Brief Encounter with the 760-c.c. REAR-ENGINED RENAULT SALOON
Outstanding Comfort by any Standards. Splendid Controllability. Seating for Four Grown-ups. Very Brisk Performance and Upwards of 45 m.p.g. from an Ingenious French Economy Car.
IN the past we have excused some of the more ordinary cars on which we have reported in MOTOR SPORT by describing them as useful” second-strings” to more high-performance vehicles, well aware that our readers prefer tests of really fast cars. But where the 760-c.c. rear-engined Renault is concerned, excuses for writing-up a comparatively slow saloon are unnecessary—this is, for all its diminutive size and lack of high speed, a real enthusiast’s car.
In the first place, both its specification and the practical planning evident in many aspects of the car, cannot fail to intrigue. Secondly, it handles so well that it is a real joy to drive, more so because it is unexpectedly lively for a car so modestly-engined, and because it is so extraordinarily comfortable.
Briefly, the recipe comprises a watercooled four-cylinder push-rod o.h.v. engine at the rear, driving the rear wheels (ignition being by 6-v. coil and Renault’s own 14-mm. plugs, fan and dynamo beltdriven, carburation by a downdraught Solex taking in oil-filtered air), synchromesh gearbox with all three ratios indirect, independent suspension all round, by coil springs and wishbones at the front, and coil springs and swing-axles at the rear, rack and pinion steering and Lockheed hydraulic braking. Incidentally, the rear-drive, rear-engine formula looks like rivalling the front-drive front-engine method for really small cars. We were able to cover some 250 miles in a right-hand drive example of one of these delightful little cars, embracing
main-road, traffic and trials driving. Right from the start we felt at home and drove hard—which means 55 m.p.h. cruising and 60 m.p.h. downhill, and very little need to ease up for corners. The rear-engined Renault endears itself to the occupants at once, for its level riding round bends and over the worst surfaces, its extreme comfort and its feeling of absolute safety are outstanding in comparison with other cars, large or small. Rolling is virtually absent, if one discounts a very slight canting-over under abnormal conditions, the ride is delightfully steady, ” solid ” and shock-proof, and the steering takes the car where the driver intends to put it. Pot-holes and level-crossings are literally “ironed-out,” even at 50 m.p.h., in an entirely incredible manner. There is audible evidence of the road-wheels moving up and down over obstructions, but the car remains completely undisturbed, nor does the bonnet ripple or judder. The suspension is definitely soft, yet the tyres never protest and tail-slides, even on wet surfaces, are very difficult to promote. The style of riding is most pleasing, if difficult to convey on paper. There is no pitching and up-and-down movement is effectively damped. Does the rear engine affect controllabillity, you will ask ? It does, but by no means to a disconcerting degree. The Renault certainly oversteers, particularly when held round long curves, and tends to need ” correction ” on the straight or after sudden swerves, but, once the driver has become used to providing this
correction, the sense of accurate control is delightful, kerbs can be hugged when cornering fast, and the greatest spacesaving indulged in even in the proximity of other moving vehicles. Let us attempt to analyse the steering and handling characteristics. The three-spoke wheel is well placed and has a nice finger-grip rim. The steering has a ” dead ” feel and is somewhat heavy on the straight, but it becomes lighter and livens-up round corners. There is lazy, but sufficient, castor action, and, although the wheel asks 44 turns lock-to-lock, in normal driving one is not conscious of low-gearing, perhaps because the lock is immense. No return motion or column judder is experienced, the steering action is difficult to describe but most pleasant, and, if the aforementioned understeer is checked, controllability is of the highest order—the driver invariably finds that he is using only one hand for steering, even when “playing tricks” in traffic or driving fast on twisty roads. Coupled with the excellent sus pension and the lack of rolling this quality makes the Renault tireless to drive on long runs. If really fast corner ing is indulged in the tail seems likely to slide and on tight turns the front feels a trifle ” lifty,” but the harder one tries to
upset the demeanour of the car the more the driver and passengers’ confidence in it increases. On account of its handling qualities and comfort alone one covets this car. But, in spite of the tiny engine, the Renault is no sluggard. The speedometer seemed all but accurate, and will go up to 20 in 1st gear, 42 in 2nd, and 60 m.p.h. in top. Normally upward changes would be more likely to be made at 10 and 25 m.p.h. respectively. The engine pulls down to 5, 9, and 18 m.p.h. respectively, and accelerates away quite briskly. At 40 m.p.h. the engine is silent, while at that speed on good roads body rattles are absent. But the car is equally happy at 46 m.p.h., a speed it attains remarkably quickly and seems most to enjoy. In a hurry, however, very little extra fuss is apparent at 55 m.p.h., and a slight downhill stretch will send the needle climbing to 60 m.p.h.—and there is the comforting knowledge that piston speed does not reach 2,500 ft. per min. until the road speed is 644 m.p.h. In other words, you just can not over-drive this Renault. The engine is smooth and very willing and top-gear pul ling up hills is a revelation. With four-up the performance seems as good as with driver only. There is some noise when
