Stored For 30 Years: 1963 Renault Dauphine

When it comes to automotive design, the French have always marched to the beat of a different drummer. This is not a bad thing, because it has allowed them to produce a number of unique and groundbreaking small economy cars. The Citroen 2CV is one great example, while the Renault Dauphine is another. This 1963 Dauphine has been squirreled away in a shed for more than 30-years, but the time has come for it to find its way to a new home. It is located in New Albin, Iowa, and is listed for sale here on eBay. It has been set to open at $800 in a No Reserve listing, but there have been no bids up to this point. I really have to say thank you to Barn Finder Ikey H for spotting this great little car for us.

The Dauphine remained in production from 1956 until 1967. During those years, a total of 2,150,000 cars rolled off the production line. This particular 1963 model has been parked for more than 30-years, and on the surface, it looks like a promising project. The white paint, officially called “Blanc Kilimandjaro,” is showing its age, and the panels also wear a number of dings and dents. What the car does seem to be short of are major rust issues. This is a relief because that is something that these little cars could be very prone to in their early days. There is a small spot in the front floor, along with a small spot in the trunk pan, but the rest of it appears to be quite solid. Speaking of the trunk, for a car as small as the Dauphine, the trunk is actually quite cavernous. As with the Beetle, it is located in the front of the vehicle. The spare tire slots into its own housing accessed through the center of the front bumper. That means that the only things occupying this area are the tools and the battery. The dings and dents on the body aren’t too bad, and all would seem to be repairable. As an added bonus, the owner is including a decent stash of parts, and amongst those are quite a few replacement body panels which might help out in this area. All of the trim and chrome appears to be present, and it would be interesting to see how well it would respond to a polish, while all of the glass appears to be in good condition.

If you are searching for brute acceleration, then the Dauphine is most definitely the wrong place to commence that search. The rear-mounted, water-cooled 4-cylinder engine has a capacity of 845cc and produces a mere 34hp. Those horses find their way to the rear wheels via a 3-speed manual transmission. Acceleration is all that you would expect from such a car, with the leisurely stroll from 0-60mph taking 35 seconds. In fact, the Dauphine will not have achieved 60mph by the time it reaches the end of the ¼ mile! The owner says that the engine will require attention, and I would think that after 30-years, that won’t be the only part. With that in mind, it might be well worth the effort to see if an engine and transmission from a Dauphine Gordini can be located. These both slot straight in and do offer some advantages. While the engine might be the same size, it does produce an additional 6hp. That isn’t much, I know, but in comparative terms, it does make a difference. The transmission is what will offer a major performance boost to the car. Instead of three gears, it comes with four. The difference it makes is like the difference between night and day. A Gordini will romp from 0-60mph in a mere 21.7 seconds, which is a massive improvement over a standard Dauphine. It also adds a full 10mph to the vehicle’s top speed and does make it a happier and more relaxed car to drive on the open road.

The Dauphine was designed as a 4-seat sedan, but it will seat five at a pinch. The interior of this car has its good and bad points, but there is some good news to be had. The rear seats and door trims don’t look bad, but the front seats and steering wheel are looking quite dilapidated. That may not be a problem, because included in the sale is a spare set of front seats, along with a replacement wheel, and a full dash. The existing dash looks to be in quite decent condition and features the cool cubby-holes in either side in place of a glove compartment. There is also a radio fitted to the vehicle, which is a nice little luxury touch. This photo also exposes one of the great design flaws encountered by those who drove a Dauphine. It isn’t immediately obvious, but the shifter is very short and is also a long way from the driver. On a low-powered car that does require a reasonable amount of rowing through the cogs, that did present more than one person with problems. I can remember my father buying a Dauphine Gordini for my mother to use as a daily driver. It was finished in Jet Black and was a great looking car. Now, my mother could drive just about anything, but the shifter on the Renault completely defeated her. As a result, dad eventually sold the car. It was only years later that mum admitted that she probably would’ve been fine if an extension had been welded to the shifter to bring it easier to hand. Still, hindsight is always 20/20 vision.

There is no doubt that the Renault Dauphine is a quirky car, and for someone searching for something a bit unusual, this one could represent a potentially inexpensive project. These are a bit of a rarity today because so many of the early examples dissolved like a soluble aspirin. This one appears to have only minor rust, and due to its simplicity, it is a car that could conceivably be restored in a home workshop. It might not be your first choice as a project car, but it is still one that is worthy of consideration.

