Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1982 Renault 18i - Not Often Seen These Days

Wow. I didn't think there were any of these left in the US. This is the first one I've seen come up for sale in the almost 2 years that I've been writing this blog.

I bought one of these back in the day. It was about a year old when I got it and I kept it for about a year.

Introduced in the US in 1981, the 18i was meant to be Renault's first "world car". It was supposed to compete with the lower end Volvos and Audis, along with the VW Jetta. In some ways it did, but in many ways it did not.

The 18i was really nothing more than a rebodied R12. That wasn't a bad thing. The R12 had a great chassis that was still modern a decade after its introduction.

The R12 had a funky, "only-the-French-can-build-a-car-that-looks-like-this" body. The 18i's body was more modern, more universally acceptable, but, arguably, somewhat bland. Still, in its day, it wasn't a bad looking car.

The interior is where the 18i stood out. I would still rate the seats as the best I've ever sat in (Renault used the same seats in the Fuego - another car I owned). They were very supportive and unbelievably comfortable. Mine were leather, but cloth was more common. The dashboard, taken from the Fuego, was well laid out and the gauges were easy to read. Most of the interior had a nice, quality look and feel to it. Few, if any, cars in this price range had an interior as nice as the 18i's.

The car's suspension characteristics were typically French; lots of body roll, great ride, very good handling. (The handling was let down only by its tiny 13" wheels / tires. Had I kept the car longer I would have replaced them with later Fuego or Sportwagon 14" wheels / tires.)

The drivetrain is what let this car down, big time. The 1600cc engine just ran out of breath too early. I was constantly shifting gears, just to to keep the car moving. Shifting gears is a ton of fun if you're doing it to exceed the speed limit or take a turn at the limit, but not much fun when you're doing it just to maintain reasonable momentum.

I mentioned that "most" of the interior had a quality feel to it. There were some exceptions. The tach and speedometer needles warped, as did the center air vents. Like the later Fuego I owned, the 18i never spent a minute on the back of a flatbed, but it had a lot of little annoying problems. Wheel bearings, exhaust systems, alternators, heater valves and more, all went bad during the year or so I owned the car. It had less then 40K on it when I got rid of it. (Another issue with the 18i was the automatic transmission. It was junk. My sedan was a 5 speed, but I found how bad the automatics were when I later bought an 18i station wagon. - See below.)

In typical Renault fashion (at least here in the US), they got the car "right" just before discontinuing it. The last 18i available in the US was a station wagon, renamed the "Sportwagon" (They dropped the sedan and the 18i name altogether after 1983. The Sportwagon was offered through 1986.) It had a powerful 2.2 liter engine and 14" wheels and tires. According to a friend who owned one for quite awhile, reliability was greatly improved, too. Had the first cars been built like the last ones, the 18i may very well have been real competition to Volvo, Audi and VW here in the US.

This car looks clean, but it may have lived a hard life. The front end appears to have been replaced, or at least painted. (The color is slightly different and one of the fenders is missing its Renault badge.) The ad has very little text, and what it does have is confusing. The seller writes that the "ceiling is gone", which may mean that it needs a new headliner. I have no idea, as there are no pictures of the interior.

The gold / brown color was common on European cars back the the late '70s and early '80s. (Think about how many Audis, Jaguars, Volvos and even BMWs you've seen in this color.) It's period correct, even if it's not very easy on the eyes.

This car is what it is. It's not very exciting, but it's rare Renault sedan. There are much more interesting Renaults available, but if having a car very, very few people have means a lot to you, this 18i would be tough to beat. (Just don't pay the $2K asking price for it.)

Located in the "Concord / Pleasant Hill / Martinez" area of California, click here to see the Craigslist ad.


