Cold As Ice: 1983 Renault Fuego Turbo

1983 Renault Fuego Turbo

A few years ago, I stumbled across a very complete Renault Fuego Turbo in a long-forgotten salvage yard. It’s still there today, behind a 1980s Camry and alongside a fence that houses a dog run, complete with requisite junkyard dogs. When I first saw it, I knew I had found something rare; I’d later find out it was for all the wrong reasons. The seller of this 1983 Fuego Turbo seems to have his sights set on bigger projects, but I think he may be want to educate himself on why these Franco-American hybrids are considered a “lost car” by Hemmings. Find it here on Boston’s craigslist with an asking price of $1,600 OBO.

1983 Renault Fuego

On the outside, this car had a lot going for it. It was affordable, offered great fuel economy and was easy on the eyes. If it mattered to you, the added European flair gave consumers something different to shop for at their local AMC dealership. Thickly bolstered sport seats, available turbocharged engines and a manual transmission at least gave the appearance of serious performance even though the Fuego was underwhelming in the acceleration and road-holding categories. The one I visited in the junkyard had to be the prettiest thing in the place despite being covered in pine needles and undergrowth, but that’s where the superlatives tend to stop.

Renault Fuego Dash

The car did not fare well in America. Despite being a relative success in Europe, Americans have never been fans of automobiles with hatchback-style designs. In addition, like so many other cars sold both here and in Europe in the 80s, the ugly U.S. bumpers did nothing for consumers’ attraction to the oddball car. Factor in leaking headgaskets, sketchy electronics and even possible steering wheel failure and it’s not hard to see why the Fuego didn’t become a roaring success. And have you watched the television ads? With all of those promises of performance, the Turbo’s lackluster 0-60 times were likely a disappointment.

Renault Fuego Turbo

This particular Fuego Turbo has not been driven in many years. One can only guess how many of the original drawbacks to the car have only been magnified by years of inactivity. The seller is seeking Porsche 928 projects in trade, which is a far better choice for a project car, but not exactly a fair trade for the P-car owner. While Hemmings may consider this a lost car, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a desirable one. But stranger things have happened, when ugly ducklings becoming favorite sons. What do you think – will the Fuego ever become an attractive buy as a hobby car? Or will it forever be a forgettable experiment between Renault and AMC?

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Comments

  1. Howie B

    So it looks like they are showing up everywhere!

    http://orangecounty.craigslist.org/cto/4815511491.html

    Howie

    • Wiley Robinson

      I love how he says the “RADIATOR , STARTER, TIMING BELT, WATER PUMP” are due to it being in a garage for a long time. Could it actually be due to the fact that it’s an AMC/Renault?

  2. Rick

    Scrap it. These were junk when they were new!

    • Dave Wright

      +1……………rare does not commute to value able or worth while. There must be a bunch of these that broke and were parked when relatively new just waiting for the unsuspecting Francophile.

    • St. Ramone de V8

      Yep. I agree. Junk from day one…

    • Leslie

      Wish my health was better! The Fuego is the same platform as the Renault 18i that i owned and put well over 200K miles on it. They say lackluster performance but my 18i would out run any American made 4-cylinder car that dared to try. The car has a hemi style engine that kept on going at red-line. You could let the car slow down in 5th gear it would accerate back up without bogging down. I had squirrels eat my wiring on the 18i and unfortunately i let it go. I wanted the Fuego when it was released and if i could have one today i would be happy.

  3. cory

    The one in Temecula looks like a deal. This car reminds me a lot of the Alfa gtv. I like its quirkiness and styling. Don’t think would take it on though

  4. william celline

    From what I recall from previous owner$, you don’t own them, they own you ;-)

  5. skloon

    When rare applies to a car it’s a good thing, when it applies to a disease, not so much. This is more of a disease than a car, and I owned an R5

  6. rapple

    Love the seller’s remark: “Will consider trade for Porsche 928s of same value.”
    One’s imagination boggles considering what condition a 928 would have to be in to equal the value of this car.

  7. Wiley Robinson

    Wow! It’s got 139,000 miles on it. I can’t begin to fathom the repair bills it took to get it that far.

    As for the 928 thing, maybe he mistyped and meant “924”. That’s probably closer to, but not yet a fair trade.

    • Don Weaver

      My ’83 Fuego Turbo was the only car I ever junked….but I managed to get 153,000 miles out of it before the second turbo went pop. At least I got $200 for it.

  8. RayT Member

    I have owned (thus serviced and tried to find service/parts for) more Renaults than I care to admit, and have driven many others. The Fuego, even in turbocharged form, was a major dud. Pretty, yes, and comfortable, but no measurable performance or handling, and the build/material quality was, at best, mediocre. Worse, finding competent techs and spares was a chore even when they were new. I knew exactly ONE owner who actually liked his car, and he was a nutcase (who later wised up and traded for an Alfa Milano).

    If I were able to have any Renault I wanted today, it would be my R16, which was more comfortable, no slower and far more practical than the Fuego or any of the mass-production models since. An Alpine A110 or R5 Turbo would be far better, but far more expensive, of course.

