Chic Renault a

breath of French air

Renault 12 leafrogs Renault 8

IN the late 1960s Renault was going places in the UK.

Its R16 model was so comfortable and slick to drive that it put many of the home-built competitors to shame.

But the masterstroke came when the wraps were thrown off the R12.

This car bridged the gap between the cheaper R6 and the R16 and itdefied the new leaning towards hatchbacks by being a conventional saloon.

In the UK, man Renault drivers were still smarting from the rust problems of the old Dauphine models so winning them over to a new mid-range saloon was not easy.

But it was just about impossible to dislike the 12 because it had a sporty stance, drove remarkable well and was a very chic set of wheels in which to arrive at important destinations.

With a very low waist, it was a real looker and made cars like the 1971 Morris Marina look positively dowdy.

Powered by a 1,300cc engine mounted ahead of the driven front wheels, the R12 was a smooth and refined performer, despite its rather humble station in life. I have heard a number of criticisms levelled at it but to me they really don't hold water.

For a start it handled much better than the older rear-engined R8, which sold alongside it for a while and gave the bread and butter market in the UK a hint of premium motoring.

With 90mph on tap it was a nifty car but if you drove it hard you could not expect much more than 27.5mpg.

A five-door estate followed in 1970 and there was also a more accelerative Gordini model.

In Europe it continued in production until 1980 but was licence-buit in other parts of the world.

It even made a brief return to Britain when it was sold by the Romanian Dacia company, now part of the Renault group.

Renault made 2.5 million R12s but rust remained a major problem - you just do not see them any more. As things stand there are well under 100 left in the UK and they are becoming fewer as each month passes.

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