I bought another 18i a few years after getting rid of my first one. I needed a beater and saw an 18i wagon with a bad automatic transmission for sale. The seller wanted $100.00 for it. I bought it. I located another transmission at a local junkyard for $50.00. I installed it, took the car off the lift, fired it up, put it in gear and... nothing happened. The tranny I bought was bad. I returned it to the junkyard, got a refund and called Sutton Motors, a great old Renault / Peugeot dealer in central Massachusetts. They had their own little Peugeot / Renault junkyard and stocked a lot of used parts. I told the parts manager, Paul, that I needed a good used automatic transmission for an 18i. "No such thing", he replied. That's when I learned that all the 18i automatic transmissions were junk. Instead, I bought all the parts needed to turn the car into a 5 speed. There was a lot of work involved in doing that, but I figured it was my only choice. At some point, while splicing a wiring harness, I sliced my hand and had to get 6 or 8 stitches, which set me back a week or so. I eventually finished it and the car ran and drove perfectly.

After all that, I only kept the car for a month or so. I gave it to a friend who needed a car. A few months later he put it on its roof while driving through a snow squall near Rochester, NY. He wasn't hurt, but the car was totaled and I never saw it again. I still have the scar on my hand to remind me of it, though.


Max Power said...

In my formative car teen yers in the late 70's and early 80's, I was somewhat fanatical about trying to get my father to get a Renault for some reason. God knows, he did go for the 'odd' European armor but that was usually limited to only the Italians (Fiat and Alfa).

First I tried getting him into a 17 Gordini...a cool metalic blue one with the optional alloy wheels...he passed. I almost had him convinced with the 18i...I still remember seeing one parked near our house when it first came out, and we talked to the owner about it at length. Dad couldn't still pull the trigger.

My last attempt was with the Alliance...specifically the special edition MT version which celebrated the Motor Trend Car of the year award. It came with special metalic gunmetal paint and alloys and even a 6 speaker stereo (imagine how cool my King Crimson and Night Ranger tapes would sound on that!!! LOL).

In the end, while he was going to get the Alliance, he waited too long and the MT edition was sold out.

He is now 83 and all gung ho about getting a Fiat 500...and me at 45 is all about goading him on to do it!

rrshadow2 said...

I had a Renault Medallion that was a couple of years old, I thought it would be Cool, I had owned a Renault 10, a few R-16s and Two Le Cars were. I was Wrong, Oh so wrong, in Americanizing it, they did too good of a job and it felt like driving a Chevy Caprice with Renault Badges on it. Eventually I bought both a Fuego and an Alliance from a dealer for $50 each! He said they sat on his lot for a couple of years and never sold and he shoved them in the back and just ignored them. Unfortunately for Me they had been sitting far too long, got them both running but each had a laundry list of things wrong so I scrapped them both..Oh Well, No great loss

alanja leto 2011 said...

3,000 or so were sold in North America between 1981 and 1983. Fairly leisurely performance (particularly with the ZF automatic), poor NVH, but excellent grip and fuel economy. When I owned one, I saw 33mpg on the highway, and never attained less than 25mpg overall. Not surprising; this car weighed just 2,261 lbs.

Surprisingly for its day, the engine was equipped with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. A computer controlled, at least partially, the auto box, and 1-2 shifts were usually silky smooth, with 2-3 shifts a touch more pronounced.

If you have ever driven this model (or many a French car, in general), you hardly need me to tell you that the ride is fantastic (particularly for a vehicle of such a short wheelbase); throttle steerability, mid-corner, is enthusiastic, and - like the best of French cars - she rolls copiously but grips tenaciously. Grip in the rain is absolutely outstanding: a real riot. It was a rather more progressive car to drive at the limit than the period BMW 320i to which Renault compared the 18i.

The steering itself (power-assisted, 2.9 turns lock-to-lock) was phenomenal: good feel on-center, with immediate response off-center. The stabilizer at the rear made this car surprisingly agile; perhaps nervous in a sense, if one is not accustomed to the benign, yet substantive, roll.

I've never in an automobile sat in such compliant fauteuils; would that those who designed the couches in my living room held my comfort in quite so conscientious a regard.

alanja letovanje said...

