Forgotten French Project: 1980 Renault LeCar

Sometimes, sellers are actually reasonable in their asking price of a long-forgotten barn find project; other times, despite their best efforts, the price is still too high. In the case of this forgotten 1980 Renault LeCar, the $1,000 price tag may not seem like a lot but for an oddball like this, it may still be too much. The LeCar is an automotive curiosity that does have a small but loyal following, and this example in Clarence Center, NY likely represents a treasure trove of spares for anyone still keeping a LeCar on the road. But with plenty of rust visible and many years of inactivity, the price tag likely still has to come down by about half to be a realistic purchase. Find it here on Facebook Marketplace.

In a half-dare, half-what-the-hell type purchase, my brother bought one of these that was local to him. It was entertaining for about a day or so, but he tired of it pretty quickly. In addition to having some fuel delivery issues, it was a mild pain in the ass to work on and not very rewarding to drive, so at the end of the day, it found a new home quickly. The LeCar is one of those models where you have to remind yourself it was actually sold here, as it absolutely looks like a grey market import as opposed to a vehicle that someone thought the U.S. marketplace would embrace. Perhaps if its track record had been better, or they had given us the turbocharged example, consumers would feel differently about the LeCar today.

I absolutely believe that if you ship over the hot-rod version of your econobox, it makes it easier to forgive the ills of the entry-level model. Think about it – people will actually speak somewhat warmly about cars like the Chevy Sprint, the Dodge Neon, and the Suzuki Swift because all three of those were available with upgraded engines, interiors, and suspensions. If you just sent over the crappiest version of an already miserable car, well – don’t expect the local market to write you a thank you note. The LeCar was simply an appliance and one that didn’t exactly break the J.D. Power metrics table for reliability scores. This one at least looks to be in fairly good shape inside, certainly better than the crusty exterior seen in the top photo.

The engine is free but the rear brakes are locked up; good luck to anyone who has to move it out of this barn. Despite my feelings that this is a $500 car at best, the seller is holding firm (according to the description) with his asking price, convinced this is an excellent restoration candidate despite the fact that it has no title and no keys. To that I say, no bueno, as there’s more than a few things working against the sorry Renault, even to the point that someone like me who buys dumb stuff all the time wouldn’t consider sending a message at one in the morning purely for the morbid curiosity of whether he’d let it go for less. No, I need a car with a redeeming quality somewhere in its rust-tinged chassis to do that, so the LeCar is not for me – but if you know someone who is a shrewd negotiator and likes French cuisine, maybe let them know this LeCar could use a lifeline.


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  1. RayT Member

    The rust and the price bug me. Also, parts availability. Other than that, I have to say, as a former R5/Le Car owner — I had four, and serviced another — I can’t share Jeff’s rather negative opinion of them.

    Mine were hella fun to drive. Especially the one that a previous owner had equipped with the 93-horsepower Alpine engine and a set of Renault Racing antiroll bars. Surprised the daylights out of a few Golf GTI owners with that one.

    My own “bargain” car was bought for $150 (circa 1982) with a messed-up transaxle. A trip to the Pick-Your-Part and a Saturday of wrenching later, it was roadworthy and passed on to my father. He also enjoyed it.

    I’ll grant you that the turbo-cars — I drove both the front-engine Alpine Turbo and mid-engine R5 Turbo — were even more fun, and if I could have afforded either, I’d still have one. I doubt they could have “solved” Renault’s U.S. problems, but they would have kept me as a customer. If they supplied parts, which was a big “if.”

    Still, I’m one of those who thinks the R5 deserved more credit than it got. I racked up some 150K miles on my first one, with no more trouble than a bent pushrod. The biggest problem was that Renault NEVER had a clue about the U.S. market.

    Like 14
    • Derek

      I’ve always enjoyed driving slow cars fast. I never had an R5 (but I have had a shot of a Turbo 2 and an A310) – I’d be looking awfy had at the front suspension on this one.

      Not worth the money, but they’re good cars.

