40k Mile 1980 Renault Le Car

Even though they haven’t been made in 25 years, the Renault R5 has to be one of the most recognizable shapes and designs at least in the last half-century. It’s hard to believe that they actually could be had with four doors later on in production given how small they are. This 1980 Renault Le Car can be found here on eBay in North Hollywood, California. There is an unmet opening bid of $2,500 and no reserve after that. Let’s check it out.

The Renault 5, or R5 came after, yes, the Renault 4/R4. Sadly, the R6 wouldn’t be next in line, that would be the Renault Clio. I wonder what they’d be up to now if they would have stayed with the numbers. You can see some rust on the lower edges in the photo above, that’s always scary not knowing just how much there may be hidden elsewhere.

The R5 was known as the Le Car when it came to North America in 1976 and generally, reviews were favorable, even being called the French Rabbit by some as a comparison to the outstanding VW Rabbit. In 1981, they were available with four doors, although technically known as a five-door with the rear “door” being the hatchback. Speaking of the hatchback, there will be some work to do on this car as you can see.

The seats look incredibly comfortable in this Le Car, don’t they? They look somewhat similar to what may have been in an R5 Turbo but with added thigh bolsters. Very, very cool, they’re probably worth the price of admission by themselves. The back seat looks equally perfect but not quite as comfortable. The front seats had to have been added later as the rear seats look more factory-correct. One of you will know for sure. The rest of the interior looks great as far as I can see from the photos.

This crazy discombobulated mix of seemingly mismatched odd-looking parts and pieces is the engine, or I think it’s under there somewhere. A beautiful Lincoln Zephyr V12, Audi R8 V10, or Alfa-Romeo four-cylinder it is not. It’s Renault’s 1.4L inline-four with just over 50 hp, given the added anti-pollution equipment. The seller’s entire description is as follows: “1980 Renault 5 – lecar, its  milage 39,850  , runs and drive” That’s it, folks. Have any of you owned a Le Car / R5?

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Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    Fascinating, Captain,,I thought of all the econoboxes offered, the LeCar was about the nicest one. One major problem, they rusted faster than Asian cars. They were kind of popular, sold through dealers as a side marque. I remember, a prominent Pontiac dealer in Milwaukee, Phil Tolkan Pontiac, sold Renaults. Not sure there were any AMC dealers left. Within 2 or 3 years in the “salt bath”, rust began and in 5 years, panels were falling off. Excellent description of the engine compartment. I can’t even tell which way is front. You’ll give your local Autoplace quite a chuckle requesting parts for this. I think there is a big internet following for these, but it will cost you. Not sure the car itself is actually worth that, tho. Great find, leave it to Scotty!

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  2. RayT Member

    Having owned several, I naturally think these were the nicest of the small cars available in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Being in California, I didn’t experience any of the rust issues Howard A mentions, but I can imagine….

    Since mine were are earlier round-headlight cars, the various emissions controls all seemed to have been installed at the port, not at the factory (which they weren’t). My ’76 had roughly the same quantity of little hoses, wires, tacked-on relays and assorted gewgaws as this one. I did not work on one myself until a local mechanic quoted me a four-figure price to repair a loss of power and associated tapping noise from within the engine. For the price of a shop manual, gaskets and bearings, one new pushrod (a bent original was the culprit) and a week’s part-time work, I had a shiny, rebuilt engine. Most of the anti-pollution gizmos somehow fell off during the rebuild, which led to a fair amount of extra horsepower and a car that still passed its CA emissions checks.

    The parts situation was almost as bad then as it is today, and those parts you could get from a dealer were pricey. That’s what finally led me to sell off my little fleet. In retrospect, I almost wish I hadn’t. These were the most comfortable little econoboxes on Earth, fun to drive, practical (in the carrying-lot-of-stuff sense) and could be made much nicer with parts that were available (for a price!) from Renault Racing.

    As a footnote, a friend who had a Datsun 510 (somewhat jazzed-up, as was the fashion) rode in my R5 and, within a few weeks, his 510 sported a pair of R5 seats from a boneyard. Later, he traded the whole thing in on a new R5 for himself.

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    • Djjerme

      I will also vouch for the R5 seats being amazingly comfortable. The first time I rode in my buddies R5 turbo (though his are cloth), I couldn’t believe how comfortable they were. Almost made me forget that the fuel tank was right behind me.. :)

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  3. alphasud Member

    Back in the late 80’s I was working for a independent garage. As a joke I was given the option of either a Christmas bonus or a LeCar. They withdrew the offer when I wanted the car! Needless to say the Christmas bonus was worth more than the LeCar but I thought it would be fun to own a French car just to say I owned one.

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  4. XMA0891

    I owned an ‘83 five door. Great little vehicle: Great handling and peppy. Had the cloth sunroof AND air conditioning. Loved that the car had a manual choke… My, 1983 was a long time ago! Sadly, the only folks who bad-mouthed the car were those that (you would have thought would’ve) had a vested interest in keeping it going: Aftermarket parts franchisees and ex-AMC dealers.

