French Barn Find: 1959 Renault Dauphine

So what is a “Dauphine”? Well, Merriam-Webster says that a Dauphine is the wife of a Dauphin. OK, so what’s a Dauphin? Again, according to Webster, a Dauphin is the eldest son of a king. So somehow, we’ve gone from French royalty to this rather sad-looking 1959 Renault sedan, known as a Dauphine (I wonder what the Dauphin looked like?). Anyhow, this Renault is located in Maugansville, Maryland and is available, here on eBay for an opening bid of $250.

Offered between 1956 and 1967, the Dauphine was as close to a world car as you could find at the time. Assembled in eight different countries besides France, 2.1M found new homes over its eleven-year production run. Unfortunately, there’s not much detail in the listing about this diminutive sedan. The seller states that he has owned it for one year and, “This vehicle was purchased from the family of the original owner. Was pulled from a barn and cleaned off. They have no clue where the keys or title are located“. Hmmm, not off to a great start.

There is no image of the engine but research tells us that it is a 32 HP, 845 CC, in-line, four-cylinder, rear-mounted motor connected to a three-speed, manual transaxle. It’s a safe bet this one is a non-runner unless it has been hot-wired (remember – no keys). When running, 0-60 MPH times are in the 30-second range, so acceleration is not this Renault’s strong suit. It’s a simple and common engine though, so maybe it’s salvageable.

The exterior could be in worse shape, it’s mostly straight with a very faded finish which is allowing surface rust bleed-through. Some of the lower body rust may be a bit more than the surface variety, however, the images aren’t completely clear. The only obvious body damage is the broken front bumper – it would be interesting to know what kind of shape the underside/structure is in.

The spartan interior is, well, spartan and in less than ideal condition. The Pep Boys seat covers gave up the ghost long ago and there’s enough detritus scattered about that it’s hard to get the full story on the floors. In the image of the open passenger-side rear door, there is some pretty serious rust evident in the jamb – a precursor to more in other less obvious locations? Of note is the speedometer, it’s demarcated in miles per hour instead of kilometers per hour, so this is an American-spec Dauphine.

I haven’t seen a Renault Dauphine in years. I remember spying them periodically back in the late ’60s but they have been out of sight, out of mind for years. Unfortunately, considering its condition, it’s doubtful that the prognosis for this Renault will be long-term survival. But you never know, perhaps a Renault aficionado will see some good here and rescue this curious little car from its current sad state. Hope springs eternal, right?


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  1. Joe Machado

    All I can add is in 1962, we got 13 of guys n girls in a black 59 that belonged to the Church Pastor.
    Once we picked it up and put it between to two telephone poles. May still be there, Not

    Like 4
  2. Raymond

    Shoulda left it in the barn

    Like 3
  3. Howard A Member

    This, is without question, the best Barn Find to come down the pike. 1st, let’s get it right, it was 32.8 hp. As Jay Leno sez, it’s that .8 that gets you over the hill. The poor Dauphunie, always lived in the shadow of the VW, but for folks that actually bought them, they found out it was TWICE the car a Bug was. A conventional motor with a real heater,( kind of) 4 doors, more room, while geared for the same market, the Renault was just a much better car. My 1st car was a 4CV, and had many encounters with Dauphines and Caravelles over the early years. Everybody had a neighbor that had one. The old man had a couple, it was the only foreign car he’d let in his driveway, Dubja, Dubja 2, der, I think he always felt sorry for the French, who really took a pasting . Renaults ( or Renultz’s, like my old man called them) sure hated the salt, but for a little city car, it really did a good job,,for what it was intended. I’d love to have this. Parts may be overseas, because there were just so many made, even though we never saw many, somebody surely has a pile of them. That’s universal around the globe. Back from a time, when foreign car choices were slim, and a VW, Renault, or a random Fiat, was all you saw. Asian cars? Oh, good heavens, they’ll never amount to anything but making cameras and cheap toys,or so we thought. No guff from me on this one!

    Like 13
    • Dave

      Around Pittsburgh, the steelworkers regarded these as the family version of the Bug, due to their four doors. Difficulty climbing the hills, and an inability to survive the potholes and rust led to their demise.

      Like 6
  4. bobhess bobhess Member

    Drove one of these once. Felt like everything on it was fragile.

    Like 5
  5. On and On On and On Member

    Back around 1971, I had a Fiat that got wrecked and it was at the dealer for a long time waiting for parts from Italy. They gave me a like 64ish Dauphine as a loaner and I it was a great little car. Not fancy but adequate at everything. Super smooth running engine, idled so quiet you couldn’t hear it and got like 35mpg. I drove it on the Interstate but at 65 it was singing loudly…………..

    Like 3
  6. Tiberius1701

    Back in high school, my friend who had a penchant for odd cars (He had a Dyna Panhard roadster, Subaru 360 and a Crown Conversion Corvair) owned one of these. It was easily the worst and slowest car I have ever driven. Easily slower than my sister’s ’74 Mustang II 2.3 automatic. And like bobhess’ comment it definitely felt fragile.

