1970 Renault 10S Review: Classic Metal

By: Paul Blank, Photography by: Guy Bowden

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1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S
1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S
1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S
1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S
1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S
1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S
1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S
1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S 1970 Renault 10S
Renault-10S-8.jpg Renault-10S-8.jpg

With the new ‘12’ model on the horizon and a stack of unbuilt ‘10’ kits, Renault OZ created a sporty version of its rear-engined sedan

1970 Renault 10S Review: Classic Metal
1970 Renault 10S

 

1970 Renault 10S

In the mid-1960s, France's powerful Renault company was facing a major crossroad in terms of product engineering and marketing.

Since the 4CV was launched, immediately after World War II, Renault had followed a course of rear-engined models - a design direction that was immensely successful for the Paris-based firm. Known in Australia as the 750, the 4CV was a four-door car, generally similar to the well-known VW Beetle, but with a 760cc in-line, watercooled four in the back.

It gained a strong following around the world and was successful in motorsport, particularly rallying. Indeed, the 4CV provided the basis for the original Alpine sports cars, which would go on to dominate rallying for many years.

The 4CV was followed by the sales-record-breaking Dauphine in 1956, which brought a more modern, quite stylish body along with an 850cc engine. The Dauphine brought Renault huge sales in the US, and it sold well in Australia too, with local assembly undertaken by Clyde Industries in Victoria from 1959.

Renault also introduced a very pretty convertible based on the same running gear - the Frua-designed Floride. Think French Karmann Ghia.

Next up was the Renault 8, which mirrored the Dauphine's layout, cloaked in square, modern bodywork. Launched in 1962, the R8 stuck to Renault's tried-andtrue, rear-engined format and for a time was built alongside the Dauphine.

The R8 was an even bigger seller than its predecessors and the hot R8 Gordini was a genuine Mini Cooper S competitor, winning a slew of track and rally events, as well as an equally fanatical fan base. The R8 won the 1963 Wheels Car of the Year award and soon evolved into our feature car.

But change was in the air at Renault. While rear-engined models were selling, Renault had a couple of dull front-engine, rear-drive models on offer, like the forgettable Fregate sedan and Colorale, a sort of early SUV. Behind the scenes though, Renault engineers were brainstorming and, in the best French tradition, developing some very unusual prototypes.

This process did result in some clever Renault cars, though. First cab off the rank was the R4, which, like the Citroën 2CV that inspired it, featured front-wheel drive and was, in 1961, a major turning point for Renault - ultimately heralding the end of the rear-engined cars.

But it wasn't all over for the engine-in-the-wrong-end models. After all, Volkswagen, Fiat and Simca were all enjoying increasing success with their rear-engined models. So Renault made some major tweaks to the R8, lengthened both ends of the car, and voila! The 'new' R10 emerged in 1965.

Australian assembly moved to a new facility in West Heidelberg, Melbourne, from 1966 and Aussies lapped up the R10. Renault had success in the Australian Rally Championship and demand for Renaults here kept growing. But by 1970, the end was nigh for the R8 and 10. The excellent new front-drive Renault 12, launched in Europe in '69, was set to replace the 10.

With a batch of R10 kits remaining un-built and R12 assembly about to start in Melbourne, Renault created a new version of the R10, unique to Australia, that would maintain interest in the model.

The 10S marked the end of the long line of rear-engined Renaults. It was no decorative limited-edition, though, and featured lots of upgrades over the regular 10. In France you could buy a 1300cc version but here, performance of the 10's standard 1108cc unit was increased to create the 'S' by the fitment of an eight-port cylinder head (as opposed to the Siamesed ports of the usual unit), with larger valves and a different cam profile. A dual-throat Weber carburettor replaced a single-throat Solex item and there was a new exhaust system and new manifolds.

The compression ratio was raised from 8.5:1 to 9.5:1 which, added to the mechanical changes, increased power from 46hp (34kW) to 60hp (45kW), torque from 81Nm to 88, and gave the 775kg sedan a decent performance increase.

The 10S benefitted from other upgrades like wider 4.5-inch wheels (from the Gordini), more comprehensive circular instruments - including a tacho - replacing a basic strip speedo, as well as thick black sidestripes, which were a delete option for not-so-lairy types. The 10S also gained the steering wheel used on Renault's Caravelle coupe, plus 'S' badgework spelling out that it was a special model.

In 1970, the 10S sold for $2128 (the standard 10 cost $2050) and significantly undercut the Ford Escort 1300 GT.

Wheels called the 10S a "Renault with a Sting". They said "the 10S has all the endearing qualities of the stock 10 with disc brakes all 'round, steering lock, fascia vents, exceptionally comfortable seating, precise steering and all independent suspension." They obviously liked it.

What are they like to use today? Climb into the 10S, sink into the surprisingly plush seats and pull the door shut using the straps. Clang! The lightweight doors shut with a sound unfamiliar in modern cars. The back seats are just as comfortable, but kneeroom is quite limited (wheelbase is just 2260mm).

The rear side windows are sliding items, which help to keep weight down. The steering wheel feels close but the near vertical windows help give a spacious feel to the cabin. The engine turns over enthusiastically and quickly settles down into a hum.

On the road, the rear-engine layout's strongest characteristic is vague steering at speed (despite being rack-and-pinion) and a propensity to buffeting from crosswinds. You have to row the 10S along a bit to get the most out of it, but that's not unlike many other small cars of the era. The all-disc brakes are great, but the extra power and torque don't make the S a quick car.

For a long time, Renault 10s were unloved old cars, as Renault purists preferred the short-nose R8. Old R10s just got used up. Not a lot of them remain today and there are even fewer of the rare 10S version, of which under a thousand were made.

In Paris, Renault has a vast collection of over 700 cars they've produced for markets around the world, but what it doesn't have is an Australian-market-only 10S.

 

I OWN ONE

After owning a Morgan, Perth-based 10S owner, Syd Middleton, was converted to Renaults in the 1960s and has owned a string of new and second-hand examples since.

Syd's collection today includes R4, R8, Floride, Caravelle and a 25, plus his mustard-coloured R10S. He first saw the car advertised in 2005, went to look over it and quite liked it. The car had belonged to the same family from new in a south-western WA town and had clearly been well loved. "It had been repainted by the last owner but had only done about 115,000 miles" he explains.

"I made an offer which they didn't accept, but nine months later I got a call from the owners." There was some confusion about which car it was and Syd made a lower offer than before and the owners agreed to sell it to him.

The car's full history is with it, including the replacement of the head gasket at 33,000 miles, but otherwise it's had a pretty good run for four decades.

"I've done the brakes, radiator and fitted some new lights, and not much else" says the proud owner of this Franco-Aussie rarity, "I make sure it gets out at least once a month, but never in the rain".

 

SPECIFICATIONS

1970 Renault 10s

 

Engine: 1108cc 4cyl, OHV, 8v

Power: 45kW @ 5000rpm

Torque: 88Nm @ 3000rpm

Weight: 775kg

Gearbox: 4-speed manual

Brakes: discs (f/r)

0-97km/h: 15.3sec*

Top speed: 148km/h*

Price new: $2128

*Wheels August, 1970

 

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