Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Renault Dauphine

My buds and I were discussing old cars this morning--as old guys are wont to do, but my buds think about bankruptcy, and the old cars we had in mind were things like the Topolino, Mickey Mouse, the Fiat 500. One thing led naturally to another and I found myself remembering the Renault Dauphine--the first new car I ever owned (and the last, until I latched onto a Toyota Corolla ten years later). I bought it in about January of 1959. Fresh out of the Army with a new wife and a new job, I figured I needed an adult set of wheels, and the waiting list for VW Beetles was just too long. I think I paid about $300 down and financed $1,500 at $89 a month for 18 months; this pencils out to an annual rate of about 9 percent, which seems about right.

As I remember, we both liked the car, my then-wife and I. At least I did:it was a fey robin's-egg blue and there was something vaguely French about it that struck me as a good deal cooler than the sensible, responsible, Teutonic competitor. It had its quirks: the fuel pump kept giving out. But a mechanic explained to me that the problem was a set of gaskets that cost about 39 cents, and that could be changed with a screwdriver: I took to packing a few sets in the glove compartment and it made me feel like a swell fellow to be able to pop out and reconfigure in mid-voyage, just like at the Indy 500 (I think my father rather rolled his eyes).

In retrospect, it was a hell of a lot more than quirky. It weighed about as much as a canned ham and was prone to glissading on an icy highway--and this was in Mentor, Ohio, on the Lake Erie shore (hey, it probably made me a better driver). A bit later--this one really horrifies me now that I think of it--I can remember my baby daughter--she would have been two--standing on the back seat for an entire 134-mile road trip from Louisville to Dayton, gleefully waving at the cars behind us: these days I assume they would have me busted for felony child endangerment (in fact she survived to adulthood without obvious impairment, although she is a tax accountant).

But it gets worse. Wiki informs me that the Dauphine ranks high on the Post Office "wanted" board of all-time bad cars: per Wiki, Car Talk named it ninth worst of the millennium, and Time Magazine called it (I love this) "the most ineffective bit of French engineering since the Maginot Line," noting that it could actually be heard rusting.

At the time, I knew none of this. I suppose you could write my ignorance off to general infantile dopiness. But in self-defense, I'd observe that, compared with the $50 beaters I had owned before, the 1959 Renault looked pretty good.


Michael said...

LOL, it was also my first car. Maybe I bought yours used for $50.00. It was worth every nickel. I remember being stopped at a light and on my right was one of those old buses from the 50's. We both took off at the same time and he beat me by the end of the block. It was so rusty that if I stepped on the brake too hard there was a chance the tires would stop but the frame would continue going forward.

Anonymous said...

It was also my first new car, in Nov. '58, and lasted barely a year before the serious rust began (I love the comment about hearing it rust!) Just today I was telling my wife that you never see a Dauphine at the Dream Cruise on Woodward in Detroit because they''ve all turned to dust. But it was cheap, and new.


Anonymous said...

Ahh ... my first car. 1959 Renault Dauphine. I was just sixteen and the car was five. Paid a whole $300 for it. Seemed like a fortune and it was back then, especially for a kid just turned driver. Well, I drove it all through high school ... didn't learn much in school but I sure learned how to fix cars (Renaults). I kept it going into college and when it turned 99,900 miles I figured it was time to do some trading. A Studebaker salesman allowed me $300 on 1961 Lark with a monster V-8 engine. I thought I was in heaven ... married my high school sweet heart and headed to the beach. After all these years I sometimes think I should have kept the Dauphine. Chris

Anonymous said...

lots of memories. My first car when I was 16 in 1963 was a 1960 red renault dauphine. What fun!!