idling or pulling, but surprisingly little when cruising at 40 or 50 m.p.h., nor are back-seat passengers conscious that the engine is so near to them. The rear-seat squab and parcels-shelf give no trace of being close to warm machinery. So far, then, we have a very brisk, exceedingly comfortable car that can average
nearly 40 m.p.h. when appropriately driven and which is exceedingly pleasurable to di ive. The charms of the Renault do not end there. Coupled with good handling is a simply fantastic steering lock that is guaranteed to make a London taxi envious (the turning circle is 27 ft 1) and very good brakes, that are light, progressive and quiet in action, do not fade or lose power with fast driving and only lock the wheels if applied in emergency fashion on a wet road. Moreover, the suppleness of the suspension is not unduly emphasised by such application, yet, if required, there is really powerful retardation available.
Then there is the economy factor— drive how you will, you cannot persuade the Renault to burn fuel at a rate greater than 40 m.p.g., and it normally gives at least 45 m.p.g. Indeed, if your wife takes it shopping at a steady 80 m.p.h., she will achieve something in the region of 60 m.p.g.—and will quite probably put the gallon she and the girl-friend have scrounged into the radiator, for the exterior filler in the tail is not labelled but is for WATER, the fuel tank filler being under the engine cover I Incidentally, quite how sample-seeking British policemen will manage to ” dip ” this long fuel-filler we do not know—or care. Economy takes on a new significance when petrol is rationed and, in congratulating Renault on their achievement, we must express disappointment that our manufacturers are neglecting the eight. As if these qualities are not sufficient, the 760-c.c. Renault provides ample accommodation for four adults, is simply but effectively planned, and has such conveniences as interior heating, parking lamps, and an extremely accessible engine. The front seats are rather highset, non-adjustable bucket-type, very comfortable indeed, although the driver is a trifle conscious that the wheel is a shade too far to the left of his seat. Somehow, in spite of the non-adjustability a large, tall man and a slighter, shorter man both drove in comfort, while, although the near-side wing isn’t visible, visibility could hardly be bettered, for the screen is large and the car’s nose very short. The rear seat is not luxurious, but it does provide not-too-cramped accommodation for two grown-ups if required, having a high squab and plenty of foot-space under the front seats. Floor space and leg room in the front is ample, with no restrictions of any sort, as gear and brake-lever are set between the seats and, although the front wheel wells are very deep, they are not in the way, as the width of the car is quite generous. There are four ample doors, with useful ” grip ” for closing them, and an elastic-topped pocket in each front one. The rear doors “trail.” Engine accessibility is ensured by raising the louvred rear bonnet,” when all is revealed, most handily. The nose lifts in a similar manner, after unlocking it and releasing a wire safety-catch to reveal the spare wheel and tools. Special suit-cases are available for accommodation in the nose, but they must be very small. There is a useful shelf behind the rear seat, but that only suffices for small parcels. We are assured that, in France,
roof-located racks solve what is otherwise a luggage problem. The gearbox is controlled by a delightfull little remote lever that nestles under the driver’s left thigh. It is very well placed, although unexpectedly far back on first acquaintance. The changes go through well, either using the synchromesh on 2nd and top, or double-declutching, upward changes quite rapidly, downward changes slower if relying on the synchromesh. The change from 2nd to top, effected with two fingers, is another joyous feature of the car. The lever moves backwards and forwards in unison with drive and over-run, but this is only evident if the hand remains resting on it. It is perhaps a somewhat heavy change, rendered more difficult as the clutch tends to be fierce, coming in only at the extremity of travel of the pedal. This gives rise to slight judder in moving away. The gear positions are normal ; there is no reverse stop. A possible criticism concerns the size of clutch and brake pedals, these being very small and devoid of rubber pads ; although quite comfortable to use, they would THE 760-c.c. RENAULT SALOON Engine : Rear-placed, four cylinders, 55 by 80 mm. (760 c.e.) ; R.A.C.-h.p. 7.5; 19 b.h.p. at 4,000
r.p.m. Gear ratios : 1st, 17.5; 2nd 8.55;
top, 5.5 to 1.
