Scotty G’s Garage: 1987 Renault GTA

In another installment of Scotty G’s Garage, we’ll take a peek at another unusual car in my small fleet of vehicles. This one is a 1987 Renault GTA and it’s quickly becoming my favorite of the ten or so vehicles under my watch. Yes, it really is as nice as it looks in these photos. Is it a perfect jewel box like my 2002 Audi TT ALMS coupe with 24,700 miles? No, but it will be if I have anything to say about it, and it won’t be a lot of work to make it the little jewel that it deserves to be. Let’s dig into this little Franco-American SpaghettiO.

Being a fan of 1980s vehicles, I have quite a few of them. One is an ultra-rare 1988 Subaru RX Turbo 5-speed sedan, which looks somewhat similar to this white GTA other than it has two more doors. More on that car in another post, but here it is below for a comparison:

Fairly similar, eh? I thought the Subaru RX was white until I got the GTA! If the GTA didn’t have those sweet silver wheels it would be really, really white. Jeff showed us a decent GTA in silver back in July and that car really got me thinking about this model. That example needed some work on the ground effects and the wheel center caps were missing. The car that I found has a 98.47% perfect body (I wish I could say the same) and the center caps were there. He shoots, he scores!

I think this design is a slam-dunk, I literally would not change one thing about it, front to back. No, really. I love everything about it, at least on the exterior. And, not having any rust is a bonus like no other.

You can see only light/slight surface rust underneath and you can also see just how soft the bumpers and other lower cladding materials really are from the warped portion between the fasteners above. From what I’ve read on the Renault Owner’s Club forum and other sources online, it’s tough to repair that soft material. Hopefully I’ll never have to do that.

This was a Portland car and there seems to be some green debris in some of the crevasses. I have yet to do a real detail job on this car so I’ll attend to that once I have time to get into things with a few toothbrushes and q-tips. Isn’t that a cool little thing, though? Most of us know that Chrysler, basically just wanting Jeep, shut down AMC in 1987 and the “alliance” between Renault and AMC was gone. The GTA was a one-year only model – the last year ever for AMC: 1987.

The former owner, who is an incredibly nice and honest guy, either mostly-debadged this car or some other owner did. The grille is the only place where you’ll see any markings at all other than the GTA letters on each side in red. There is a ziploc in the trunk with the trunk badges and I may put those back on there, just to keep things original looking. Or, I may not, I haven’t decided yet. Normally I’m a keep-it-original-spec sort of guy.

Here’s the name-less rear end. I bet that 90% of humans who come up on this car on the road will have zero clue what it is. It may have taken me a while to figure it out before getting this one, too. You may be able to see something unusual going on with the back seat through the rear window?

I didn’t even know that he was including it, but the seller gave me an extra perfect rear seat back in case I ever needed the fabric to redo any of the upholstery! Who does that?! This guy was a gem. Oh, car Gods, please let all car sellers in the future be like this gentleman. I saw this car on eBay and, already having way too many cars, I put in a halfhearted bid knowing that there was no way on earth that I’d win the auction. Sure enough, the auction ended with nobody winning it. I was bummed to have not gone for it, but then I got an eBay “second chance offer” and for another $100 I could get the car. Umm.. yeah, that was the biggest no-brainer of all time and I grabbed it instantly. It’s maybe the only car that I’ve ever gotten online that’s actually nicer in person than the photos looked in the listing, and the only one that is nicer than I expected it to be. I’ve been burned a few times and I automatically expected it again, but not this time. I did not expect to get that extra seat back and it’ll come in handy.

And, speaking of needing extra seat fabric, you can see a tiny hole on the driver’s seat bottom. When I get ready to take this car to Pebble Beach (hey, a guy can dream) I’ll have that reupholstered. These are some of the most comfortable car seats that I’ve been in, believe it or not.

The seats are seriously comfortable and seriously nice, other than that small hole. There’s a trim piece to the side of the driver’s seat, seen in this photo, that needs a little help. That, the tiny hole on the driver’s seat, and a small hole in the carpet from heel-and-toe’ing it for 132,000 miles (!!), and that’s really it for cosmetic dings on this little beauty.

