1959 Renault Dauphine: “Men in Motor Science Predict…”

December 27, 2011 § Leave a comment


Vintage 1950s Renault Dauphine car advertisement

The 1959 Renault Dauphine: "Where is the Engine?"

The thing that jumps out at me about this 1959 Renault advertisement is the claim – in the lower right quadrant – that Renault pioneered the engine-in-the-rear idea and that “men in motor science predict all autos will be thus in a few years.” Well, that “détail essentiel” seems to have escaped most car designers in the years since.

The Dauphine arrived in 1956, and the next year the US magazine The Motor called the car the “prettiest little four-seater in the world.” In 1958, Time Magazine noted in an article titled “Renault on the Go” that “The Dauphine is already outselling Volkswagen in eleven U.S. states… So brisk is demand that Renault and the French Line have formed a new shipping company CAT (Compagnie d’Affrètement et de Transport). With six freighters that ferry up to 1,060 Dauphines each across the Atlantic.” The car cost about $1,600 at the time and got about 40 mpg.

Here is a great commercial that carries on the balloon/”make driving fun again” theme from the ad above.

In 2008 The Independent wrote a piece on the history of the Dauphine that noted that it “certainly possessed an undeniable sense of elegance” (it “was a small car in which a housewife could dream of being the Audrey Hepburn of the suburbs”), but it was “so compact that it is incredible to think that it was often used as both a Parisian police car and a taxi,” and it had an “abysmal corrosion record.” And Time rather cruelly claimed in a special feature on the 50 Worst  Cars of All-Time that it was “a rickety, paper-thin scandal of a car that, if you stood beside it, you could actually hear rusting. Its most salient feature was its slowness, a rate of acceleration you could measure with a calendar. It took the drivers at Road and Track 32 seconds to reach 60 mph, which would put the Dauphine at a severe disadvantage in any drag race involving farm equipment.”

That was, in any case, their take on the 1956 model. Some people, though, seemed to like them. Not this person, however, who left the following comment earlier this year on the site bringatrailer.com: “In the late 60′s when I was but a wee lad I lived in suburban St. Louis, MO. My next door neighbor drove a red Dauphine convertible. It was a weekly event for it to be delivered to his driveway on the hook of a tow truck. Even as a five year old I knew this had to be a bad car.”

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