Back in the 1950s, Renault was the largest auto importer in the United States. When its rear-engined Dauphine was supplanted by the Volkswagen Beetle as the import of choice, however, Renault would plunge toward obscurity in North America, a situation that changed only when it bought into AMC (American Motors Corp.) in the late-70s.

In the face of the second gas crisis of the decade, the two companies decided to jointly produce a front-wheel-drive car. Renault had long been an expert in front-wheel-drive (since the 1969 R16), and AMC had not the capital to independently move to this more efficient drivetrain.

While the new front-wheel-drive car - internally dubbed X42 and later to debut as the Alliance - was under development, Renault used AMC distributors to advance its LeCar hatchback (R5), and to import its midsize sedan: the R18, fuel-injected for America as the 18i.

R18 had debuted in Europe for 1977, at the 1976 Paris Motor Show, under the theme, "meeting international requirements." The R18 was built as a global car long before the Ford Contour was ever conceived. Drawing on its R12 predecessor, R18 was designed to please everyone, everywhere. Europeans immediately balked at the apparent mainstreaming of Renault design, but Renault stood firm; R18's more modern wedge design was, it insisted, a natural process of evolution.

Renault brought its R18 to the United States for the 1981 model year as the 18i, available only with an 81.5hp, 86lb-ft, 1647cc gasoline hemi-head engine. Underneath were upper transverse arms and reaction arms with lower control arms and coil springs at the front, and a beam axle with coil springs and anti-roll bar at the rear.

"When there is a car from the country that created the Concorde ...," the first ad for the 18i began. Unfortunately enough, the little that existed of the European R18's French character had been Americanized to a point of confusion in the 18i.

Thank AMC for the chrome-strip adjustments, while Renault was forced to adhere to sealed-beam and bulky-bumper regulations. The 18i took on the look of a caricature of an American car.

The 18i was neither here nor there.

Car and Driver called it a "chauvinistically French machine imbued with true character" (Car and Driver, December 1980), yet the truth was that its French-ness presented itself as neither emotionally flawed, nor stylistically brilliant. It was, quite simply, different – and, unfortunately enough, different from what buyers had expected. The 18i was hardly going to endear itself to any in-crowds.

Paradoxically, the R18 became one of Renault's most successful models in Europe, yet Americans stayed away in droves: despite Renault's mainstreaming efforts, it still looked, to American eyes, too odd. Moreover, parts availability was patchy, despite distribution through AMC dealerships.

Sales of the 18i were disappointing, but Renault went ahead with the R18-based Fuego coupé all the same. Priced at about the level of a top-line 18i sedan, the egg-shaped Fuego was a little slow and weird-looking, but played to an emerging front-wheel-drive two-door market as the new layout picked up steam with enthusiasts. Fuego proved rather more popular than its sedan cousin.

1983 - the year that the Fuego received a turbo - was the last year of the 18i sedan. It was a pity, for the R18 Turbo over in Europe was debuting to rave reviews. The late, great LJK Setright, writing for CAR magazine, dubbed it the "fastest car in the real world."

When Renault sold AMC to Chrysler in 1987, the R18 in Europe was replaced by the R21 (briefly sold here by Chrysler as the Eagle Medallion), which was eventually usurped by the Renault Laguna, a car which continues in the European market today.

Unknown said...

yo tengo uno motor 2000cc gtx con cubiertas nuevas y llantas originales...modelo 1984...muy buen auto..!!!!

Anonymous said...

The 18i was the worst car by far I have ever owned. The electrical system was awful. Cv joints lasted40k. Air compressor went out at 20k. And that was the easy stuff.

Anonymous said...

I loved my 18i it was quick and fast. She kept up with pretty much anything and could blow most away on the back roads.
I lived near a racetrack and used to race porsches and BMWs on my roads all the time and nary a one ever kept up.
I had to order a motor that came on a slow boat from Sweden when I melted the pistons lol. The Best thing of all was Every single bolt on it was a 13mm!