The two blank plates on the left side of the console are pretty cheesy, I have yet to look up what would have been in those spots. A convertible power button, maybe? The big, flat plate on the left is the ash tray. This car also has a nice aftermarket stereo with bluetooth and a USB port dangling between the seats for your phone, pretty high tech for a 30-year old French/American Renault/AMC. The car runs, drives, shifts, and stops perfectly. There are a couple of lights out on the dash for the turn signals – I may be the only human left in the US who still uses those anyway – and the cruise control doesn’t seem to work, unless I just haven’t figured it out yet. There was no owner’s manual so I’ll have to try to track down one of those. There is also a trunk light and a glove box light, and two unusual, switchable lights on the ceiling, just above each door. There is no center dome light which is a bit of a bummer.

There is some surface rust on the trunk lid and when I lifted up the carpet there was more under there so I’m guessing maybe the trunk gasket is leaking? Portland, Oregon isn’t where you’d want a leaky trunk gasket. I’ll look into that and fix anything back there that needs to be fixed. One weird thing that I noticed: there are three keys on the key ring and I need them all. One GM-looking rectangular key opens the door locks, a Renault logo-shaped key opens the trunk, and an oval-shaped key starts the car. Hmm..

Another fun, cool, unusual feature is the reverse-opening hood. Sure, it may not be as convenient as a traditional hood configuration for checking fluids and general tinkering, but it’s safer in a frontal crash (from what I’m told) and it just adds to the uniqueness. This clamshell covers a 2.0L inline-four with around 100 hp and it also appears to be in great condition. The timing belt was changed recently so hopefully that’s good for a while. This car has 132,000 miles on it, believe it or not! I know, a Renault with 132,000 miles on it! An Alliance with 132,000 miles on it! A car that was meant to be driven harder than usual with 132,000 miles on it! And even with 132,000 miles on this thing, I don’t know how it could run and operate any better than it does. Well, there is one thing, when I have the turn signals on (again, those are the blinky things that flash with little green arrows on your dash when you move the stalk to the left of the steering wheel up or down) the battery gauge – yes, this car has full gauges, not just idiot lights – moves more than it should. I’ll have to look into that, but the turn signals work, maybe it’s a bad wire somewhere. You can see that the underhood light is unplugged, I haven’t had time to dig it out yet.

I went to get the title switched over and after one failed attempt of having a title with no place for me to sign and being turned away from the DMV – as scary of an experience, car-wise, as there is – I tried again at a different DMV office. The former owner sent a form that I needed and once I had that all filled out and was at a different DMV office hoping for better luck, the young gentleman at the DMV counter lit up when he read “Alliance”on the title. He said, “I also have a Renault Alliance!” This guy was maybe 25 years old and he had an Alliance?! What are the chances of that? He had never heard of a GTA so, after running a few other errands, I ran home, switched cars, and drove back to the DMV office. I walked in and dangled the keys and he shot out of his chair and the next thing I knew we were heading off for a little test drive. I of course mentioned Barn Finds to him and he’s now a new reader and fan, and he’s also a huge fan of the Renault GTA, as am I. A really, really huge fan.

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  1. Car nut from Wpg Member

    I did like the GTA back in the day. I test drove one that was still on the lot in the fall of 1988 in Ottawa Ontario Canada. The seats were indeed great, but I ultimately decided on a lightly used 1985 Prelude from the Honda dealer down the street.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      You made the right choice, Car nut. Please tell me that you still have that 32-year old Prelude.

      • Car nut from Wpg Member

        Unfortunately, no I don’t have it.
        I did get an 86 Prelude SE (Canadian version of SI) 2 years ago but it has also been replaced by my 1992 Integra with only 192000km. Inside looks like it just came from the showroom. Outside has a few rust spots creeping in. It has been Krown rustproofed and I will work on the rust when it comes out to play next spring.

