Second Owner R5: 1980 Renault Le Car

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As if AMC’s showrooms weren’t already filled with the most unusual cars on the planet, along came the Renault era. This 1980 Renault Le Car can be found here on Craigslist with an asking price of $2,900 or best offer. It’s located in Hanover Park, Illinois. Thanks to Roger for sending in this Franco-American tip!

Yep, these were unusual, and for me to say that… But, that’s part of the appeal for me. The Le Car was known as the Renault 5, or R5, in most other parts of the globe, but AMC dealers got a chance to add them to their 1,300 dealerships starting in 1976. I’ve mentioned before here that my dad had a Le Car as a company car after his former Pinto (I know) and it was.. different. I had just gotten my license and I remember driving it to a Target store one snowy evening. When I got out it was like Elvis had just driven up, other than Elvis was cool and he never would have been seen in a Le Car. But other than that, it was Elvis-like. It had to be the first one in town. For the record, my dad had Chevy Impalas for company cars in the 60s and early-70s before the gas crisis forced the company to get Pintos, and then they got a Le Car for some reason. I’m glad that they did.

This is all we see of the interior other than this photo of the rear cargo area. The seller nails it: “Absolutely fun to drive. Everyone loves to talk about it when they see it.” I could not agree more with both of those statements. It’s not fun to drive as in a Hemi Cuda or Cayenne-Turbo-as-winter-vehicle fun, but I remember it being super fun to drive. It was sort of a VW Rabbit but without maybe as much style or crispness, but with a huge dollop of quirkiness. Renault sold almost six-million R5s and that’s nothing to sneeze at. I would be worried about the rust on this car, it looks fairly crispy around the wheel wells and other areas. But, the seller has “replacement fenders included with car. Floor and structural are all solid.” So, it’s just the quarter panels that the next owner has to worry about. For the record, this is where I would store a Le Car if I had one – if our living room wasn’t already full of oddball cars… (kidding) (it’s not full) (yet)

This isn’t the mid-engine R5 Turbo, which is a current “it” car, but this Le Car should have Renault’s 1.4L inline-four with a mere 51 hp. Wait, didn’t I just call it fun to drive in a previous paragraph?! If any of you remember the late-70s and early-80s, emissions regulations had tightened things up quite a bit and the Le Car was down 4 hp to 51, maybe half of what your Harley has. The seller says that this example has “new 13″ tires. Brakes were done last year.” But, it “Will need exhaust work. Last time we drove it it got loud.” Have any of you owned a Renault 5 or a Le Car?

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  1. RayT

    I owned three back in the day, Scotty, including one in which the previous owner had installed a 93-horse hemi-head Alpine R5 engine. My ex also had one, as did a lady friend. I worked on all five.

    Adding the Renault Racing antiroll bars and a set of Konis did wonders for the handling. Which, by the way, was never bad once you got used to massive body roll while corning. With almost twice the horsepower as a bone-stock example, the little thing would scoot along nicely, while still getting decent fuel mileage.

    They were pretty easy to work on, though I never had any major issues with the stock ones. I was to find out (after the fact) that the Alpine engine’s head had an unfortunate tendency to crack, mixing water and oil. It was fun while it lasted….

    These were very under-rated cars, if you ask me. Quality was decent for an econobox, and no other small car of any make had better ride quality or seats. On the other hand, the dealers were despicable (in terms of both service and parts availability), which I see as the Number One reason Renault failed in this country.

    Like 9
    • Kathy

      Wow this was my first cardown to the color and interior. My dad insisted on buying it and I cried…it did however hold up well when I got rear ended and it went for ever on a tank of gas..

      Like 0
  2. HoA Howard AMember

    The rust here shows, this car is brand new. We saw a few of these in the Midwest, only because of the Renault/AMC thing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a car rust away faster than these. I think they were ok cars, until the Asians showed us what real small cars could be. Another nail in the coffin for AMC here.

    Like 7
  3. JP

    My sister in law had one of these. Fun and it had a ragtop opening. Way fun but I also recall it always overheating. Or being in the shop for one thing or another. My dad hated it because he couldn’t work on it (metric you know for an old red, white and blue DIY mechanic) but it was a lot of fun.

    Like 2
  4. hatofpork

    I owned 2. A comfortable car to spend time in with agile handling and good fuel economy. Perhaps not the most reliable cars if you don’t do your own wrenching. Oh-and they rust (at least in New England).

    Like 5
  5. Miguel

    Mexico is littered with these. Tell me how many you want and I will get them to the border.

    Like 9
  6. Tom Justice

    As I recall, the exhaust pipe leaving the manifold when through the fender well to the rear of the car. Only the French, only the French.