    Like 4
  7. sir_mike

    Back in the late 60’s a local mechanic friend had one with a Judson supercharger on it…it made it quicker.

  8. Will Fox

    When I was little, Mom pawned us off on an old lady to babysit us named “Mrs. Feeney”. She was a miserable old thing, and only did it for the couple bucks it put in her purse. She drove a black `58 Dauphine, and by `63 or `64 it was tired, rusty, and belched blue smoke. The car was as rough looking as she was, and probably had as many miles on her as the car.

    Like 7
  9. Arby

    French fried…

  10. Ben T. Spanner

    My fraternity brother was given one for free by a priest. He lost. It wouldn’t start. I cleaned the plugs on the rusty edge of the engine cover. It started.

    I knew a pair of twins who shared an Austin Healey 100-6. Their father saw it and insisted they trade it for a new Dauphine. Nasty nasty nasty.

    I worked as a body man and mechanic on many many 1960’s beetles. Very few Renaults .Dauphines were $200 or so cheaper new. Absolutely no resale value. They had hot water heat and 4 small doors. I remember a 3 speed transmission. I also remember visible rust on new cars, like unplated hardware and underbody seams. At least you would never wear out the skinny 15 inch radial tires.

    Like 1
  11. Klaus Kiefer

    The memories this brings back has me booking a emergency appointment with a psychiatrist for later today. Got one of these foisted on me as my first car and it is a miracle I didn’t become a life long public transportation user. It sometimes got you where you wanted to go and never got you home without a push start or removing the starter and stretching out the spring that made it engage. Was not the envy of anyone at high school. Even the teachers wouldn’t allow it in their parking lot. Ended up riding the school bus till senior year when I scrapped together $400 for a 59 Chev

    Like 2
  12. DJM

    Pretty much the Yugo… of its day. A “throw-away” car.

    Like 1
  13. Nick G

    Dauphine is also French for a female dolphin.

    Like 2
  14. b52srule

    I owned one of these back in NY. It was given to my Dad with the engine apart. I did put it back together. Four cyl wet sleeve tractor engine. I installed the add on hot water heater. There is slow, and there is slow. Not too bad, but it was slow.

    Like 2
  15. Rj

    She came with a city and country horn. My oldest sister and brother-in-law had a baby blue 1960, and it would go places other cars not dare……

    Like 4
  16. steve

    My buddy Fred (now,sadly, passed) spoke of his time delivering Chicken Delight (Raise your hand if you remember!) and NOBODY wanted to drive the Dauphine in the fleet as it was SO SLOW. Fred had owned the likes of 2CV’s and figured it couldn’t be that bad…But it WAS! Idled smoothly but had NO power. It was like it was being choked off…..He’s walking around the car and finds, at the FRONT bumper, a rag shoved in to the little grille and opening on the one side.. He removed it and…POWER! (ok..MORE power, anyway) As it turns out, the air intake for the rear engine comes though the front of the car and,we guess, runs down the rocker and into the air cleaner.
    Somebody’s sloppy wash job had reduced the poor thing to “hated” status. Fred never let on about what he’d found and had that car all to himself for the duration of the job. If I didn’t have too many other “wanting” project cars…..

    Like 2
    • Cobra Steve

      Steve, not sure if we’re talking about the same car? My 1961 Renault Dauphine has the air intake coming in behind the rear doors to help cool the radiator. The air cleaner gets its air from the engine compartment. Depending on the year model, some had the oil bath air cleaner assembly on top of the carburetor while most I’ve seen at a separate oil bath air cleaner canister mounted in the engine compartment on the driver side rear fender well.

      Not sure where y’all are getting the 32 horsepower rating, as the number I’m typically seeing is 27 horsepower.

      There’s a great guy in Ohio by the name of Lawrence who has all the parts you would ever need for a Dauphine–both new and used. Since he was a mechanic on these “back in the day”, he is a wealth of information as well. I highly recommend him.

      Love them or hate them, they are cool little cars. Sad they got a bad reputation as it was a great idea but many improvements on execution should have been implemented. I like mine because I know I will be the only one at the car cruise. Being different can be a blessing as well as a curse.

      Like 5
    • 370zpp 370zpp Member

      “don’t cook tonight, call chicken delight!”


      Like 1
  17. Tom Hand Member

    My brother Bob, bought a much used Dauphine in the early 70’s. He was journeyman plumber and worked on some pretty primitive sites. He did not want to use his good car for work.

    The drivers door would not stay closed, so he installed a slide bolt lock on the exterior to keep the door shut. He would roll the window down to lock the sliding bolt lock. The car had a great amount of rust but it ran got great mileage. He went through two winters over eighteen months. One day he came home from work. He slid the slide bolt to get out of the car. He had to really force the door to open. He got out, looked at the car and suddenly, the car sagged in the middle. End of the Dauphine. He sold the car for $20 dollars to a guy who wanted the engine for a project.

