Cheap French Commuter: 1959 Renault Dauphine

Brian BirknerBy Brian Birkner

Having sat since 1975, this Renault Dauphine is a sharp looking small car, and was clearly tucked away somewhere nice for the last 42 years. Untouched, this little French machine is going to need some work to hit the streets once again. Appearing in nice original condition, this solid looking Renault is offered for just $1,950! Take a look at it here on craigslist out of Sauk Rapids, Minnesota.

The small 845cc engine unfortunately is locked up from its many years of slumber. At this point it seems worthwhile to try some penetrating oil to see if the engine could be salvaged. Having slept for all that time, it is easy to think that the rest of the mechanical systems need some looking over, and refreshing as well.

Simple, yet effective, the interior is a bit grungy but would likely clean up well enough to maintain this Renault original look. There is some wear on the driver seat bolster, and there is also a split seam on the driver seat bottom as well. In very nice shape, the door panels and rear seat need nothing more than a solid cleaning. Although one of the more difficult items to repair or replace, the cracked and chipped steering wheel could use some help.

Shiny, clean, and beautiful, this little French classic is one of the nicer surviving Dauphines I have seen. There are a few dings and minor rust, but overall this likely original paint beauty could be made into a very nice original condition driver. The biggest issue with this Renault is rust in the rockers and on the passenger side door bottom. Beyond the rust, the remainder of this Frenchman is nice with brilliant chrome, and crystal clear glass. The only other hiccup that could maybe spoil this classic for you is that the seller does not have a title for this car. Depending on your state, or your dedication, a title could likely be acquired one way or another. With some tinkering, and cleaning, this Renault would really be a beautiful original once the engine issue was sorted. Do you think this $1,950 Dauphine is a good deal?

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Comments

  1. John T

    WOW, What a blast from the past! I have not seen one of these rear engined Dauphines in nearly 50 years. I can only imagine that a dedicated Renault loyalist somewhere will grab this in a heartbeat.

    1+

  2. Howard A Member

    Here it is. Brian beat Scotty and I to this. I found it a few days ago, told Scotty, our resident oddball car nut, and he was going to post it, but Brian got it 1st. Good work! My 1st car was a ’59 4CV, but my old man had a couple of these ( and a Caravelle) and several neighbors had them too. Every parking lot had at least one of these, usually sitting in a corner by itself, or every vintage traffic jam, also has at least one. I truly believe, as in my old mans case, Ren-alt ( like my old man called them) Dauphine’s popularity stemmed from primarily, they weren’t German.( in the late 50’s and early 60’s, there still was a huge anti-German attitude, especially in my family) The 4CV looked too much like the bug, but the Dauphine was an all new type of car, and quite frankly, had everything the bug didn’t have. 4 doors, a real heater( kind of) a 2 tone horn.( I just threw that last one in, it did have a 2 tone horn, but there were other attributes) They really were good cars. French build great cars, but like most anemic foreign cars of the time, we killed them trying to keep up with traffic, and yes, traffic was nuts in the 60’s too. And more than one ignorant gas jockey, put gas in the radiator ( both caps were next to the motor, and looked similar) And don’t forget where the spare tire was,,,(It always looked like it’s tongue sticking out)
    http://i.pinimg.com/736x/89/1e/2e/891e2e8d58d9c09639d84bb2ad527097–alpine-economy-car.jpg
    This engine has liners in the block, meaning, it’s a simple engine to fix, and I bet parts are still around for these. Very, VERY cool find. Well worth it. It’s the 1st one I’ve seen in years. Once, I found a video of Jay Leno talking to a guy that brought one of these to Pebble Beach. Jay was thrilled with it, more so than some of the exotics there.

    4+

    • BillO BillO Member

      My dad had a 1959 4CV; my mom broke the turn signal lever one Sunday afternoon while driving it, and on Monday, dad traded it for a 1959 Dauphine (he looked for any reason to trade back then); kept it awhile and then went to the opposite extreme; a 1960 Pontiac Bonneville 4 door Vista hardtop with a 389.

