Restored Red R5: 1978 Renault Le Car

Scotty GilbertsonBy Scotty Gilbertson

The seller says that “this thing is so much fun it should be illegal!” I haven’t driven one in close to four decades but I do remember it being a fun little car at the time. This 1978 Renault Le Car, or Renault 5, or Renault R5 is on Craigslist for $3,500 or they’ll trade for a clean, first-generation Toyota 4Runner. It’s located in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico.

This is one of the cleanest Le Cars that I’ve seen in a while. Maybe it looks cleaner because one of the owners along the way took off the graphics. The current seller was given this car in a trade; it’s hard to argue with a free car if it works. They say that it was restored around 5-8 years ago and is now showing a bit of rust in the front fenders. Ok, here’s a question: we flew to the moon 48 years ago, landed, walked around for a while, hit a few golf balls, and then flew back to earth again safely. Why in the name of heaven and earth can’t someone, somewhere, come up with a car that doesn’t rust?! How has that technology not landed yet? I know, Saturn was on the right track, but..

Ok, shake it off, Scotty G, back to this great looking Le Car. The Le Car was sold in the US from 1976 to 1983 and an interesting story is the designer of the R5 / Le Car did this thing in his spare time outside of his normal paid duties. I wonder if that ever happens today in any industry, let alone car companies. I doubt it. I love the shape of this car, it was really ahead of its time. One that I would really like to have is the Le Car Van! A Le Car without side windows in back, sort of a panel van look. Very cool. If I had one I’d keep it in our living room..

The interior looks equally nice. Kudos to the seller for providing many more photos than usual in a Craigslist ad, or even an eBay ad. Nice work. This car would be a lot of stares and gas station chats for $3,500. Seats, front and rear, look perfect and other than the small amount of reoccurring rust that they mention on the bottoms of the front fenders I don’t see too many issues with this car. Renault also offered a 5-door version of the Le Car for those folks with a need to haul people in the back seat without having them crouch down and tumble over the front seats.

Here’s where most people have an issue with French cars: the engine. In this case this is Renault’s C1J, 1.4L inline-four with 51 hp. This is an 1,850-pound car but that still isn’t a lot of power. But, they always say that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow. “It looks like the engine has a new head on it but I’m just looking from the outside. It had new plugs, wires and a distributor not long ago and I just had the carb rebuilt and new fuel line and new filter. It runs and drives great!” It also has a newer stainless steel exhaust, so someone spent a good deal of money on this car. Have any of you owned a Le Car or Renault 5?

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  1. RayT Member

    Scotty, I owned THREE of these puppies. My ex had one as well, as did two friends. They were great, great fun, and — despite what people like to say about them — quite reliable. This one really tempts me, but it’s only a couple hundred bucks less than I paid for my new one, and more than I paid for my other two (and the ex’s) combined. That’s a bit much for my taste….

    The biggest drawback (after the miserable dealer network and iffy spare parts supply) was the lousy, slapped-on emissions controls. When I had to do a quick stripdown of my first car’s engine (a bent pushrod that a mechanic told me was something worse, so I rebuilt it myself), I somehow managed to lose the air pump, EGR, and tangle of vacuum lines. The result was a much stronger engine, no fuel sensitivity (a problem for early stock examples) and it still passed the sniffer test. Drove that car over 130K miles before some fool in a Town Car hit it.

    A friend took a more direct route to more power: he bolted in the engine from a Euro-spec R5 Alpine, a slightly larger hemi-head unit good for 93 HP and a good bit more torque. Then he got cold feet about the CA smog inspection, and sold it to me for peanuts. THAT was a fun piece!

    Renault sold all sorts of goodies for these: antiroll bars, 5-speed transaxles, the Alpine engine, wider wheels, and much more. All for “off-road use,” of course. Even with all those bits, the thing I remember most about the R5 was the astonishingly comfortable ride, great seats (the car shown here has incorrect upholstery pattern on the seats, but who cares?) and much, much stowage space.

    I could go on and on, but need to stop before I talk myself into making a cross-country trip to New Mexico….

    • Pa Tina

      Just do it! Life is too short. Get going man!

    • Scott

      RayT, this may be an extremely long shot but your friend wouldn’t happen to be Doug F? If so please reply!

      • RayT Member

        No, Scott…his name was Bob.

  2. Philip Millward

    I Had one in The Uk a GT Turbo (Gordini Turbo) great fun ,torsion bar suspension all round , as any car you had to keep an eye out from rusting around the torsion mounts

    • Pa Tina

      I always thought “Gordini Turbo” was an Italian F1 pilot. Next time I get stopped, I’m telling the law enforcement officer (In a thick accent) that I am Gordini Turbo

  3. jdjonesdr

    I’ve got a Renault Kangoo with the diesel engine. Great little truck, and comfortable too.

  4. Ralph Terhune

    These things were crap from the time they were new when I worked at a Pontiac dealership body shop back in the 80’s. Any time these cars came in wrecked, we’d look for ways to make sure they were totalled because nobody wanted to work on them. Horrible cars.

  5. leiniedude

    ‘or they’ll trade for a clean, first-generation Toyota 4Runner.’ At least they are optimistic !

    • al8apex

      A clean 1st gen 4Runner will run 3x this price

  6. whippeteer

    I don’t know if it was corrected later on, but they did not like to run on anything less than premium.

  7. Christopher

    My family had three of them. No serious problems with any of them.