    As for this Fuego? I wouldn’t even slow down if I drove past it. I get the shakes even thinking of dealing with one.

    • Jonny the Boy

      When a Alfa Milano is considered a better car, that really says it right there. I met someone a few years ago, a rear-wheel drive Alfa nut, who drove one. The car caught on fire TWICE. She named it Fireball. Still, she was determined to drive that car as her daily driver. She said it cost an average of $700 a month to maintain.

      • Mike G

        I owned 2 Milanos, they never gave me any major problems!

  9. RickyM

    My Aunt had one of these, and the UK ones were better for having the European bumpers:
    http://cartype.com/pages/3269/renault_fuego__1980-1992
    However, hers did have reliability issues, and that was when it was only a couple of years old, not after having been stored for years. Best avoid this one.

  10. Mark E

    I remember these were true malaise era cars. Terrible reliability and Renault quality. Ugh. Also I seem to remember that these did have a minor problem of catching fire occasionally, due to the turbo I think…

  11. Ken Nelson

    Renault’s critical problem was: too many models with too many changes, poor dealer service network (did I say network?), and lousy rust resistance. Only one they made I considered decent is my ’71 R16 – basically their response to the Citroen DS21 – same bass-ackwards engine/trans FWD setup, wonderfully high seats with good cushions, great visibility and better hatchback versatility than anything else around at the time – almost a full station wagon but for the high leftover into the back/trunk area. Plus – a ride darn near as good as Citroen’s hydropneumatic with nothing more than long torsion bars all around – smoothed out all the awful dips, joints, waves on HWY 101 and 880 around SF bay that needed redoing before the ’08 crash (fixed with Fed money during the “rebuild America” phase of the slump). Its 1600 cc engine enabled cruising at 80 and 35 mpg with its 4 spd on the column. and power front discs. But all Renaults E of the Rockies turned to iron ore all too quickly, so only useable ones still extant are here in California.

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Ken, agreed. I live here in the rust belt of the northeast and haven’t seen one on the road in ages. I wouldn’t mind experiencing a Dauphine at some point, but I’ve yet to find one that isn’t rusty and in the project-car budget category.

  12. cliffyc

    Remember these coupes being fairly popular in the UK in the 80s. Guy ordered one at the garage I worked at via local Renault dealers. It was metallic green with an orange and brown interior…, well it was the 1980s I guess. Think he wanted the Porsche 924,but lacked the cash….!. Due to rust and mechanical woes they are a rare sight over here now,probably more in France?.

  13. Rex Kahrs Member

    “Once you own a French car, nothing worse can happen to you!”

  14. krash

    as a buyer, definitely NOT the fue (to) go…

  15. Mike

    I have a 928 project myself. It’s worth a bit more but I actually thought about it for a second, just a second. There is something about these that I like but if you really want one there’s a much better way to go about it. I’m keeping that a secret though.

  16. John

    No. This car clearly shows why God mercifully created rust. a friend who owned one of these often bummed rides with me in my Lotus Europa because they needed more reliable transportation.

    Just, no. Let it return to dust.

    Even Hemmings blows one occasionally.

  17. gmzimmer

    I worked at AMC/Jeep/Renault through 1983 when these things were introduced. The common joke within the service department was that they had to sell them with a ride-on mechanic to ensure continued operation. The “E” role executives (the initial executive rank that got a free “PEP” (Personal Evaluation Product) car were forced to take them as first choice when they didn’t sell. I had a chance to drive some of them and they weren’t all that bad when they were new. But they had a horrible reputation and warranty history.

  18. jp

    I drove a silver Fuego turbo .i bought it in the mid 90’s. it was not that rusty, was Great in the
    Detroit suburban area winter. when the garret? turbo was working, it could move really good!
    i also drove a 1981 Prototype non-Turbo Fuego from Greenleaf Golf and Country club in mid florida all the way back to AMC/Jeep/Renault Amtek Facility in Detroit. NO Problems!!!
    i was working for AMC/Renault at the time. if it wasn’t for the rust the latter Fuego would have lasted longer.i always have had an American classic car or truck also in my collection
    but driving this car or driving a Bmw 1600 from Farmington,Mi to San Jose Ca. was a blast.

  19. Bobby D

    Fuego is the french word for “at least it’s not a Le’car”

  20. Cain

    What a crazy Argentinian commercial!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJ6XAZpizG0

  21. Simon

    I really thought this was my car! One of my friends saw this posting and remember I had owned a red Fuego in Boston.

    I bought a red Fuego in the early 80’s. When I moved to Boston from Florida in 1986, I drove it up here. I saw the white trim on the red paint and the narrow black bump guard on the doors and thought this might be mine.

    But I do not see the wonderful flexible sunroof that opened up so far. I remember driving with electric heat on my legs and fresh cool air on my face as I drove with the roof open in winter for fun. And on the Craigslist photos, I can see that the seats are not the beautiful soft tan colored leather that I had enjoyed.

