on the off side of the engine compartment. A starting-handle is provided for servicing purposes. The air-outlet louvres in the tail do not disfigure the car, the rear-aspect being rendered distinctive by the wrap-around rear window, while the air-intakes in the back wings call for an attractive fall-in of the back doors.

Reverting to our earlier comment on the capacity of luggage compartment, this is attributable to the brilliant plan of stowing the spare wheel separately under the floor, hinging the front number plate to provide access to it.

The external appearance of the Dauphine, as the accompanying pictures illustrate, gives the impression of a front-engined car to the lay public; an excellent feature is that all four doors trail. But, in use, the rear-engine advantages of isolation of mechanical noises and complete absence of fumes within the car are appreciated.

In detail the new Renault has some features of its own and others overlapping with the 4 c.v. The adjustable front bucket seats offer adequate support and comfort but have rather small seat area. The instrumentation is simple, a hooded, oval, 75-m.p.h. speedometer before the driver being flanked by petrol gauge and water thermometer, while indicator windows are provided for dynamo-charge, oil-pressure and indicators-working. The speedometer has a total mileage recorder (no decimals), masked somewhat by the passage of the speedo. needle round its dial. When the sidelamps are “on” the instruments are illuminated in non-dazzle fashion. The wheel arches intrude noticeably into the driving compartment and cause inconvenience to tall passengers, while the doors are rather small.

The front doors have pull-out handles and locks, and besides winding windows (3½ turns of the handles from up to down) there are ventilator windows, held by somewhat clumsy but efficient catches. The rear doors have sliding half-windows, retained in position by simple catches. Wind noise is only evident if a front ventilator window is slightly open.

Lightweight construction is evident in the “tinny” sound as doors and boot lids are shut. No door pockets are provided, but there is a useful shelf behind the back seat and two unlined, unlidded cubbyholes in the pressed-steel facia, the passenger getting a wide one, the driver a midget. The base of the facia has a crash-strip, but as this is unyielding and not placed very strategically it must be attributed more to emulation of American fashion than to a desire to ensure that those who prang their Dauphine live to buy another.

The usual Renault rotary lamps-control stalk, frail but effective, extends from the left of the steering column, a two-tone horn being sounded on pressing it hard or softly; the “flashers” control is a little lever on the right of the column. A tiny under-scuttle lever operates parking lamps. The self-parking S.E.V. screen-wipers have a tiny tumbler-switch on the right of the facia, and the engine temperature is held at 80 deg. C. by the radiator blind, this now being operated far more easily by a vertical slide control alongside the right-hand front door. The doors have useful folding “pulls” but the handles are on the same edge as the hinges. Circular, very bright, rather loose, interior lamps, which you twist to switch on or off, are fitted one on each door pillar, and these are operated automatically by opening the front doors (the passenger’s was not functioning on the test car). The heater has a convenient control on the twin pipes leading to the screen ducts, two small doors on these pipes controlling the flow of air to the front compartment and there is another vent by the back seat. Providing engine temperature is adjusted suitably the heater and demisters work well.

The self-cancelling direction “flashers” are separate from the lamps, there is ample rear illumination, and a special feature of the Dauphine is the use of concave headlamp glasses to ward off mud and flies. Detachable front and back wings to reduce the cost of repairs are another Dauphine attraction. Equipment includes twin vizors, a good rear-view mirror, a “hooded” exhaust tail-pipe, a lidded ashtray in the facia sill, and an ignition key which also operates the starter (but is placed awkwardly) and can lock the steering. Clock, screen squirts and fog-lamps, as on most economy cars, are not provided as standard.

That is the Renault Dauphine, after critical analysis in the showroom. On the road it reveals a commendable extension of the practical aspects just described.