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  5. CJinSD

    In Road & Track’s 1979 comparison test of front-wheel-drive sedans, only the VW Rabbit, Plymouth Champ, Plymouth Horizon, Fiat Strada, and Ford Fiesta finished far better than the Renault Le Car. Mind you it certainly benefitted from their shameless bias for European cars at the time. Otherwise it would be hard to create a set of criteria where it was better than the Honda Civic or Datsun 310(close relative of the best car to have ever been offered in the UK at the time, roughly 50% higher in quality than the VW Type 1 that was the previously unchallenged quality benchmark).

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  6. Mark

    These were fun little cars. I had access to an 86, and it led to my owning several small eco boxes, though none have been as fun. They include a 95 Aspire, 05 Scion A and a 07 Aveo. The mileage of these cars were high thirties to mid forties. They handled well and were surprisingly comfortable. At about 80k and five years old, the car started to have usual wear issues, but not serious rust (WI) but by then value had fallen and parts were hard to find, although they were now being assembled in WI. The only thing that would keep me from buying one like this is the parts search and probable costs. Like the 61 Morris Minor and 64 Corvair 2+2 spyder convertible 2nd cars my parents had, economical and memorable.

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  7. JohnnyB

    In the late ’70’s, a neighbor bought a new, bright orange one. It had exceptional ride quality for a car that small. Sadly, it was not a good vehicle for someone who believed in “fix it when it’s broke” maintenance and utilized a small shop with great expertise in domestic brands of the time. It was likely scrapped or at least worn out by the time it was a decade old.
    I was with my Dad when he test drove a new one. He loved the ride, but I can’t remember why he didn’t pull the trigger. Maybe it was because he was worried the parts & service situation would be as bad as it was for the Fiat he owned at the time. LOL.

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  8. Blueprint

    The LeCar name was only used in the US. In Canada we always knew it as the R5 and it was a top-10 seller in Quebec.

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  9. Beyfon

    Yes, I have owned a few R5, and it was only a few years ago that my mother in law traded her 30k miles R5 for a new Clio.

    As said by previous commenters they were quite fun cars that loved to be thrashed hard. The front seats are hardly original (but look strangely comfy) and the rust isn’t too worrying to me. These were typically “honest rusters”, the level you see on the outside used to match the level you’d see underneath.

    Now Scotty, I hope I’m not offending you by pointing out that your comments around Renault’s numbering scheme isn’t very accurate. As far as I have been able to tell there hasn’t been any firm policy about what numbers they assigned other than that “higher is better”. Initially at its release in 1961 the R4 had 4CV (french tax class based on horsepower- and it did indeed replace the older car that was aptly named 4CV. (There was also a rare R3 with a smaller engine but it was quickly discontinued)

    The R5 did not replace the R4, it was just a fancier more upmarket city car and they were offered in parallel.

    I’ve owned a couple of R6 which preceded the R5 – it was a rather strange car. Really just a “luxury R4” as it sat on the same chassis, but a lot of extra overhang front and rear and a strip of fake wood on the dash didn’t exactly make you forget that you were really driving a R4 in drag. Still made from 1968 to (I think) 1986.

    Now, if you just could find a nice Renault 14? It looks like a baby hippo but was a really fun car!

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  10. Johnny

    A cousin and I were talking this morning about the rediculios prices people are paying . For ust buckets. Some without motor or transmiisions. I guess people who shop e-bay must have more money then the know what to do with or they lost their minds. I told him if he knew of anyone who wanted to buy my firebird. Send them around.Maybe I could get a rediculios price. I think for $4,500 of e-bay what the price is so far–I wonder who is really bidding–the saler. I like the little car,but reading everyones messages–about part. I,ll pass. A rare care to find parts for or over price parts–doesn,t attract me.It turns my back away from it.

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  11. David Van Duzer

    I bought one of these Upon our return from living in France. Absolutely loved its tossible personality. Twenty years later I purchased a Mini S, similar fun car which I still drive now 17 years later.

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  12. Jack W Gray

    I had a used 68 R10, water cooled, rear engine. Blew the head gasket twice and after having the head milled only use premium gas. Drove from New Jersey to Florida in 76 and still got 42 MPG. Later traded for a 73 Renault wagon, 1st year for front wheel drive and constantly replacing gear box gaskets. Most comfortable seats of any car I’ve ever had, including a 2017 Lincoln MKX !

  13. Abikepeddler

    One of my daily drivers is a 1983 Renault R5 Turbo 2 so when I see this, dare I say it… beautiful?… FWD R5 I can’t help but be nostalgic about my friends R5 back in high school that somehow had the ability to soak up our stupidity with regularly. The R5 can be quite robust if properly taken care of and parts availability should not be a problem as there are numerous suppliers in France. (You would be amazed at how easy it is to take care of the turbo cars.) They are both dead reliable, again, if properly taken care of. I don’t recognize the seats in this particular R5 but they are definitely Renault based. I love them! I wish I had them in my car. I’m feeling a bid can coming on…

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  14. Louis Chen

    Oui mon ami, the French may have funky looking cars (I guess AMC borrowed some of the designers from France) but they were very comfy little econo boxes! It’s due to all of those cobbled stone roads there. When I lived & studied in Paris my roomate we pooled our resources and bought one. It was a wise investment, we drove everywhere with in comfort and problem free too! Luckily the R5 didn’t the strict emission controls like those in the USA. After I’ve finished my “tour of duty” my roomate and I sold our Le Car but we are still in touch and seeing this ad in BF it brought back great memories of Paris! Too bad this example had rusts! C’est la vie mon dieu!

