Renault 12 Review: Classic Metal

By: John Wright

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Renault 12 Renault 12 Renault 12
Renault 12 Renault 12 Renault 12
Renault 12 Renault 12 Renault 12
Renault 12 Renault 12 Renault 12
Renault 12 Renault 12 Renault 12
Renault 12 Renault 12 Renault 12
Renault 12 Renault 12 Renault 12
Renault 12 Renault 12 Renault 12

Wrighty questions his french love affair

Renault 12 Review: Classic Metal
Classic metal: Renault 12

 

Renault 12

By the time I bought my dark blue Renault 12 GL brand new in (August?) 1976, I was a confirmed fan of the marque. I had owned a 16TS and driven at least two others. Before that, I had coveted a friend’s Renault 10S and even the standard 10 seemed like a good thing compared with Toranas, Hillman Hunters and the like.

Disappointment from day one just about sums up my brief months with the 12 GL. I couldn’t understand how the company responsible for creating the daredevil, radical 16 could serve up this slightly smaller car that offered so much less performance.

Hindsight tells me that the Renault 12 effectively marked the beginning of European front-wheel-drive orthodoxy. Previous Euros with this mechanical configuration had all been interesting in some way or other – even the Fiat 128 had a certain perky appeal. The Renault 12, however, proved that front-wheel drive could equal dull.

On a related theme, the 12 was the first European car I had experienced that did not feel superior to its Japanese rivals. It had been around half a decade when I bought mine, and even the class of 1970 included better cars. I would much rather have a Mazda Capella in my collection than a Renault 12, not to mention a Datsun 1600.

The purchase of that car said more about me than it did about the car industry in 1976. Yes, the 12 was better than an HX Holden, but how about the Volkswagen Golf or an Alfasud Ti (before we knew they rusted to death) or even the Passat TS with which I replaced it? I was as hooked on Renaults as I had previously been hooked on Fiats, both marques that were well into decline by the mid-1970s.

My actual car had an indicated top speed of 152 km/h and took forever to get there. There was such a paucity of torque and such a low final-drive ratio that fuel economy was not as good as the Passat’s. It did steer nicely but the ride was not comparable to the 16’s.

You could think of it as a three-box design with a too-small boot (that squashed-atboth- ends look!) and none of the versatility of the hatchback 16.

The reality was that the 12 was built down to a price – a front-drive econo-car for the sleepy 1970s rather than a technological tour de force for the swinging ’60s.

My love affair with Renaults survived but I would never make the mistake of thinking Renault equals good. I subsequently owned three more 16 TSs, but never contemplated another 12 or an 18. The 17TL is the one that got away and I did love the Fuego when I tested it back in 1982...

 

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