Thursday, November 5, 2009

1985 Renault Fuego - Love / Hate

I owned one of these back in the 1980s. It was about a year old when I bought it. I kept it for a few years. My previous Renault was an R17 Gordini. I bought it thinking that the Fuego, being the R17's replacement in Renault's lineup, was a step forward. I was wrong. While I loved the Gordini, the Fuego was truly a love / hate relationship.

I loved the Fuego's looks. While it hasn't aged well, the body looked great in the 1980s. You can look at it as the French take on the Porsche 924. I loved the interior. The dash is well laid out and the seats are comfortable and extremely supportive. The huge cloth sunroof gave it an almost convertible feel. I loved its practicality. The giant glass hatchback made for easy loading and, with the rear seat folded down, there is an amazing amount of storage space. I loved the gas mileage. Even driving it hard it never failed to get at least 30 MPG on the highway and 22 around town. If I was easy on the throttle those numbers went up dramatically. While it wasn't an extremely fast car, it could get out of its own way. Handling was typically French, meaning it was safe, but had tons of body roll. It took me a few weeks to get used to the handling, but once I did it was entertaining.

What wasn't entertaining was its reliability...

To its credit, the car never spent any time on the back of a flatbed truck. All the problems were small and annoying. Alternators failed with amazing regularity. (No real surprise there... Renault mounted the catalytic converter under the hood and then mounted the alternator above it.) Front u-joints seemed to start clicking as soon as you installed them. Wheel bearings seemed to hum even when they were new. The A/C failed twice in the summer, the heater control valve failed twice in the winter. The speedometer and tach needles warped. The exhaust system was made of tin foil. Vacuum lines cracked, which would then cause the ventilation system to change airflow on its own... The list of annoying little problems could go on forever. One other annoying thing about this car, which had nothing to do with reliability, was the gear shift lever. No sharp shifts happened in this car, the lever felt like a spoon in a bowl of Jell-O.

The ironic thing is, the engine and manual transmissions (stay away from an automatic) on these cars are incredibly strong. When I got tired of mine - and when I found out what a 100,000 mile Fuego was worth as a trade-in - I gave it to a guy who worked for me. He drove it for another 80,000 miles.

Do the pluses of the Fuego outweigh the minuses? I don't know. I was twenty-something when I owned the car. I was much more tolerant of flaws back then. Today, the minor problems would eventually get on my nerves and probably cause me to park the car and forget about it.

There's an irony to this post that is not lost on me. If I were writing about a Maserati Biturbo, an Alfa, a Fiat, any British roadster, or a number of other cars, I'd have called all these flaws "character traits". On the Fuego they just seem like, well, flaws. I can't explain that. Maybe had I not spent real money on mine and maybe had I not counted on it as everyday transportation, I might look at it differently.

The car listed on eBay seems to be in amazing condition for its age and mileage. The seller has provided a lot of pictures. You never see these cars around anymore and this would be a unique car to use as a weekend driver and to take to an occasional car show.

Located in South China, Maine, click here to see the eBay listing.


Max Power said...

Put me in the 'love' category. I always loved the look of the Fuego and was one of the cars I lusted after as a late teen in the early 80's....then again, I thought that the R17 Gordini and the Fiat 128 3P Sport (with the do nothing body kit and stripes galore) were the bomb as well :) I always loved the seats...definitely one of the best of that era. This car looks like it may have aftermarket European headlights...if I am not mistaken, I thought that all US Fuegos were saddled with sealed beams throughout its run

Richard said...

Styling of the Fuego was never for me, but you cannot fault that it was one practical Coupe. Then again, who really buys a coupe solely based on how practical it is?

Renault then introduced the Avantime (Designed by Matra and there last ever mass produced car) as the next Coupe around ten years after the Fuego stopped production. For me, the Avantime has been one of the most desirable cars the manufacturer ever produced. And yet no one purchased them, it was a huge failure. When I lived in the UK they were giving them away, if you could find one used values were around $4k to $8k back in 2005. Now were all set on change in this country, wonder if they could change the import rules? It would be the first car I would have shipped across!

Just A Car Geek said...

Hey Max - I think those light covers might be be aftermarket. I vaguely remember someone selling them for the Fuego and 18i. The clips that stick out of them are what makes me think that. I remember the ad saying that the covers were easily removable... I may be wrong. It was a long time ago.

I really did like my Fuego. It was just a disappointment after having owned a couple of R17 Gordinis.


Just A Car Geek said...

Hey Richard - The Avantime looked like an interesting car, but I've never seen one in person. In pictures it looks kind of minivan-ish. If I get to Europe I'll have to see one in person.

Max Power said...

The Avantime was at first, never really my cup of tea, however, it's bizarre minivan/coupe mashup looks definitely got my attention in the long run. Apparently shorty after Renault took over Nissan, there were focus groups to study if the Avantime would have any interest imported into the US as an Infinti. I guess we know what came of that.