Tyres : 5.0 by 15.
Weight : 111 cwt., dry. Steering ratio : 41 turns, lock-to
lock. Fuel capacity : 6 gallons (range
approx. 270 miles).
Wheelbase : 6 ft. 101 in.
Track : 8 ft. 11 in. Overall dimensions : 11 ft. 91 in. by
4 ft. 81 in. by 4 ft. 9 in. Makers : Renault, Billancourt,
probably wear the soles of one’s shoes and there is a feeling that one’s foot may slip. The treadle accelerator pedal is, like these other pedals, well placed, but rather heavy and has to be depressed some distance before the linkage takes up.
Although all gears are indirect, they are commendably quiet, and, indeed, most of the noise in the Renault is concerned with what happens on prolonged over-run, when a vibratory rumble sets in, emphasised by the absence of sound-proofing of the body. In the same way, some rattles intrude over rough surfaces, and the road wheels set up some additional noise.
Behind the gear-lever is the conventional hand brake, very well placed, but badly in need of adjustment on the car we tried, as it failed to hold even on slight slopes. Behind the hand brake is a substantial lever which, pulled back, operates the starter—so much more sensible than extra yards of cable to a frail control on the facia ! In the same way, the carburetter choke is actuated by pulling up a tiny lever that normally lies on the floor to the right of the gear-gate. How practical are Continental designers !
The Renault is intended one day to be a ” people’s car,” so that it is sparsely fitted-out, but not too obviously so. (Actually de-luxe versions are appearing in France.) The facia is metal, and contains, from 1. to r., a quite small but useful unlined cubby-hole (there is no lid, but it is set at a sensible angle) ; tiny control for the direction indicators and parking lamps, the indicators having to be manually cancelled ; a central 80m.p.h. Jaeger speedometer with total and trip readings and built-in ” essence” gauge (very vague, as the needle continually fluctuated across its transverse scale, even with engine ” off ” and the car at rest) and ignition and oil-pressure lamps ; and ignition key. The speedometer is easy to read and very steady. Head and side lamps, and dimmer, are controlled from an extension below the steering wheel, fairly easily operated by the right hand, the push for a subdued horn being on the extremity. The in-built headlamps threw a beam adequate to the car’s speed, but the ” dim ” setting could have been improved. Two screen vizors are provided. The off-side parking lamp (these lamps are set below the indicators, behind the rear doors) acts as a useful reversing light. Dual rear lamps and interior-illuminated rear number plate are provided. The dual S.E.V. screen wipers are interconnected with the ignition circuit and controlled from under the facia by a switch on the wiper box. With the engine ” off ” they are infernally noisy, but in heavy rain they do excellent work on the fixed, sloping screen. There is a useful scuttle ventilator, operated by pushing up a knob, also below the facia.
On the car tested the ducts had not been fitted, but normally a cunning interior heater is devised by opening tiny trap doors in the floor of the front compartment—one for the driver, another for the front passenger, hot air from the radiator being fed by the cooling fan to the vents thus uncovered. Cunning ! As it was, the car kept very snug and dry without such luxury. Each door has a sliding half-window, a little stiff to operate, but held in a number of positions by simple catches. The door handles, pull-out type on the outside of the car, operate well. The rear window is of reasonable size, but the central rear-view mirror rather small.
The car is apparently sensitive to tyre pressures-14 lb./sq. in. front, 21 lb./sq. in. rear—as a data plate’ in French, on the near-side front wheel well reminded us. Naturally, there is no sliding roof, ashtrays or interior lighting. The speedometer is lit by concealed lighting when the side lamps are in use. Air reaches the radiator through unobtrusive ducts in front of each rear mudguard. The engine appeared to run cool and no fumes entered the car ; no water was added. It ” pinked ” only occasionally and never ran-on.” As we have said, the external filler is the radiator’s ; that it is warm to the touch is the only indication that it is not for petrol ! The fillers are bayonet-held and safety-chains would be appreciated. The oil-filler is in the valve cover. A pleasing detail is the small coloured Renault badge on the ignition-key cord. After a humid night in the open the Continued on page 494