    Like 3
  7. Bodyman68

    This was definitely no help to AMC at all ! These were worse then anything out there . A minor accident and they were a total loss. Parts were hard to get and took forever to get them ! Yes i worked on a bunch of these . My friend’s parents had one ,not as good a ride as you think .Not a powerful car nor did it handle . Studded snows and still got stuck . Always getting work done on engine and yes heads were the problem. Best place for this car is the crusher ! Sorry to the lovers of these but they were not appealing to look at nor did they perform well .

    Like 2
  8. Keith

    I worked on these as well. Owners had no idea that they needed to get all of the air out of the cooling system when they added antifreeze so I got to do a lot of head gaskets. If you enjoy adjusting brakes, clutches, and valves every year, planning 12 months ahead to find tires, praying you didn’t hurt one of the 3 lug wheels, no power, no room, and no handling, this might be the car for you! On the plus side, they were much better than the Alliance or Encore!

    Like 6
  9. Mitch RossMember

    The only car I ever bought new. Huge sunroof, cloth interior and Formuling France steering wheel. This car had the most accurate and linear steering of any car I’ve ever driven. I put BWA mags on Irwin a few autocross trophies with it and put on 20,000 miles in the first year. When I moved to Israel I shipped it to Belgium for $200 and drove from there. Drove every road in Israel, blowing the first head gasket on the incline to Jerusalem, bad fan relay. Took ferry to Greece, stopped in Cyprus to blow second head gasket. Bad fan relay. Drove all over Europe and shipped back to NY. Kept it until 1996 when rust got too bad. Loved that car.

    Like 13
  10. John Wilburn

    The three lug wheels always freaked me out. The only person I knew who had one was the chick who worked at the VHS rental store (remember those places?).

    Like 1
  11. Phillip Allen Parmelee

    I owned 4 LeCars, all if them in the $100 range. I tried to recreate my experience with the first one with the other 3 to no avail. I used the first one on my bulk newspaper deliveries. Once got 500 papers inside it, but had to turn back around to the plant as the rear tires were rubbing against the body. Absolutely loved driving them, loved the way they rode for such a small car.

    Like 2
  12. Gaspumpchas

    Legend has it that they made these out of Prince Albert tobacco cans. Nothing good about them, parts scarce as hens teeth, and no one wanted to work on them. One guy I knew used to have to hand make any parts they needed. Salt on the roads ate ’em alive.
    Sorry about the negativity/ Amc had enough trouble, adding this s#itbox to their line up only hurt them,



    Like 3
  13. Blueprint

    Top-10 seller throughout its production run up here in Quebec. Not in the rest of Canada of course! They were Renault 5’s up here. Fun trivia: different wheelbase left and right due to rear suspension. Almost got a black R5 Sport ragtop as my first car, but went with a 1980 Corolla SR-5 instead.

    Like 5
  14. Beatnik Bedouin

    Le Car + le rust = No, merci…

    Like 1
  15. Ralph

    Too rusty and it doesn’t have the one slightly redeeming cool feature of the LeCar, the huge canvas sunroof.


    Like 2
  16. Rob Stoesser

    Remember when you coordinated rides home from college via bulletin boards in the cafeteria? That’s how you end up spending 6hrs with 3 other guys in a LeCar near the Canadian border. I remember the pedals basically moving up and down – and the driver constantly shifting. But it got us to NJ!

    Like 2
  17. Wayne

    A buddy and I (both of us Front wheel drive VW auto crossers ) took one of these for a test drive one spring day. I would blast ( well at least as fast as I could go) around a corner and Rich would hang out the window to see how far off the ground I could get the inside rear tire. Smooth riding, rev happy engine and the car was still SLOW. We now have a Renault Spec Racer ( vintage) and love the Renault engine in that car. I would like to try an R5 with the suspension upgrades. Could be fun.

    Like 1
  18. Billy1

    Take a look at this one on Ebay with a body kit.

    The guy wants only $43k for it!! Ha ha

    Like 1
  19. Buddy Ruff

    One of the news reporters at a radio station I worked for bought one of these. After coming to work one afternoon in the summer, I walked over to look at it. It startled me when the cooling fan came on. Just sitting in the parking lot. With the engine off. Did these things have some way of preventing battery drain in the summer?

    Like 0
  20. Rod

    I had one of these in Ireland for my 2nd car, mine was a 1.1 L with 47 hp (woohoo!) It was actually pretty nippy + very easy on fuel, the first time I drove it I had to put my hand on the passenger seat to stop myself falling out of the seat with body roll! But it handled better than you think, I had it on 3 wheels once or twice, and as for the 3 wheel studs, had them loosen up several times b4 I learned you had to seriously tighten then to stop them coming loose. An old workmates brother had 1, he worked in a junkyard (in New Jersey) and got all the parts he needed from the junk cars. And yes they rust, but I would still buy 1 , oh and I rem different 7 different kinds front brake pads for it, I kid U not

    Like 0

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