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  1. Howard A Member

    Aw, crickets chirping. I swear, if I was closer, and had a garage, this would be mine. The Dauphine was actually a pretty popular car. It was for while, the only viable small foreign car for people that refused to buy a VW, like my old man. It actually beat the VW in several areas. It was a 4 door, had a real heater, and more room. Power, about the same, but you weren’t buying it for that. The old man had one, guy across the alley had a ’65 that really was a nice car. They were good in the snow, and the motor uses liners, so a rebuild doesn’t require a machine shop. The only thing, I’d have to think parts would be a problem. The only car I saw that had a “city horn” and a “highway horn”. French make good cars, and this is no exception. With as many that were made ( not necessarily sold here) some guy in France must have a field full of these somewhere.

    Like 13
    • ken tillyUK

      My Simca Aronde also had the Town and Country horn and believe me, the country horn was really loud and very penetrating. As for the Dauphine, I love ’em.

      Like 4
    • Robert L Roberge

      …”old man had a really nice one.” Never thought those words went with this car, at least in CA where the were expected to go 75 mph which was then the new 65.

    • kiteflier

      It was popular in 1965 as our neighbor’s daughter got one for her first car. She never would take anyone to school with her so when she stopped at the crosswalk, three guys waiting for the bus would lift the rear off the ground so she couldn’t drive off and then someone put their foot over the exhaust pipe until the engine died, then they let the car down. That went on for a month until she got a Mercury.

      Like 5
    • Ed Vt

      honk, honk…beep, beep

  2. Rex Kahrs Member

    I like the Dauphine for the quirky French car that it is. I rescued and and resurrected a ’67 Renault Caravelle, which is essentially the same car as the Dauphine, and I can tell you that no, they were not good cars. The swing axle rear suspension would throw the car sideways when going over a bump or railroad track. And don’t dare take the car on an interstate highway!

    The heater was really a joke. There was a heater core located in the engine bay (the black box), and out of that box there was a tube made of tar-covered burlap if I recall correctly. The tube then ran under the car up to the firewall and into the dashboard. I see that the tube is gone from the black box on this car, and it’s no wonder, as the tubes just disintegrated from a hard life under the car.

    Parts are not easily found. Most of the parts I bought for my Caravelle came from one guy out near San Diego, and they were not cheap. But the cars sure were cheaply built. Just a proletarian tin can. I wouldn’t do another one if someone gave it to me.

    Like 3
    • Howard A Member

      Well, hold on a sec. My old man had a Caravelle too, and it was no Dauphine. The Caravelle was a POS, my old mans broke in half, but the Dauphine was a people mover, and I beg to diff, the heater, which was of liquid cooled variety, had enough to keep the cabin tepid, and de-iced the windscreen, something VW owners could only wish for. Asian heaters weren’t much better. It wasn’t made for interstate travel, although, I bet some poor soul did. They were for urban travel down small French alley’s. It was the Americans, trying to replace their mammoth Chryslers, that killed them.

      Like 7
    • BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

      Caravelle Rex ? Neighbor Chris had 2 this last summer.

      • Rex Kahrs Member

        Yeah Bob, I bought the Caravelle on EBAY after returning home from a trip to Paris in 2012. I was looking for a French car, and wanted a 2CV, but they were too pricey, so I went for the Caravelle. I should have done my research.

        Crazy story….I sold that Caravelle for about 6500 on EBAY in 2014, after owning it 2 years. A guy in Thousand Oaks bought it, did some work on it, and sold it at B-J in Scottsdale to some other guy out of Seattle. Next thing I know, I’m at a Sarasota classic car dealer in January of 2017, and there’s the car, for sale at $24,000. Not sure where that thing is at this point.

        Like 1
  3. Ben T. Spanner

    Two bothers, a year apart in age, were in my fraternity. The bought a 1959 or 1960 Austin Healey. Their father visited and declared the Healey to be undependable. He insisted that they trade the Healey on a new Dauphine. They soon learned what was undependable. One Ohio winter and rust was showing.
    I always wondered why Renault was so cheap that they used a 3 speed transmission.
    Another friend got a free Dauphine from a priest. He got screwed on the deal, as the car needed new spark plugs to run and he paid to register, license and insure it. Once it ran (about as well as the new one). he couldn’t stand to drive it.
    These were always a hard sale for the dealers, most of whom were gas station sized. In the mid 1960’s several cars rusted even more severely than usual. The tops of the front fenders disappeared quickly. Rumor had it they were shipped from France top side on the deck of the ship.