      2+

    • Brian M

      We had a 1960 version that Dad used to commute 100 miles a day (round trip). Our neighbor was a dealer and one Saturday he entered Dad in a “how far can you go on a teacup of gas competition” in one of these. Dad won a TV by putting it in neutral and shutting the engine off when approaching red lights, short shifting to second (only three speeds) and a few other tricks. I think he went 10 or fifteen miles! This is what convinced him to buy it to commute in, that and the fact that, at $1275 it was over $200 cheaper than a VW. It was bought at night under mercury vapor light, a nice shade of tan. Daylight, unfortunately, turned it to baby-poop yellow, ugh! We experienced the brolen turn signal lever that BillO mentioned (it was on the right side of the column and all of us tried our best to break the horn/headlight stalk on the left side attempting to use it for turn signals, and we did have the radiator gas fill attempt, too. Not a great date car. I actually was stopped for speeding with two six-foot passengers aboard (ok, it was in a 25 mph zone, jeeeez). The neighbor told my Dad that it was a 40,000 mile car and not to come crying if he kept it longer. At three years of age and with 42k on the clock, the timing gear self-destructed and the rust of new england winters was catching up, It got traded at the same dealership for a 61 F85 four door. What an upgrade! I do miss it every now and then when I’m going slow somewhere.

      0

  3. Joris

    Should anyone be interested, my dear father-in-law has a similar one but with the “Gordini” upgrade. It ran when parked, engine turning over, is complete, no damage, stored dry and available to anyone truly interested. Only thing, it is located in the Netherlands.
    Interested? send me an email.

    2+

    • Howard A Member

      Hi Joris, a “Gordini” upgrade, you say? Who’s sportin’ that kind of cash? Actually, the Gordini package made this a contender,,,, against other similarly equipped cars. Still no match for the Chrysler 413 cross ram cars we were driving. It added 9 hp,( 36 over this 27.5) and shaved a whopping 7 seconds off the regular versions 0-60 time of 37 seconds. I take it, you don’t mean “Nederland, Texas”. Dang.

      1+

      • Joris

        Dear Howard,
        thanks for your comment.
        maybe the upgrade reference was poorly formulated, it was the Gordini version straight from the production line. As in the increased performance, you are quite right. However, it was a blast to drive, especially when fuel was running low, no extra weight in the front and the steering becoming very light….
        Yep, it is the Netherlands across the pond.

        1+

    • Nic

      interesting – and, as I’m from Germany, not sooooo fare away …

      1+

      • Joris

        Hi Nic,
        I checked with my father-in-law and the Gordini is available. Built in 1962, imported from France in 1996. It is grey with a red interieur. If you are interested, let me know and we will make sure the engine is running (fresh battery / fuel). Odometer reads 60K kms.

        2+

  4. madbrit

    They were the first “Mini-Cabs” to threaten the monopoly of the famous London “Black Cab” taxis. Fleets of them at war, competing for business on the London streets. My wife owned a Renault 10 for many years, which was a descendant of the Dauphine. She loved it and with it’s skinny Michelin X tires, it handled very well including good manners in the snow and ice. This Renault rear engined format was very competitive in all sorts of motorsports, including circuit and rallying.

    1+

    • David Frank David Frank Staff

      How were these competion for London cabs? Not since 1915 or so, and they replaced horse drawn cabs.They had very strict requirements in the 1960s in London, including a 25′ turning circle, high roof and such. In the early 1960s the Austins were the prevalent taxi, but they were unreliable and hard to repair. There was even the fiberglass Winchester Taxi.

      0

      • madbrit

        The advent of the “mini-cab” came about when the monopoly of the Black Cabs was brought into question. The “mini-cab” companies sued and won the right to offer their services but they were not allowed to drive around with “For Hire” signs. They could only work as a phone in service. Check out this article all about the invasion “The media ran features about Gotla’s “£560,000 order” for 800 bright red Dauphine minicabs and how he planned to sell advertising space on the Renaults’ doors to garner an extra £75 per week.” Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/classiccars/8369024/50-years-of-minicabs.html

        1+

  5. rustylink

    If I wanted to have an extremely slow commute each day in a car that has few amenities other then it’s Frenchness it be perfect. I almost think it should have a Gauloise or Gitane dangling from it’s bumper – sighing that it may or may not take you to work today without taking a break in the commute for a coffee.

