Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Renault You Want To Own - A 1978 R17 Gordini on eBay

(7/16/09 Update - There is a similar R17 now being offered on eBay - Click here to see the post)

This is a rare find in the US - a 1978 Renault R17 Gordini. (Amédée Gordini was sort of the Carroll Shelby of France - Any cars bearing the Gordini name are the top of the line; the quickest, sportiest available)

The R17 Gordini may have been the best car Renault ever brought to the US.

Based on the same platform that gave us the boring R12 and the uninspired R15, it's amazing just how good this car turned out. The 1600cc engine, while no rocket, gave it adequate performance and it's suspension had a great combination of handling and ride (Something the French do very well).

The interior was, in my mind, the best ever from Renault. The later (1977 - 1979) cars had a well laid out dash and Recaro seats. A giant cloth sunroof (insulated and power operated) gave it an almost convertible like feel. For the cooler months Renault provided a fiberglass hardtop to cover the sunroof, making it as warm and quiet as any hardtop.

Imported from 1972 until 1979, there were never many R17s sold in the US. Mechanical parts, except for a few that were shared with more common Renaults, are tough to find. Body panels and trim are almost impossible to source in the US and not much easier anywhere else.

Look for rust. Most of it's easy to spot as R17s usually rusted around the wheel wells, door bottoms and the outter portion of the rocker panels. That's fairly easy to repair. However, some also rusted in an area behind the rocker panels. That area is structural and needs to be repaired properly with metal.

Mechanically there is nothing too spooky about them. The bottom end of the engine is bulletproof, but valves, on cars not well maintained, can start to go at around 100,000 miles. Alternators tend to fail early, but can be rebuilt if you can't find a reman unit. The seat upholstery wears out quickly, but since these will never be show cars judged on originality, you can have them recovered in any material and pattern you like. (The striped upholstery on the one listed on eBay is not original)

As with most Renaults you can gain a few more HP by using some of the aftermarket parts usually found in Europe. I've been told of a few people who dropped Fuego turbo engines into R17s, but I've never seen one in person. Given the similarities between the R17 and the Fuego, I imagine that it can be done. (Of course you don't see a lot of Fuego turbo engines for sale these days either!) There are few body modification that can be done, but fortunately, the car looks great so few are needed. The Renault stock wheels are nothing special, but, they are period-typical Renault 3 lug wheels and aftermarket ones are not readily available. Like most cars sold in the US in the seventies, the R17 had huge, ugly bumpers. In Europe ( and on the first few imported to the US) the car came with a much cleaner bumperless front end and tail (see photo below). Good luck finding those parts in the US, but if you do, buy them and bolt them on (some very minor modification is needed). It makes a huge difference in the appearance of the car (Not to mention that it takes a few pounds off the car - always a good thing).

Buying and restoring this car can only be a labor of love. It will never be worth real money as the Renault name is worthless in the US and the R17 Gordini is probably one the least known Renaults ever sold in the US (Most people will think it's a Plymouth Arrow, anyway. Find a picture of one online - Mitsubishi blatantly copied the R17's styling).

I've owned 2 of these cars (a 1975 and a 1979) and I can tell you from firsthand experience that if you don't care what people think about the "name" on your car, if you don't care what it's resale value is and if you don't mind hunting down parts, the R17 is a really unique and fun car to own.

The car listed on eBay is out of Texas. The seller admits to knowing little about it. The stripes on the side are from the factory, which makes me believe the car has had no bodywork done to it. It's not a perfect car and it's a gamble, but it may be a long time before you see another one come up for sale in the US. Click here to see the listing.

This is the point where I usually point out a website that has a ton of info about the car I'm featuring. There isn't one for the R17. The Renault Owners Club of North America may be helpful, though. Click here to find their site.

R17 Gordini in European trim.


Anonymous said...

I always liked these cars, its' one of the few cars I have liked but never driven.

Unknown said...

Yep they were GREAT had two a 75 and the 78 they had the nick name of the "pocket rocket" and they were.had the 78 for 15 years and had a friend with a 76 with the twin webber's on it tested at 165 horse crazy car.

Not many in Canada glad I had them.

Glynn said...

Banging cars - one of the best Renault ever produced, and certainly one of the best looking. Had a string of them, including a '72 1565cc TS with fuel injection, a '74 1565cc twin choke webber version, and a couple of 1647cc twin choke webber versions. All of them went like sh*t off a teflon coated stick, and were quite reliable, considering their age. Full open tops, and pillarless doors, with wind down rear quarters made them sexy.

Parts here in UK as scarce as rocking horse sh*t, but the pleasure of owning the vehicle was reward enough for the effort needed. Always turned heads, when parked up at a show, in the street, or belching it's exhaust fumes at some supposeedly fast Ford.

The Mitsi that ripped the styling was called the Celeste. It was a bigger powerplant, but still couldn't hold a candle to the 17.

Mint! Happy memories! Sadly missed. About time Remault did a retro version. They have proved time and again that they can produce world class sports cars, with realistic price tags. Lets have a 17 for the 21st centuary.

Anonymous said...

Hello from Allentown,Pa
I owned an orange 74 Gordini like shown with convertable sunroof. I junked it in 1987?? I still have the original owners manual...(anybody want to buy this relic manual??)It will always be my favorite car..

Unknown said...

I foung a '73 R-17 Gordini, a rare hardtop model, in a junk yard lot for $500. And I can tell you 3 Rs stand for Renault Road Rocket!! Bosche fuel injection, 5-speed gearbox AND REAL magnesium mag wheels. I was lucky to find another R-17 in a different junkyard,which I methodically raped, so parts were not a problem. The owner of that junkyard was SOOO DUMB, sold me both front drive axles complete with disk brakes ready to install for $50. I got a Haines manuel for it (best $29.95 I ever spent)and that was real help too. The ONLY problem I had was, with 11.5 to 1 compression it really did need 100octain gas. I knew an airframe and powerplant mechanic at a local private airfield who sold me 100 Octain AvGas for it. I sold it to get a '79 RX-7,(also a great little sports car) but I wish I had held on to it. If I foung another R-17 GORDINI I'd buy it in half a heartbeat.

Crustywalt said...

Can't remember the year of my Gordini but it was black and had the louvered back window. Red Recaro seats and 5 speed-assume all were stick? Started and ran great. That was the best option for tops EVER. Solid in winter - easy to install and remove, and the power roof was very cool, especially since it looked like a hardtop inside. Must have been an early one since it had small bumpers. Replaced my R5 LeCar...

Anonymous said...

I owneda 79', and I lived in the Bronx, NY it blew everyone's mindwhen I brought it home from dealer. I'm about to retire and live in Atlanta, GA now I'd love to find onein my area and work, since I know all it's quirks, but it was fun to drive, especially in the summer with that big soft top pulled back

BHPBUG said...

I owned one from 1978`1988, DROVE IT FOR OVER 100,000 miles. Had little problems if any... very reliable. I would always get great comments on it's looks, and it was ahead of it's time... one could check the oil level without opening the hood, it had an electric gauge. I loved the "FUN ROOF" It was also easy on gas... I absolutely loved mine!