    Like 2
    • Solosolo Member

      I bet the door handles and window winders broke off your brother Bob’s Dauphine with monotonous regularity as well! My MIL had one and I was continually having to replace them.

  18. Rj

    Tiberius …. I forgot all about the Panhard Dyna. That was an ugly looking fish of a car if there ever was one. California was the place to live if you wanted to see all the odd cars of the world. When it comes to this I have to admit Vietnam is where I saw my first Dyna Z.

    Like 1
  19. Pierre

    Not saying that it is a great car, nor the best looking, but , still, if it goes for 250$, it is an amazing deal. It is a smart car, atypical, well conceived, and all parts are there. What can you expect for 250$ ?

    Like 1
  20. Martin Horrocks

    No-one mentioned the Widowmaker handling. You were lucky if you lived to watch the car rust to pieces in Northern Europe.

    But an important car for Renault. Also made and sold under license by Alfa Romeo in Italy. You’d only pay $5000 for a good rust free example here in Spain, so can only see this one as a parts do or.

  21. Derek

    To answer your question, the Dauphin was – from memory – a sort of Prince Regent of France; sort of in charge, but not a king.

    I had a Dauphine for a bit, think it had an engine from a 4L so was a bit quicker. The handling could get interesting if you were pressing on a bit, ‘cos of the rear axle arrangement. It was fun on small twisty roads, but I prefer the 2CV’s handling; much better and more predictable.

    • Martin Horrocks

      There’s the widowmaking reference quickly confirmed! There’s an old tradition in French Hill climbs which turns Dauphines into cheap Alpines. Some Hairy Canaries result from that blew. And the factory built the hotter Gordini versión.

      Dauphin is actually the heir to the French throne, Derek, the eldest son of the King. A Dauphine would be his wife, as I don’t think women could inherit the throne in France. A regent is ” Régent”, which English borrows from French.

      Like 1
      • Derek

        Ach, I was close! The no cigar disnae matter ‘cos I stopped ages ago.

        I wouldn’t say widowmaker, because you had to pedal it a bit to get it to twitch, but it was in the same club as the Porsche/Corvair/Herald/Skoda/Tatra.

        My first competition car was a Skoda 120 Estelle.

  22. Steve Clinton

    This car was a POS when new and an even bigger POS now.

    Like 2
  23. Al

    In my college days at Alfred U, there was a St. Patrick’s parade yearly. On this particular year one of the “floats” was a Dauphine in its typical grey, driven be a blind frat brother, guide dog seated beside him, brothers walking all around the car and the most glorious feature, a 5 pound bag of Daisy Flower on the roof signifying flowers on the float. Hilarious!

  24. Guggie 13

    A friend in High school had one of these , last time I saw it was on the side of the road with flames coming out of the engine compartment , everyone got out ok but car was toast !

  25. gaspumpchas

    A wise old mechanic told me that they made Renaults out of old Prince Albert Tobacco cans.

    • Solosolo Member

      I heard they were made from recycled toothpaste tubes!

  26. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    More talk than car here. Good friend of my oldest brother had one of these. Something went wrong with the engine so they unbolted it and lifted by hand out the back of the car rebuilt it on a bench stuck it back in and drove away all in one day. The fellow was a used car salesman so it ended up on his lot the next day.
    God bless America

  27. Kurt

    I’d rather have a VW bug the same year anytime. Much better resale value!

    Like 1
  28. bobH Member

    I was a dealer mechanic when this was new in ’59. POS then and now. (I still have the few Dauphine tools for maintenance, free to whoever gets this thing.)

  29. Rick

    This must be a very early 1959 model ’cause the “special U. S. A. Made in France” decal has a 48 star US flag. Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, with Hawaii becoming the 50th on August 21st. That alone should boost the value of the car by $10.

    Like 1
  30. Dan m ccarville

    My dad had one I learned to drive with, lots of fun for a new driver.
    On the day of my driving test if decided to play dead, so I had to take my test with my friends 1960 Ford wagon, 3 speed and no power steering. When I tried to park it the right rear tire was up on the curb. The guy giving the test simply said, you pass, i could not do any better with this with this p o junk.

    Like 1
  31. chrlsful

    yup, who nos what anyone will do w/any car. We had one of these new after mom smacked up the ’57 squire on ice, 1st winter up from MidLantic to NorEast (no ice legs yet). Ours was old enuff to have the semaphores. I think it bridged us till the “10” or may B the Simca 1000 was next?

  32. Michael L Gregory

    My dad was fascinated with the Renault after watching them climbing mountains during the Olympics in France. He was convinced we needed one until he saw both a door and a wheel fall off of Dauphines turning a corner. That changed his mind. He liked the VW Beetle better, anyway, and a ’67 ended up being my first car.

    I did finally own a Renault, though. I bought an Alliance in 1984 and loved that car. I babied it and after three years it might have been the only one left on the road.

    Like 1
    • Pierre

      And I bett no door nor wheel ever fell off of yours. It wasn’t a bad car after all :)

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