Make Mine a Gordini: 1963 Renault Dauphine

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The Renault Dauphine is one of those early European economy cars that lingers on classifieds pages as an affordable entry into vintage automobile ownership. If you can get over the lack of speed, the Dauphine is a much more intriguing option that yet another air-cooled VW project, and it looks just as neat-o with a roof rack and lowered suspension over some slightly meaty wheels and tires. Or, you could keep it a preserved specimen like this one here on craigslist listed for $3,200 near San Diego. 

The Dauphine featured a rear-engine designed with water cooling supplemented by air vents in the rear fascias. If owning an automotive curiosity that’s more obscure than a Beetle yet just as slow, the Dauphine might be for you. While reaching 60 m.p.h. took over half a minute, they did feature fairly robust motors adapted from the 4CV, with around 32 b.h.p., and upwards of 37 b.h.p. in the Gordini version.

The seller provides very few details on this Dauphine, only noting that it runs and drives and has a clear title. The interior looks quite fresh, with seats and door panels that match too well to have been repaired in phases; it strikes me as being original upholstery. Front bucket seats were adjustable but features were otherwise fairly limited, including a heater and town-and-country horns.

Owning a Dauphine requires some level of dedication, as parts aren’t going to be as easy to track down as an air-cooled project from the same era. Enthusiast groups are likely a bit smaller and more disparate too, but social networking makes it easier to overcome those gaps. While the Dauphine isn’t on most collector’s radars yet, clean examples like this are few and far between. I’ll bet you can get it for under $3K, too. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Roger for the find.

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  1. Adam ClarkeStaff

    Great article Jeff. So funny that you mention the Gordini version. My father bought my mother a Gordini when she was learning to drive. She couldn’t get her head around the stick shift and only managed to drive it about a mile before she gave up on it. It soon went to a new home.

    Like 3
  2. 86 Vette Convertible

    An Aunt had one of those when I was little. I remember riding in it once. Definitely not a speed demon but it was what it was.

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  3. jw454

    A high school friend had one in the early seventies. We took it out on a very snowy night to do our usual cruising. Very soon we noticed it was getting harder and harder to steer. Long story short, we had scooped up a couple of hundred pounds of snow in the empty spare tire well below the front bumper.
    We had to stop and use a windshield scraper to dig it all out. Still not sure how it all got in there but, it was packed!

    Like 1
  4. Solosolo UK ken TILLYMember

    Mine overheated so I removed the head in order to have it skimmed but before refitting it I decided to clean the carbon off the piston tops. Bad move. The moment I turned the engine one of the cylinders popped out of the block as I hadn’t realised that it was a loose liner. Young and stupid way back then! A small job then turned into a major engine out overhaul that instead of taking a couple of days ended up taking about two weeks. However it was a great little town car.

    Like 4
    • Howard A. Howard AMember

      Hi ken, don’t feel bad, laddie, I did the same thing. When we got our 4CV, the motor was stuck, so we took the head off and also tried turning the motor over ( not knowing about the liners), and one liner popped out of the block. So what did young aspiring mechanics do? We took a baseball bat, and whacked the liner back in place. We even tried to reuse the head gasket, but that didn’t work. New head gasket, not sure where we got that, probably J.C. Whitney, they were the best source for foreign car parts in the midwest. Got it running, but blew a lot of smoke.

      Like 2
      • Solosolo UK ken TILLYMember

        Hi HowardA, The problem was, in my case, that the liner wouldn’t go back into place as the internal rust had taken the place of the gasket that seals the liner from the block, so the liner wouldn’t locate without protruding about 1/16th of an inch above the block.

        Like 0
  5. Wayne

    A teacher at our high school had an R10. Since I was the resident Renault expert in our high school auto shop class. (Knew how to pronounce the name, had experience with 2 Dauphines that my Dad had and a 4CV that I rolled twice until I figured out rear swing axle)
    I was tasked with getting it running as the engine would not turn over. After having to push it into the shop. (it locked up the wheels when bump start was tried) And figuring the the engine had internally grenaded. I started to take the engine apart while still installed in the engine bay. Imagine my surprise upon the cylinder head removal to find solid ice to the top of the block. (No antifreeze in the cooling system and it was 25 degrees below 0 outside.) I then removed the fan belt and the engine turned over very easily. Yes, you guessed it, the frozen water in the water pump was keeping the engine from rotating. The frozen ground outside did not offer enough traction to make the fan belt slip when trying to bump start the car.
    I wish the cylinder liners in my Massey Ferguson (Z134 Continental engine) would come out that easy!

    Like 1
  6. Rex Rice

    After basic training in the USAF, I landed in Tripoli, Libya as a musician. A friend said I could have his car if I could get it running. A Renault 4CV with a bad starter that required push starts because no parts were available. The civil war in Algeria caused all things French (in sympathy) to be banned. It was easy to push but difficult jump into with suicide doors.

    Like 2
  7. paul oberman

    I have always liked these cars. That interior is a pickle though. I hate the upholstery a lot, but if it is really original, you would really have a hart time removing something in such good shape.

    Like 0
  8. Gaspumpchas

    Liked the looks of these. This one is weathered and too cool. Good luck to the new owner.



    Like 0
  9. paul oberman

    that doesn’t appear to be an original vinyl. Thank goodness.

    Like 0
  10. Renault Renovator

    If this one is rust-free, then it is a bargain! I read an article once which stated Canadian tow truck operators refused to haul these with a hook as when they picked up the car, the engine and transaxle would fall out if the surrounding unibody was severely corroded.

    Cars do not get much more simple than this one and while solid engineering and excellent parts’ availability are VW attributes, a water-cooled engine and four doors make the Dauphine even more unique. Sad Renaults got such a bad rap due to inept mechanics and poor dealer support in the U.S. Learn how to work on it yourself & enjoy 40 mpg. With 27 rompin’ stompin’ horsepower, you won’t get there in a hurry but you will enjoy the journey!

    Like 2

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