Little Blue Box Update: 1960 Renault Estafette

Look what Jamie found! Leave it to the French to create a van with a cartoon face like this. Scotty wrote this up in January when it was for sale on Craigslist for $3,000. The seller has cleaned it up a lot but it is still not running. The Estafette was an iconic little van around France for decades, from the 1960s into the 1980s. Renault sold about 500,000 of them. The Estafette was designed for small businesses of all kinds and they were everywhere. The front engine, front wheel drive configuration provided a flat floor and more room in the back. It came in configurations similar to other vans including tall versions and camper vans, with or without windows and even a pickup version. They have a 120″ wheelbase and weigh just 2,000 pounds. This little blue van is listed on eBay in Monrovia, California. The opening bid is set at $4,000 and there have been no bids. It hasn’t run for awhile, and hopefully, the little 845 cc engine is not seized. Renault used the Dauphine engine for the first 2 years until the larger 1,108 CC engine was developed for the R8.

The seats are original and minimal but they appear in good condition. The seller has cleaned it up a lot since he purchased it in January.

There’s not a lot of room in the back, but with a flat floor and wide door opening they were just the right size for a small business.  The French police, or Gendarmerie, used these little vans. The only time I have ever ridden in one was in a French Police van in the early 1970s.

This picture of the engine is from Scotty’s earlier post. It looks complete except for the air cleaner. One has to wonder why it is they couldn’t get it running and how serious the issue could be. They don’t provide a picture in the eBay listing, so perhaps it’s been disassembled revealing a serious issue. They are known to run hot and blow head gaskets so if it’s been sitting for awhile there could be rust in unfortunate places.

This little van is going to take some work to get it running again but it certainly looks like a worthwhile effort. Judging by the license plates, this one was imported in 1973. These vans are rare in the US, but because most parts are common across several models, parts are plentiful and easy to find. A later model with a larger engine would be nice but the Dauphine 845 CC engine should be adequate for around town or a later Renault engine like the 1,289 cc Renault 12 engine might be an easy upgrade. Usually, I would suggest looking for a later model, but I haven’t been able to find another one for sale in the US. I think this would be handy and great fun. Hopefully, this seller doesn’t want crazy money for this van. After all, they paid $3,000 or less for it just a few months ago.

Fast Finds


  1. MikeG

    I love it! Perfectly French in it’s peculiarity. Although it wouldn’t be able to stay up with freeway traffic, maybe a larger engine could be installed.

  2. That Guy

    So inquiring minds want to know: What were you doing in a French police van in the early 1970’s? Hmmm?? :-D

  3. Jeffro

    It looks so unhappy. Someone put in a SBC so this van will smile. Just kidding.

    • Sam

      Good idea…how about a Saab 93 2.0 4 cylinder turbo/tranny swap?

  4. Sam

    Cool. Could do some type of motorcycle engine/tranny swap? Start a fleet of odd delivery trucks with this and the pao.

    This looks similar to a van jaws destroyed in one of the James Bond movies.

    • Thomas Phetteplace

      That van was a british Leyland.

  5. gene

    I have an US owners manual for a 1960, even the color is the same…is that a sign?

    • Steven Tubbs

      It’s a sign for sure!! Do you want to sell it?

  6. Peter

    The engine is the larger one. The 845 did not have a 2-barrel carburettor plus the valve cover was not as wide & was higher. The 845 had a 3-bearing crank. The later engine in this van is 5-bearing. That engine came in sizes 998 (I think), 1089, 1289 and I think the 1397 is the same block (all using wet cylinder liners). The 1397 is what was fitted to the rocket ship R5 turbo that produced around 300bhp.

    • RayT Member

      You’re right about this having the R8/R10 engine, which was also used in the R4 and (with bigger liners) R5. The 1397 — as fitted to the R5 Alpine, Turbo and Alpine Turbo — had a hemispherical cylinder head, while all the rest had inline valves. I don’t remember a 998, but yes, the basic un-machined block casting was the same for all the other sizes.

      • Peter

        I Googled engines and the smaller engine size was 956cc fitted to the first version of the R8.

        I owned several R4 cars which I used to keep one running for about 25 years. Mine was a van. Great cars but they did have a lot of faults and required constant repair – probably because it was Renault’s first front-wheel-drive car. I have corresponded with a person in Germany who has an R4 with chassis Number 1 and he also has an R3 of which very few were made and they look like an R4 with less adornments, if that is possible for an already ultra basic car.

  7. John B

    Now I know who stole my beach chairs!

  8. Simcajet

    Nice to see this once common van (in Europe at least). The seats however are certainly not original. They used to be more simple. Those seats origin from a mid-seventies Renault 4 Safari, which is also a very rare sight nowadays. I guess the lack of chrome makes it less nostalgic than the regular L and TL versions?

  9. Rex Kahrs Member

    Remember: “Once you own a French car, nothing worse can happen to you”.

  10. bcavileer

    Au contraire Mon Amie, 1975 R12TL and the a 1976 Gordinti R16 were tres magnifique! Never a problem with either one, wish I still had them. Traded for a TR7 . Went across the channel and never looked back. French engineering was unique, but was not the worse that could happen to you.
    You could have bought a Ford Pinto… or a Chevrolet Monza. Or worse yet( the Chevette).. YUK.

  11. Mephistopheles

    Wanna be flipper buys it, tries to get it running and fails so cleans it up and now wants to get paid for failing. Welcome to the brave new world where it costs $1000+ to wash a car.

  12. Steven Tubbs

    I actually wanted to sell It because there is not many here in the US. It’s 2nd year production. I am having a heck of a time finding parts for this thing, so before I hacked it up to make an electric vehicle out of it. I wanted to see if someone would be interested in restoring it. I tried twice to sell It for what I had in it and no go. So now I won’t feel bad cutting into it. Btw, I don’t plan on changing the way it looks at all.

    • 206bis

      Still for sale? What is the price?

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