  8. Kevin Brennan

    Great cars,here’s one I have but I’d really like the USA version😀

    • RayT Member

      Looks nice! And no, you wouldn’t want the US version, unless you really like the round headlights. The Euro lights were brighter, the bumpers were smaller, and you didn’t have to put up with all the poorly engineered add-ons of the emission-control system.

      I had a pair of French-spec lights, and was planning to put them on my Alpine-engined car, but that would have required sheetmetal changes I couldn’t do myself, or afford to have done. Same for the 5-speed transaxle, which attached to a different (welded-in) crossmember.

  9. David Miraglia

    always like the 5. as cute as the beetle, mini , 2cv and the 500.

  10. Keith Johnson

    I had of them as well. Very reliable. The only thing I hated was changing a starter.

  11. rapple

    I was a service manager at a Volvo-Renault dealer during this time and had them for demos. Used to get a new one every couple months as the salesmen drove Volvos and would always be making deals for the only R5 demo in the house. We had a set of sway bars and Carello lights that I would swap into a new one when my demo got sold. These cars were great fun and well put together for the era. Fun to drive with a heavy right foot, they had comfortable ride and great handling (if body roll didn’t bother you much). Strong engines if the cooling system didn’t leak in which case the head gasket goes poof. Due to the engine layout- longitudinal behind the transaxle- they had nicely balanced feel although some repairs like starter motor replacement presented “challenges”.

  12. the one

    had one too fun! didn’t run, stuffed a distributer in it, doubled my $200.00 investment.

  13. Stacey

    My white 1980 Le Car was my first car, and I could kill myself for letting it go! It was in mint condition, but wouldn’t crank. I knew nada about cars, so I just gave it away, and bought a new car.
    Turns out the battery terminals needed cleaning! Ah Lord! What did I do?!
    I’m seriously considering this lovely red one…..

  14. BHB

    had a green one with ca emission choking, but what a ride! it was hard not to smile in that car. the one to get, however, is the r-5 turbo with the engine/trans translated into the back seat(midships) , wow, my friend’s was so fast it was frightening

    • Alan (Michigan)

      Pricing for the car you mention is at least on another planet, if not a different solar system from here.
      Jay Leno has one. Sports a Nitrous bottle for when he needs that little extra.

  15. Clayton

    I looked at this very car a year ago when it was for sale in Baltimore, Maryland. It is a solid LeCar which had come from California a few years earlier. The guy in Maryland sold it to someone in California later last summer, so back across the country it went. It has changed hands at least once since returning to the west coast, and the price has come down a good bit from the previous listings. The car was originally blue in color, which is hidden pretty well other than under the hood below the engine level. It has a very neat one-of-a-kind hand fabricated stainless steel exhaust system that is certainly an expensive enhancement for the car. I have a fairly large collection of LeCars already, but I keep an eye on this one each time it ends up for sale…maybe it will end up back on the east coast.

  16. Clayton

    Plenty of LeCars here in central Pennsylvania!

  17. Mitch Ross

    I bought one new in ’80 while a college student. That car had the best steering of any car I’ve ever driven. I autocrossed a lot with it,After doing 20,000 miles in the first year, the electric fan relay crapped out and the overheat light came on as the head gasket blew. Fixed it, shipped it to Europe and drove it all over France, Italy and Greece, then ferried to Israel where I lived for a few years. then ferry back to Greece, Turkey the eastern block then northern Europe and ship beck to states, Head gasket blew in Israel on the climb to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and again in Cyprus, where I got towed by a UN peacekeeper Land rover to a shop where it got fixed the last time. I crashed it in Bratislava, Chechoslovakia and had to be towed to Austria, having no money, I worked off the tow bill by working as a towtruck drivers assistant in Vienna, where it got fixed and finally got back to the states where I had it for years before i rusted away

  18. XMA0891

    I owned an ’83 five door. It had the canvas sun roof, A/C, and (more importantly) the anti-rollbars. I found the car was extremely reliable, well engineered, and really fun to drive. Amazed me that an ’83 car could still have a manual choke. Ray T. was right – Parts-sourcing was iffy – Still scarred from the groans at the AMC dealers’ Service Desk – But I was always able to source everything with a modicum of effort. A few tricky service issues aside, the real Achilles Heel were the rear brakes, adjusted manually by means of an eccentric cam – Mine were almost constantly in need of a slight tweak. For all the times I had the rear in the air; somehow I never found the time to upgrade to calipers. No rot issues when I finally let the car go. I too, still wish I had it.
    Only a few “haters” in all of the comments – Makes one wonder how/why AMC couldn’t make more of a success out of this vehicle?

  19. John D.

    In 1986 I rented one in Paris, it was a little bigger and called the Super 5. Top speed while passing on the German Autobahn was about 92 kph. And I wondered why people would drive onto the shoulder as we passed them? Probably in preparation for Herr Lead Footen in his 911 going 200 Kph. I guess we found it comfortable. We drove it hard for a new car and almost ran it out of oil and turned back in almost after hours at the rental desk in the Chas. De’Gualle airport. I don’t think Renault and Amc mixed well. After Chrysler bought out Amc, it wasn’t long before Chrysler gave Renault the boot.

    For the record, we could not find the rental office which I had a Fiat reserved until they were closed. For what I ended up paying to rent the Renault at the airport, I could have had a BMW from the other place. D’oh!

  20. Hector

    No longer posted.


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