    I liked the acceleration when the turbo finally kicked in, but this was only my second car and some of my friends were not impressed by the turbo lag. I have great memories of driving it on the twisty winding Skyline Drive in the Virginia mountains.

    In Florida, wiring in the engine compartment caught fire once, and I was grateful for the mechanic who replaced the burnt wires. I still remember picking up the car from repairs and being shocked at how scratched up his hands and arms were from the work.

    Also, the fan would come on and not stop, draining the battery, so when I parked, I would have to disconnect the battery which conveniently was in the hatch and had a plastic screw clamp on the terminal that did not need tools to remove.

    Finally it started to lose coolant into the engine. The AMC dealers were not up to the complexity of the quirky French engineering. I had another mechanic work on it and he repaired the head gasket, but the problem persisted. Then I found he put a plug in the coolant overflow tank hose which prevented the level there from dropping but also stopped any expansion into the system. At that point I gave up and bought a red Honda Prelude. The Fuego had about 50,000 miles and was about 3 years old.

    Simon

  22. Parsons

    I must have had a lemon 1983 Turbo Fuego. This was on of the BEST cars I ever owned and the dealer I used when I was in a near by town Monroe N.C. was great. I did have a bad dealer in one town I used for quick service. I drove this car on the job traveling in multiple states for 201,000 miles from 1984 to 1989 and I was doing over the speed limit most of the time. This car was not a off the line speed demon, but hit second and you moved backward in the seat and it would handle the curves.
    I had a 1971 Fiat 124 Sport, it was a nice car, now it was a service nightmare.

  23. Rooy

    As a 1982 Fuego owner i just have to respond reading all the negative comments. I only have experience with the European model and the US AMC version must be horrid, reading all this stories…..or are we just parroting each other? Time for some facts (at least about the Euro spec model):

    – Fuego’s do rust: Yes, like any other car of the era. The car has some weak spots like the front fenders but i believe the rust proofing is average or even slightly above. Mine is un-restored, not looked after very well when bought and is still around! Dutch car, damp climate, rain and salt has not killed it yet.
    – Poor handling: NOT true. I’m sure the US model has a different set-up but i can’t believe it. My 2.0 GTX handles corners very well, sticks to the road, doesn’t dive while breaking hard etc. Suspension is harsh, not super comfortable for a French car of the era.
    – Faulty electronics. True. Exposed wiring looms and connectors are easily damaged by a careless person.
    – Hard to work on: The Fuego has very simple, straight forward mechanics. If you are intimidated by a Fuego go back to your Lego.
    – Fuego’s are not well built: I would say, partly true. The interior is definitely not bullet proof but the mechanical stuff is very solid. Stuff rattles, interior bits break and feel cheap but the car keeps on going. Very 80’s French car. Love it or hate it.
    – A Fuego is not worth saving: I have never collected more thumbs up of other road users while driving my blue metallic Fuego! In my experience men like it and women hate it. :)

  24. Bruce Best

    We had a 2.2 liter non turbo that we purchased from new and put over 100,000 miles on it without any problem. The mechanicals were very adequate and even with the automatic it was fast enough for normal traffic but it was long trips that the car excelled. As comfortable as any Caddy or Lincoln I have every been in and being smaller was more maneuverable as well.

    I got superb milage for the day and sometimes going from Denver to Kansas City I would see near 34 miles per gallon on that down hill run. The amazing thing was when driving at speed you did not need either the front or rear wipers as the car was so aerodynamic that water just fell off the windshield and it never even hit the rear window.

    The worst parts was the materials of the body, and the electrical system. Shameful on both counts. The paint was whisper thin and great care was needed to keep it from rusting and all the interior plastics were just a hair too weak or too thin to last.

    The killer for me was the fuse box with aluminum buss and copper wires. That is illegal in homes and should be in cars. We had two fuse boxes burn up and the second time we almost could not find one. I traded it in on a 1989 E-30 BMW coupe that I loved but I also loved the Fuego for different reasons. If you treated it with care and were delicate about it, you were just fine. Treat it as if it were an american big three of the same era you were certain to have problems.

    IF they made it again and fixed all the stupid mistakes, added another 20 to 60 horsepower I think it could easily sell. There was so much that was so right about the car and what was wrong could easily have been fixed.

    • Dave Wright

      The last Renault to sell (well) in the US was the Daulphine. It sold in large numbers because it was the cheepest thing on the market. That cured most Americans interest in French cars. They have never recovered from the debacle in the US.

  25. Red Horowitz

    I had an ’83 Fuego Turbo. Put Koni shocks in it and that was a major handling improvement as the car would corner flat at any speed no matter how hard the turn.

    Loved the oil level indicator on the dash. Hated the collapsible sunroof, which was a constant source of trouble due to the latching system.

    Overall, though, with the required Michelin TRX tires, the car was a lot of fun to drive. The silver/black color scheme looked great.

    I miss the car, but instead have an ’89 Porsche 928s4 with 70k miles, which I’ve owned for 21 years…a hatchback of a higher class car.

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