First and foremost, the roadholding and cornering are outstanding even by exacting standards. The pronounced oversteer found on the 4 c.v. and on most rear-engined cars has been eliminated entirely from the Dauphine. This is a remarkable achievement in a car where the in-line engine lives definitely behind the back wheels and in which swing-axle back suspension is employed. If the tendency is to oversteer, this is of the slightest. The well-known flat ride of the little Renaults is retained, so that few cars feel safer or more stable than a Dauphine in a hurry. The suspension, by coil-springs, is on the hard side, so that as the 15-in, wheels find the road irregularities they transmit noticeable reaction and release rattles in the body/chassis structure, but essentially the ride is comfortable, even over unlevel level-crossings and the like, with some up-and-down motion. The rack-and-pinion steering gets lighter at speed and is quick and accurate, and the 9-in. Bendix-Lockheed brakes are amply powerful given sufficient pedal pressure. They squeaked very occasionally.

As outstanding as the fine handling qualities is the Dauphine’s ability to put the miles behind it. Within the limitations of a three-speed transmission the acceleration is very good, and a cruising speed of 60/65 m.p.h. and a maximum of around an honest 70 are backed up by a third-gear maximum of 50 m.p.h.

At this speed the 845-c.c. engine hums loudly and to maintain good average speeds the gear-lever naturally has to be stirred about. The gear positions are normal, with reverse opposite first, unguarded. The lever calls for some determination when quick changes are made and has the typically Renault wide lateral movement.

To these attributes must be added the increased interior dimensions, commendable fuel range, conferred by a 7-gallon fuel tank below the back seat and the very up-to-date and handsome appearance of the new Dauphine.

Moreover, to the noted stability of the 4 c.v. round corners and over had surfaces must be added the almost complete absence of oversteer with which clever redistribution of weight, etc., has endowed the Dauphine. This modern small saloon thus shouts to be tuned to “Gran Turismo” standards of performance and we have no doubt that many Frenchmen are already setting about it. The engine has plenty in hand, as its performance in 4 c.v. R1063 form has shown.

In the course of our test we drove the Dauphine 640 miles, during which it needed no oil or water. Fuel economy, driving hard, worked out at 45.1 m.p.g. The engine started promptly on its automatic choke, idled inaudibly and proved temperament-free. The use of unclipped rubber sleeves on the petrol piping looks crude, but presumably has been proved satisfactory on test.

We took the little car to the Sussex coast (always a pleasure) and drove it nearly 400 miles in a day exploring a part of South Wales not visited since boyhood (now disfigured), in the course of which we sought some 10/30 Alvis spares (no luck) and had a look at the old Caerphilly speed hill-climb venue (uninspiring). The Dauphine won our admiration for its excellent and typically Continental handling qualities and the fact that its performance, with that so-impressive and useful 65-m.p.h. cruising speed, has not been sacrificed to obtain the useful 45 m.p.g. economy of fuel. It should make, moreover, an excellent rally car. The basic price is £511, which inflates to £769 7s. in England. — W.B.

The Renault Dauphine Saloon

Engine: Four-cylinder, 58 by 60 mm. (845 c.c.). Pushrod overhead valves. 7.25 to 1 compression-ratio; 30 b.h.p. at 4,250 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: First, 16.22 to 1; second, 7.88 to 1; top, 4.4 to 1.

Tyres: 5.00-15 Michelin whitewall on special bolt-on detachable rims.

Weight: 12 cwt. 1 qtr. 21 lb. (without occupants, but ready for the road, with approximately one gallon of petrol).

Steering ratio: Four turns lock-to-lock.

Fuel capacity: Seven gallons. Range approximately 315 miles.

Wheelbase: 7 ft. 5 in.

Track: Front, 4 ft. 1½ in.; rear, 4 ft. 0 in.

Dimensions: 12 ft. 11 in. by 5 ft. 0 in by 4 ft. 9 in. (high).

Price: £511 (£769 7s., inclusive of p.t. and import duty in this country).

Concessionaires: Renault Limited, Western Avenue, London, W.3