      Like 2
  2. rustylink

    given it doesn’t run and can’t be towed without effort has no a title and no keys asking a grand seems pretty outrageous.. The seller can crow all about no low ballers and the need not to sell it – but it’s a $500 car at best all day long. This person is lucky they don’t have to sell it because it won’t go for what he’s asking for

    Like 7
  3. Ignatius J. Reilly

    George Costanza complained about having to drive one of these in high school…they called him “LeGeorge”.

    Like 6
  4. 8banger 8banger Member


    Like 2
  5. Terrry

    When these were first brought to the U.S., they were only badged as “R5″ and didn’t sell, but when Renault started an ad campaign and put ‘LeCar” graphics on the later ones, people bought them or better or worse. Also, let’s face it, these were assembled about as cheaply as a car could be made back then, and it showed especially after a few miles. This car didn’t do Renault’s reputation in the U.S. any favors.

    Like 4
  6. Connecticut Mark

    Shock towers rotted away, it’s sinking in front?

    Like 3
  7. Nsuracer

    I saw the Archer Brothers put a can of Whoopass on the field at Road Atlanta in a pair of these. They had potential.

    • Slomoogee

      I too watched the Archer brothers work magic with those R5s. There was a series for for them that was a blast to watch. 3 wheel driving at its finest. Those little frogs were set up to run. I wonder what happened to the many that made up the series? Id love to get my hands on one. The one here is a 200 parts car at best that you’d have to flatbed away to the woods and visit occasionally.

      Like 1
  8. Josh

    Seeing this car brings me back to 1987, my brother brought one for a few hundred bucks. It was white with a black top that slid back. We all laughed at it and called it a Leaker because it leaked coolant, oil, transmission fluid and break fluid. When it died he got a 1973 Chevy Monte Carlo. Much nicer car.

    Like 1
  9. Mark

    Coworker had one of these and since she lived close, we would take turns driving to work.
    One sad little car. Stalled constantly. Seemed like it was fuel starved the majority of time. Never heard the woman cuss until she got behind the wheel…

    Like 2
  10. ace10

    The owner paying someone a grand to take it off his/her hands seems reasonable to me.

    Like 4
  11. Justin Pettit

    My dad had one for years. Remember I loved it. It was the same blue color. Still in the woods behind the house to this day

    Like 3
    • Bluetec320 Bluetec320 Member

      “Still in the woods behind the house to this day” – and probably in better shape than this one!

      Like 3
  12. CJinSD

    I’d feel pretty sketched out about buying a car with no keys and no title. If it doesn’t bother you, my neighbors have some great cars. What’ll you give me for them?

    Like 2
  13. Chuck

    This is why we have ground pollution and climate problems. Because of crap like this from Europe.

    • Derek

      No, it’s ‘cos of Caddys doing 8mpg rather than Renaults that do 35…

      Like 2
  14. Troy

    Some cars no matter how obscure just need to be recycled and this is in that category. Owner should scrap it now prices are still high.

  15. RallyAce

    This not a ‘forgotten project’, it a case of sobering up and realizing what you bought under the influence of a 30 pack of Keystone Lights.

    Like 1
  16. Gator Member

    Junk. Plain and simple.

  17. Quidditas

    Le Froggies would take issue with your statement.

  18. Chris Hanley

    At the dealership back in 1981, we referred to them as LePuke.

  19. Phil G

    “I call it Das Car!”

  20. Lt Jay

    Back when these were new the Small Town Granite Falls in Washington ( East of Everett in the hills) bought two and turned them into Police Cars! So odd it got TV Coverage. Don’t know how they fit a 250 lbs. drunk logger in the backseat! Ha.

  21. Richard Kirschenbaum

    Over 5 million Frenchmen would disagree as that’s how many were produced. I personally love the styling but prefer the 5 door. I do agree that this one is not worth restoring as it is neither rare nor solid. Never owned one, but French engineering was never second to anyone’s, witness the incredible Citroen 2CV DS, and SM. I drove my 2CV Dyane to a cruise night past a cabal of muscle cars and was greeted with “Hey fifty bucks” which brought a laugh until I fired back “No thanks I’ve seen your sister.”