    2+

  6. Dan Farrell

    Using the word Dauphine and solid in the same sentence is the statement of one who has never owned one.

    6+

    • KEN TILLY

      You are so right Dan. Solid and Renault don’t belong in the same sentence! My late mother-in-law had a Dauphine and it became my job to keep it on the road. The engine was unbreakable but everything else on the car wasn’t. Door handles and window cranks broke when you looked at them. I ended up owning only one Renault in my life and that was a 16TS. Now that was a car. The most comfortable seats ever and it could drop any Alfa, Ford Cortina V6, Chev V8 etc. from light to light, however, anything plastic still broke!

      1+

      • Otto Nobedder

        @Ken Tilly- I would agree-only Renault I owned was a R-5..Mid-engine turbo-what a rocket!

        0

  7. PebblebeachJudge

    A great reliable car. Drove one across Morocco after loading it with ceramic plates. Not one plate survived, broke all 60 of them. I can attest this car can be driven drunk and no one will notice.

    7+

  8. Len

    This was my first car way back then. As I recall it has a wet cylinder tractor engine in it.

    Should be an easy fix

    0

  9. ccrvtt

    As I recall the Caravelle was a rather elegant and stylish car. Certainly more worthy of preservation than the Dauphine or the Panhard above. I always considered the Dauphine kind of cute and somehow more useful than the Beetle.

    On the other hand it’s French. Even though I grew up with a francophile mother and really, really like Bordeaux wine, I just can’t take the cars seriously.

    Now an E-type or AH 3000 from the same era is a whole other story.

    Comme on dit, “Chacun a son gout.”

    1+

  10. TouringFordor

    We had one long enough to sell it to someone else. Rusted faster than a Vega, and was prone overheating. Oh, yeah and it was slower than my Anglia 105E.

    3+

    • Dave Wright

      Howard and I have had this conversation before……….they were so bad, the French couldn’t sell a car in the US for 20 years after they came to our shores. The survival rate must be a small fraction off 1%……..10% of the beetles of this vintage are still on the road.

      2+

      • Howard A Member

        Hi Dave, we have? Anyway, you’re right, kind of. The US was not Renault’s strong market, and they sold 2.1 million Dauphines worldwide. It’s just the same old thing. We American’s killed them. They weren’t suited to road salt ( IDK, does France have snow?) and didn’t take well to long stretches of desert. To call this a bad car, in American terms, is not fair. These cars moved a lot of people for over 12 years it was in production. That’s worthy of merit right there. I’m not sure why the bug was such a success here. Sheer numbers is why there are that many bugs left.

        1+

  11. D. King

    There’s one of these on top of a pole at the site of a closed garage just outside Hot Springs, AR. Probably a good use for it.

    3+

  12. Larry Leathem

    I had a 60 Dauphine in 1962 here in Ohio.The frame was rusted out already.The
    The worst car I ever owned and I have had 130 cars and trucks.

    1+

  13. 77vette

    A friend of mine pulled one of these out of a barn in the late seventies. The engine was locked up on it to. He managed to free it up and get it to run but it smoked badly. Ran it for a while and traded it for an even older Plymouth. Never heard of one since.

    1+

    • Howard A Member

      Hi 77, when my brother and I got the 4CV, the engine too was tight. We took the head off, and turned the engine over, and the liners popped out of the block. We soaked them for a few days, pounded the liners back down with a baseball bat ( stupid kids) and loosened them up, new head gasket, and zoom! It too smoked a lot, I wonder why?

      4+

      • 77vette

        That’s close to what he did. He said he took the head off and used a hammer and piece of wood to free his.

