Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Beautiful 1959 Renault Caravelle (Floride)

I've said this so many times... The French just never understood the US market. From the 50s through the 80s, we bought just about any European roadster that was sent to us. If it was a 2 seater, looked sporty, handled well and was relatively quick, we bought 'em.

With the original Caravelle (called the Floride outside of the US), Renault met the first 3 requirements. But the 35HP, 845cc, engine made it excruciatingly slow. (19 seconds to 60 MPH.)

The Caravelle body was styled by Ghia. It is rumored that the front end was used as inspiration by BMC when designing the MGB. There certainly is some similarity. The interior is well designed and well laid out. When compared to its main US competitor, VW's Karmann Ghia, it was downright luxurious.

Reliability was not one of the Caravelle's high points. Overheating, blown headgaskets, fragile clutches and iffy electronics were all part of Renault's (all Renaults of the day) woes. To make matters worse, many of Renault's US dealers often didn't have the parts and / or skills to repair the cars. When a Renault broke down, it was most often junked. Buyers then went on to purchase another brand. Very few of the very few Caravelles sold survive today. (Rust was a huge issue, too.)

This car is a driver that would get attention at any car show. It was restored 5 years ago and still looks great. Black over red is one of my favorite color combinations. The bumpers have been rechromed and the top is new. The original hardtop is with the car, but is missing the rear window. (The seller says he knows of one available in California.)

The Caravelle is a beautiful car. If they came with an English or Italian badge on them, they would sell for twice the money they sell for now. In the US the Renault badge is a liability. Even with its measly performance, it's still a car worth owning. (The reality is that an old Karmann Ghia is no faster. Even some of the British sports cars of the day needed 14 or more - often way more - seconds to reach 60 MPH. None were especially reliable when new.)

Buy this car for its looks, not its performance. Bring it to any local car show and it will get more attention than any of the similar era, similar class British, Italian or German cars will.

As most of you know, I am a big Renault (French cars in general) fan. I look at this car and I remember the incredible R17 Gordinis I owned. It's frustrating to think about what could have been if Renault even had the slightest clue about the American market.

Located in Los Angeles, CA, click here to see the eBay listing.


Max Power said...

I would own it over a Karmann Ghia just for the exclusivity alone...a very nice car indeed!

Trevor said...

Now this is a car. Too bad I'm saturated right now. The price is pretty good and just in time for summer.

bluetoes591 said...

And then in a weird twist, I actually saw one of these out on the road in the rain this afternoon at lunch time... Not sure I've ever seen one on the street before.