  2. John D.

    I was considering buying some Renault Alliances for my used car rental operation. At the Chrysler factory sale south of Detroit, the were selling in the high $3000 range with around 10-12000 miles. I don’t think any were GTA’s though. Mostly 4 doors. I just was not familiar with them, so I passed even though they seemed like a good deal.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      I wonder what happened to all of them, John D? I literally haven’t seen one on the street in a couple of decades. Maybe the typical combination of iffy engineering or electrics, and rust.

  3. Rube Goldberg Member

    Wow, that’s quite a writeup for not actually selling anything. Outside, the GTA is about as generic as one could get. Inside, not bad, sure has the French influence. I’d have to think parts for a non-existent car would be a chore. Never saw these on the road, even the regular Alliance was rare, but they were good cars, if they weren’t sabotaged on the assembly line.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      .. not written for the Twitter / no-attention-span crowd. Sometimes we write as much for ourselves to get it out of our system as we do for any other reason. I thought that since it’s my car and I have access to it, maybe a longer piece would be a nice change. It’s a fast food world, there’s no question about it.

    • sharon russell

      Just found your article. We recently purchased a 1987 GTA with only 107,000 km – yes, km. That’s like about 75,000 miles. It’s a convertible. I’d love to tell you more – message me if you’re interested. We could use some help sourcing parts, too.

  4. angliagt

    A DMV employee who’s a car enthusiast?
    You need to quit writing fiction.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Ha! That’s good stuff. The previous ones that I’ve worked (dealt) with haven’t had a clue about any of the vehicles that I’ve run through the system. It gives me hope that this young guy, who also has a 30-year old Toyota MR2, at least cares about cars whether they’re classics or Model As or whatever. He’s not just treating them as an appliance for driving. Or, an Alliance for driving.. (cough)

  5. XMA0891

    Nice write-up on a “forgotten” piece of late ’80’s automotive history. I think I’ve said it before: These were neat little cars back in the day. By the time they rolled around, you really had to know about or want one, as I remember their marketing was limited. (With the emphasis here clearly on “AMC/Renault”), after ’84/’85 or so; it took a real leap of faith to walk into a AMC/Jeep/Renault Dealer.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks much, XMA0891!

  6. Jamie Palmer Jamie Palmer Staff

    As you know, Scotty, I love this one. I wonder if it’s a French thing with the seats; the most comfortable seats I’ve spent a lot of time in were in my Peugeot 505 wagon, and they were the base model seats! Congrats on the purchase!

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks, Jamie! I’m sure that it’ll end up in your collection eventually.

      • Car nut from Wpg Member

        Or maybe mine?

  7. Nova Scotian

    Nice write up. Interesting for sure. Thank you. The seatbelt receivers look ominously GM too. I hope you reattach the badges.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks much. Good eye, I didn’t notice the seatbelt detail.

  8. geomechs geomechs Member

    To say that your car is rare would be an understatement, especially out west. I don’t think you could’ve found a Renault dealer in the entire state of Montana. Maybe Seattle, WA, or you’d have to venture up into Canada, to Calgary. Back in the 70’s (I think) you used to see the (very) odd ‘LeCar’ but that would be the only Renault product, or any other French conveyance. When I was in primary school a couple of teachers drove Renault Dauphne’s (I question my spelling) at different times. They obviously came from the eastern part of the country as they were about as rusty as a bed-wetter’s mattress springs. My cousin drove a car that I thought (at first) was a baby Dauphne but turned out to be an NSU Prinz, which was about as far away from a Renault as it could get. Anyways, you got a nice car, Scotty. I hope you get lots of enjoyment out of it….

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks, Geo! I find it incredible that this car has 130,000+ miles on it. Someone sure trusted the heck out of it. If the cruise worked I’d drive it out and trade you for your truck.. (wringing hands)..

  9. Wrong Way

    You are correct! Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder!