        0

      • Howard A Member

        Hi 77, to show you how green we were, I was 14, my brother 16 and he had his license, this was one step up from the lawn mower engines we took apart, so we put it back together with the old head gasket, filled it with water, and it wouldn’t turn over. We pulled the plugs, “try it now” and water shoots out the plug holes. Oh, oh, off to J.C. Whitney ( I swear, that outfit had EVERYTHING for ANYTHING, put it back together, and it worked. I never actually drove that car on the street ( up and down my parents driveway, tho,) but the 4CV was a pretty lousy car.
        You know, for a car many poo-pooed, this is getting quite a few comments. They touched a lot of peoples lives, if only for a brief period.

        0

  14. chad

    After Mom cracked up the late 50s ford wagon slippin on the ice (new to NE winters) dad got er 1 of these (’62?). I believe it had the semaphore turn signals but must have been a lill newer than this 1. Next was a Renault 10 I believe. Fiats next (124 sedan – 4 seats/doors).
    Finally onto the Fiat 850 (3 of them, no more kid taxiing) upgrades to the spiders (124, 3 or 4 of em) and the real WoW – Lancia Beta Coupe (’82?). I forget after that. May B he retired and they shared a car 1st time in 51 yrs of marriage?

    0

    • Howard A Member

      Hi chad, are you sure about the semaphore ( trafficators or macht nicht sticks, as the Germans called them) turn signals? While I read, they were a French invention, I can’t find any Dauphines that used them. VW was the last to use them in America until 1955 ( 1960 everywhere else) I believe. Could it have been a Morris Minor?
      http://cdn.classiccars.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/6552596-1959-morris-minor-traveller-std-c.jpg?x27296

      0

      • madbrit

        There was a Renault 8 before the 10. Similar body shape to the 10 but with round headlights, whereas the 10 had square headlights (outside the USA). There was a Gordini version of these too. No semaphore signals on either the Dauphine or 8/10. Semaphore signals were on the early English Ford Anglia/Prefect models and on other early English cars such as the Morris 8, Series E and Minor and Austin A30 lines etc.

        1+

  15. Doc

    If one of you guys buys this (or if any of you have a Dauphine), I have several sets of NORS lenses for these– still in their original boxes. Drop a line.

    0

  16. Royal Ricci

    I am surprised that nobody has converted one of these to electric, and I mean a modern conversion with lithium batteries.

    2+

  17. MRE2ME

    To quote Jay Leno”That’s a pile of Renault”

    1+

    • Howard A Member

      Hi MRE2ME, do you remember that video? I can’t find it now, but I remember this guy saying it had 27.5 hp and Jay says, “yep, it’s that.5 that gets you over the hill”.

      1+

  18. Steve

    The front turn signals indicate that it’s a 64. Early ones had a round bullet shaped lense. I had a 64.

    1+

    • Royal Ricci

      Thanks for noticing this. I have a 63 and it has the bullet style turn signals. I understand the real tell is whether it would have disc brakes up front as the early models had drums, but apparently, a lot of people who have owned these have upgraded to discs as the parts were interchangeable. There is this old guy somewhere in Ohio who collects these as well as R10’s which he guts for the parts to put into the Dauphine. Sad for the R10’s which are all but extinct. Even moreso for the R8.

      0

  19. Howard A Member

    This video shows the 2 tone horn. Odd they would show that and little else about the car. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZ7rBzXOXno

    0

  20. ROAR

    when you compare the dauphine to it’s contemporaries: the morris minor , anglia, triumph 10, fiat 1100, nsu printz andearly vw etc. it was on a different level: much slower, less roadable, much less durable but perhaps ‘cuter’, perhaps good for your daughter!

    0

    • Howard A Member

      Hi ROAR, that’s true, but we didn’t see many of those other cars you mention in the midwest. The Dauphine, however, seemed everyone knew someone that had one. Maybe it was the name?

      0

  21. Roger

    My uncle owned a ’60 Dauphine in ’64 but he didn’t have it very long,in ’68 he bought a couple of them,one in white,the other in black,my cousin ended up taking the engine out of the black one to put in a Caravelle he picked up,my uncle kept the white one for awhile then repainted and sold it later,somewhere I still have a couple of pictures of the ’60 he had.

    0

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