In 1956, Renault came up with a brilliant marketing strategy – out with the good (the successful Renault 4C) and in with the bad (the hugely successful Dauphine).
For despite being underpowered and suffering from very poor build quality, the Renault Dauphine would become a rewarding decade-long commercial success story for the French company. This neatly rounded four-door, four-seater saloon of single-shell monocoque construction was visually attractive.
However, it was prone to a variety of mechanical problems and notoriously slow – an ironic weakness as the name chosen by Renault for the new baby was ‘Corvette’, which was abandoned when Chevrolet’s flying sports car appeared first. Happily for Renault, the car’s shortcomings didn’t deter buyers (who seemed to love the feminine Dauphine), or dampen international acclaim.
Amazingly for a car that almost entirely lacked redeeming features, a huge number were produced in France – and beyond. Dauphines were assembled or built under license in far-flung corners of the globe like Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the USA, Israel, Italy (by Alfa Romeo alongside the altogether more satisfactory Alfa Giulietta), Ireland, Spain, Australia and South Africa.
This cheap and cheerful little car was also the first model to be imported to the United Kingdom in significant numbers – to challenge a British car manufacturing industry that would soon be struggling to compete with more agile overseas constructors. Anyone for a Dauphine? Believe it or not with the benefit of hindsight, well over two million purchasers said ‘yes please’ before this notoriously unreliable machine ceased to be.
Various efforts were made to gild the lily. A luxury Ondine model was marketed from 1960 to 1962 and there were two speedier versions. The Gordini was engineered to reach a zippy 81 mph (130 km/h) whilst the 1093 (adorned with go-faster blue stripes) could in the fullness of time hit 87 mph (140 km/h). Awesome!
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1956 (until 1967)
845 cc OHV Straight Four
Top speed of 70 mph (113 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 32 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
If you must drive a Dauphine, diligent searching may be required – these cars weren’t built to last for 40 years, and one commentator sourly observed that you could actually hear a Dauphine rusting away… before you put your foot down and it went through the floor.