    Like 2
  22. Steve Clinton

    I had a friend who owned one of these…he’s still trying to forget.

    Like 1
  23. Gray Wolf

    Perfect title,”lost and forgotten”! This would probably make a great succulent planter for those who collect these plants!

  24. RG in PDX

    Trying to think of something nice to say. Uhm, probably some good interior parts you could save before you scrap the rest.

  25. bog

    Mix of memories with these Renaults. My ex-wife and her two sisters shared one when they were all in high school & they loved it. Later in life my English fiancé had a RHD version which I got to drive while visiting her “across the pond”. Only French car I’d ever driven, much less a fairly underpowered, FWD, RHD one. I was suitably terrified driving through Cornwall and Devon on narrow hedgerow lanes. And yes, its broke down on day 9 of our 10 day vacation. Gratefully, the mechanic we found gave us a loaner to get back to her home. Interestingly (to me), both sets of women nicknamed their vehicle “Elsie”….

  26. Vance

    I would rather ride a horse than ride in this ” Le Turd”. The epitome of French automotive engineering.

  27. David Rosenberg

    My dad had one of these when I was in grad school. I went with him on the test drive at the dealership. It broke down and we had to push it back to the dealership. He bought it anyway. I drove it quite a bit and enjoyed it. I thought it handled well and was a good city car. You could always find a place to park it. One day I got it into an amazingly small spot. When I returned the angry guy parked behind me had picked up with his buddies and placed it on the sidewalk. There was a nasty note under the wiper. It was one of the last cars with a manual choke. The interior was basic, but surprisingly roomy. I thought it was a fun little car. I think he traded it on a Saab.

  28. Gary Rhodes

    I rember these turds, three lug wheels, absolutely no power to speak of. I drove a customers Encore alot, because it broke alot. If you had the a/c on and wanted to pass a car(no, really, I had to pass some people driving slower than I was) I had to turn the a/c off, the thing was that underpowered.

  29. MitchRoss Member

    These cars are a blast to drive. Best steering of any car I have ever driven. Not much power but once you are moving it goes where you want it to. Lots of lean but no worry, you get used to it. Rides smooth like a Caddy. horribly built, like most Renaults. Mine had rust onthe rear wheelwells when it was 2 years old. I did love that car though.

    Like 1
  30. Ward William

    Leave it where it is to rust in peace. They were crap back in the day and they are more crap now. I had a friend in London when I was living there whose Le Crap broke down once too often. He removed the rego plates in the middle of the busy M1 and just walked away. If it had had more gasoline in the tank, he would have tossed alt match at it.

  31. Bob19006

    I bought a used 1976 R5 and then a 1982 4 door LeCar after Renault bought 49% of AMC-Jeep. They both had the big rubber fold back roof so they were almost equivalent to a convertible and with the 4 wheel independent torsion bar suspension were fun to drive & very easy to park in spaces no other car could fit into. I even on several occasions put a 28 foot extension ladder (14 feet long) in through the back hatch and up through the sunroof hole with 1 piece of rope to hold it from sliding down out the hatch. Was roomier than most other sub-compact econo-boxes of the era (VW Rabbit) because of the long wheelbase with the wheels just inside the bumpers with no overhang. Great gas mileage. Miner were relatively dependable with the 1 big exception. Horrible engines that both failed under 100,000 miles. Overall I loved the cars.

  32. carfreakalmostboomer

    Wow, memories! I had an 82, same blue, different graphics, with the big leaky folding cloth sun top. These cars had a smooth ride. The seats were as comfy as lazy boys, but odd. You did not tilt the seat back up for rear passengers, the whole seat tilted forward. Radio location always bugged me. Thing drank a quart of oil every fill up. Shifting it was was like throwing a hot dog down a hallway, you know, move it around and pray that you hit something. A hard corner would result in road-rash on the outer door mirrors ha ha. Miss that car. Traded it for a 84 Coupe DeVille. The LeCar rode just as well and had better seats! Actually more reliable, too!

  33. Miminite

    Price and rust condition aside, this beaut needs a supercharged big block, a back half, then jump in and hang on!

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