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  15. Will Owen

    I drove one exactly once – I am remembering few of the particulars, but I was offered a useful sum of money to drive one from somewhere in southwest L.A. to some other place closer to Pasadena, where I live. I drove down there with my wife and picked up the car, looking a lot like this one only mustard yellow with brown-and-yellow patterned fuzzy fabric seats. It started and ran okay, feeling much more “normal” than it looked, and Mrs. O followed me home, completely on surface streets because she does not do freeways. I seem to recall I had to replace a flat tire before we started, but that was it for trouble.

    As for driving memories, it neither charmed me nor annoyed me. “Le Car” was I think the perfect title for it.

  16. JoeNYWF64

    Nice to see no phony unopenable “vent windows” in the doors – they were common on non asian imports back then.

  17. Keith Johnson

    I bought one new in ‘82 as my first new car and I’ve owned several more over the years. Superior ride, ambling pace (especially with the AC on), and not especially easy to work on. Changing a starter was a chore. The exhaust is routed inside the front left fender and the cat is by the tire.

    Overall this one seems to be in nice enough shape. The hood scoop, which just covers the air intake for the heater, is installed backwards (the opening should face the windshield). The wheels and tach were upscale options or installed afterwards.

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  18. Bob19006

    I sold my 1971 AMC Gremlin-X in 1979 and bought a 1976 R5 2 door. In 1984 the timing chain/belt went and I junked the car and bought a 1982 4 door Le Car. Loved driving them and averaged over 28MPG in both. In 1989 something went in the engine, antifreeze in the oil. So both had engine failures, something I never had happen in my several AMCs (Rambler, Gremlin, Hornet, Concord, Spirit that all had great 6 cylinder cast iron engines that seemed to run forever. R5’s were lots of fun until the tiny aluminum engines went, neither got past 5 digits on the odometer.

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    • Michael Selinger

      I had similar experiences, with the LeCar and the AMC 6’s. In 1981 I was working for an AMC dealer in South Florida, and bought a bright red 2 door ’78 LeCar with about 27,000 miles, cheap. The woman that owned it cooked the motor somehow, and ran up a repair bill of $1750 in our shop, which they allowed her against a new AMC Concord. I paid $100 over that. I loved the car, enjoyed driving it, and as other people have mentioned, the seats & ride comfort were amazing for a car that small. Big sunroof for nice days, ice cold Sankyo AC for hot weather. Took a nice ride down to the Keys with it, Merritt Island, another time. But something shook my confidence in the long term durability after a few months, and so I sold it to a local realtor who bought it for his daughter. He gave me a check for $2500 and tho’ he was a little miffed at the idea, he went with me to his bank to cash it before giving him the title & keys. What a sense of relief I had with that cash in my pocket & the car in his driveway! Took that money and bought a 3 year old AMC Concord with the good old cast iron 258 straight six. I also snagged a used ’74 Gremlin X that came in on trade, for my Mom, also with the 258. Paid $900 for that. She loved it and drove it for years. As a kid I had a ’61 Rambler Classic, as my first car in 1970, and in college, a ’68 AMC Rebel with the 232. All the AMC sixes we had were bulletproof. That LeCar, not so much. Only a few months after I sold it, I didn’t see it anymore. I heard that it suffered another catastrophic engine failure. I’d drive one again, but only if it was someone else’s….I wouldn’t want to be on the hook for the repairs. Sorry to go so long, but this brought back some memories.

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  19. 38ChevyCoupeGuy

    In 93 I bought an alliance from a friends mother,Which we referred to as the “Appliance “ paid 80 bucks for the thing beat the livin crap out of it for 9 months, drank untold numbers of cases of beer on the Wv backroads. It finally died after running in a ditch,slicing the oil pan like a metal shear. What fun,even though it would hardly get out of its own way 😁

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  20. Fjord

    I’ve had two LeCars, and still have one that I drive every week. It’s small and not very powerful, but it keeps up with highway traffic and is great fun around town. I expect that parts availability and support is better now than it was in the ’80s thanks to the internet, since I doubt dealer support was great back when Renault would let anyone be a dealer (my first LeCar had original paperwork and the dealer was a lumber yard in a small town). You do have to watch for rust of course.

    These were definitely sold as LeCars in Canada, although I can see skipping Quebec on that branding.

  21. Krista

    OMG! Love it! I had a 1979( I think that was the yr) silver Le car and a Gold one a few years later. What a fun car to drive and great on gas.

  22. Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Auction update: this Le Car sold for $4,050.

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