  10. Whitetop

    So nice to see one of these still on the road. The first brand new car I ever bought was a white ’84 Alliance coupe. It was the stripped model, but I had the dealer add A/C and I painted the louvers behind the rear windows black as well as the rear end between the taillights like the more expensive models. I also painted the wheels white and installed white letter tires. It was a sweet car. I babied it for several years and never had any trouble with it other than not being able to pass anyone on the highway, even with the A/C off. One of my favorite cars. Several years later I discovered what appeared to be the “official” Alliance graveyard in Picher, Olahoma. I don’t know what ever happened to that place or all those cars.

  11. Wayne

    Just installed a GTA engine and gearbox (close ratio) in our Renault Spec Racer that we take to track days. With the headers, Weber, and nasty cam it really makes the little car scream. We sold the GTA convert (sans engine and trans) to a guy in Indiana who is installing a stock Alliance drivetrain. I was surprised to find piston oilers in the GTA F3R engine. (Like diesel trucks) Possibly this engine was turbo equipped in France? We had a terrible time getting the proper piston rings. Even engine gaskets are getting hard to find.
    Replace the timing belt if you are not sure. It is an interference engine!!!!

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks for the tip. Wayne! Supposedly, the timing belt was changed within the last 2 years but I think I’ll change it again along with the idlers just to make sure. I’d hate to have to drop an SBC in it.. (just kidding of course)

  12. CanuckCarGuy

    Great car, I’ve always liked the semblance of attitude that the GTA gives off…I recall the Jeep/AMC dealer in my hometown having a pair new on the lot, but don’t recall anyone in town ever driving one. I was also a fan of the Fuego Turbo’s styling back in the day, haven’t seen one of those around in ages.

    • MikeH

      Fuego turbo spotted in a mechanics lot last summer in France. It looked nice, but obviously the power window didn’t work.

  13. Blueprint

    Back in college I owned a 1986 Alliance DL coupe with the optional 1.7 litre engine and an automatic. A small quad headlights grille was exclusive to that model year, 87 had the two headlights setup seen on the GTA here. Ultra comfy seats on that nifty center swivel track, new IP for 86 and mine had a fat leather steering wheel from a Fuego. Great winter car, FCA then Chryco inherited a lifetime recall for a new heater core, which I took advantage of with my car. Terrific visibility, but boy did that body rattle over our lunar pavement! Sweet GTA Scotty, and nice write-up!

  14. Joseph Wagner

    Get ready for some education on the 1.7 and 2.0 engines of the Alliance-Encore-GTA Series 1985-87 USA made cars. If you don’t do this then you most likely will be one of the thousands and thousands who will toss their car away when it will happen. The Timing belt will Break or Snap BECAUSE OF the UNCHANGED Idlers that were FACTORY MANDATED to be done every 50-60 thousand miles.This….. ‘IS’ an Interference Engine!!!!! The 1.7 and 2.0 are basically the same design.
    It goes like this….driving along, you smell something smokey for a half mile. Suddenly the engine just stops. One of your Crappy idlers froze, running the rubber belt over stuck steel till it gives out. Thus putting your valves into the tops of the pistons. Engine shop says $2500 (or more) for repairs. Goodbye car. !!!!
    To avoid this you MUST change the Timing belt Idlers ALONG with a new belt every 50, to 60,000 Miles. Just as the Factory Mandated. Period.!!! Most people put on a new belt– and think they are fine. YOU are NOT Fine. Must do Religiously or else. Wanna talk to past owners? Nope. they all bailed. But us long term guys KNOW this issue. and we have solved it. Get Idlers from UK, France, Germany, Latvia– but Get Them.!!!! Get new belt there also. Or contact one of the long term Renault USA club members for details of which we all know this one backwards and forwards. Make sure you put details of your work in glove compartment . Cost about $200. Do it yourself first time, 8 or more hours for a newbe. Base 1.4 motor has a timing chain. Motors go typically 250,000 miles. 1.7-2.0 will go past 200,000 If you service the 2 Idlers and Belt. Joseph Wagner. 30 + years ownership, or the Entire series of Alliance 1983-1987 models. Currently 4 GTA cars + all the other years

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      That, sir, is invaluable information. Thanks very much for the idler tip. The previous owner said that the timing belt has been changed “within the last two years” but I think I’ll do it again along with the idlers asap! Thanks for the great tip!

    • George Thompson

      Joe, This is George, we met at Carlisle in May, I had the black GTA convertible (sweeeet ride). Are the idlers the same for 2.0/1.7s? I’m puzzled by your comment about getting them from the UK, since those engine sizes were only sold in the US/Canada.

      My 1.7 rehab is almost done. I’ll bring it to Carlisle next year. Before and after pix attached.

      • Joseph

        Hi George. Idlers for our USA 2.0 we’re already in Renault production in other countries. At the time. I said UK simply because it’s English. You can source them worldwide in eBay international . Or contact our USA Renault club and we can supply both the 1.7 ones along with the 2.0 idlers.

    • George Thompson

      Much improved.

  15. Neil

    Great cars. Had my silver GTA for 16 years now. Just found a black one this summer.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Whoa, fantastic! What a great collection, Neil!

  16. Bill T

    I had a Red Rag top in 1987. It was new to me, and I went through tires about every 5000 miles. I remember driving home in the middle of the night in “really bad weather” not realizing that Hurricane Hugo had come a shore. I remember that the stance of the car made it feel very planted, and the top did not leak. I loved that car, but at the time loved the girl I was with more, who wanted to get married and start a family. I remember the day I traded in the little red rag top on a brand new 1989 Eagle Summit. Time marches on… I often wonder where the car is now… as well as the girl. The Summit brought me back “home” however the 1.6L could barely get out of it’s own way. I traded it on on a 2WD 2D Nissan. It’s amazing how much the cars in our lives mean to some of us, and the journey life has as well.

  17. Mont Hunt

    I remember these from my days working in the parts dept of a Jeep/Eagle dealership in the early 90’s. People were abandoning them then. If it wasn’t for the faulty heater cores, it was most definitely for the $300 ignition modules. We sold very few of the modules but we had many, many inquiries for them (and almost as many profanities).

  18. George Thompson

    Joe, This is George, we met at Carlisle in May, I had the black GTA convertible (sweeeet ride). Are the idlers the same for 2.0/1.7s? I’m puzzled by your comment about getting them from the UK, since those engine sizes were only sold in the US/Canada.

    My 1.7 rehab is almost done. I’ll bring it to Carlisle next year. Before and after pix attached.

  19. Fred

    Hi! Still have my white GTA. It has over 170 000kms (not miles). Great advice from Joe as always.

  20. Rhys John

    Hi guys. I live in New Zealand and I’ve always found it interesting the rough comments I’ve read about Renault’s in the USA over the years. I had a Fuego GTX Automatic (UK spec – 2 litre carburettor) which I retired at 256,000 miles, a GTX manual (retired at 223,000 miles) and a Fuego Turbo (UK spec – 1.6 litre carburettor) which is still going at 182,000 miles. I think the difference has been having a relaible source of original parts, and mechanics who are more comfortable with something not Japanese (or American as it would have been in the US back in the 1980s).
    Here’s a photo of my 1985 Fuego GTX Automatic (68,000 miles)
    Great looking Alliance anyway!

  21. Bill W

    I agree that knowledgeable mechanics and a good parts supply are a must. I used to own a Fuego Turbo and had a mechanic that worked on Renault, Peugeot, Volvo, and a few other European makes. He did great work. Also did Japanese but think those were done to pay the bills.

    Could order parts through any Chrysler dealer, although former AMC-Renault-Jeep dealers were better as they knew what you were talking about. Renault parts from the AMC era had Renault, AMC and Chrysler stickers on the packaging.

    But the big problem was finding service outside the big cities. The transmission on my Fuego packed it in while going through Edson, AB. Only one mechanic in the town knew what a Renault was. That one mechanic had heard of a Renault, although never saw one.

    Biggest gripe about Renault was the cost of parts shipped from France. North American parts apparently weren’t bad, but European sourced parts hurt the wallet.

  22. Thea Barnes

    Hello Scotty, great article, would you happen to have any spare GTA trim, logos, etc? Thank you

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