    Like 1
  4. sir mike

    A garage owner in my town in the 70’s had one with a Judson super charger….really quick car.

    Like 2

    Clown car

    Like 1
  6. luke arnott Member

    These used to rot underneath if the sun went behind a cloud!

    Like 1
  7. Bultaco

    Really cute design. My dad had one with a red plaid interior. The magnetic clutch died so he replaced it with a VW bug, which was a much more robust car. The Dauphine rusted voraciously and seemed to be built out of cheese it was so delicate. He sold it to a coworker for $15.00 when I was about 5 and bought me a tweed suit with the money.

    Like 1
  8. Jonathan A.

    My Dad had a Dauphine. Not sure of the year, I want to say maybe a 1958?!?!?!. The only thing I remember is that it was a manual transmission but the clutch was built into the shifter somehow…no pedal. It engaged the clutch when you shifted but never worked right. It would not “ease” off from a standstill…when you put it in 1st and let go of the shifter, the clutch engaged all at once and you jerked and shimmied off the line if you were lucky, but often it would just cut off when the clutch engaged, especially in the winter. Sometimes he would start it and stall it out when the clutch was engaged 50 times before it would finally take off. What a joke. He finally hit a deer one day going to work and flipped it over and that was the end of the Dauphine. He and the deer were both OK, I think. :-).

    Like 2
  9. Cobra Steve

    Where’s the love? Sad to read the negative comments. I am presently rebuilding the engine in my 1961 Dauphine and parts have not been a problem. There is a fella in Ohio who wrenched on these “back in the day” and he is a wealth of information…and has treated me fairly on the parts I have purchased from him.

    Sure, rust was an issue on these cars, and I am fortunate mine is an Arizona car–zero rust. While 2M of these were built all over the world (including under license in Italy by Alfa Romeo!), they are quite rare and have been gaining value due to the microcar craze.

    Regarding the acceleration, all I can say is it might be a half-minute…unless you were rear-ended by an F-150, and then it would be reduced substantially.

    What determines value: supply vs. demand. Many folks shell out in excess of $100K for an early VW bus. I’d love to have one, but would rather keep my Ferrari, Beetle, & Type III Variant (Squareback). Different strokes for different folks. If we all had the same taste, we’d all be driving black 1953 Chevrolets and it would be a boring world, indeed. No offense directed to the Chevy crowd.

    Like 7
  10. steve sammut Member

    My first car in 1969 was one of these; shared it with my brother. Grew up in San Francisco and it did power us up those hills. We finally sold it so that we could each purchase our own car. He bought a Renault R10…and that thing had the most comfortable seats in it. Anyway, we never had any problems with ours. Hard to find them in decent condition these days.

    Like 2
    • Bob S

      Steve, never owned a Dauphine, but the old man had a couple R10s, one which he bought brand new for mom, a 71, last year they made them, and you are absolutely right, I’ve never sat in another car yet that had seats more comfortable than what was in that Renault! She kept that car for 9 years, mechanically, that car was damn near faultless, the tin worm definitely likes chewing on French steel though!

  11. chrlsful

    this wuz 1 of the mommie-mo-biles during my up bringing. She ran to wrk and was the middle school taxi 4 me’n sis – ’50s ford wagon wuz 1st (elementary school) followed by this, then simca 1000, & fiat 124 finished out the taxi duties.

    I think the Dauphine wuz early enuff to have semaphores…weird lookin for an 8 yr old MidLantic 3rd grader !

    Thnx Adam, wonder how many made Oz?

    Like 2
  12. Bob McK Member

    This is a cute little car. However, it is trashed inside and out. But if you are up for a total restoration you will have something different when completed. $800 may be a bit high to start.

  13. patrick

    We’ve been restoring one of these at the museum where I work. Ours has a Gordini head and Abarth header/exhaust. It has a factory sunroof which was a rare option. Should be a fun car when it’s done.

    Like 2
  14. Erwin Bovyn

    Sorry guys but I don’t think it is not a Renault Dauphine but a Renault Ondine. I remember this car from my childhood period as I had a neighbour driving a car like this. I live in Belgium so I guess I’m more acquainted with those french cars.

    • ken tillyUK

      What is/was a Renault Ondine?

      • Erwin Bovyn

        A Dauphine and an Ondine had almost the same body and engine, the main difference was in details. This car has small lights just above the rear bumper, the Dauphine had other type of lights in a higher place. You could state that the Ondine was the cheapest version, the Dauphine the high end but to be sure one should check out pictures and compare them between the versions.

      • James HGF

        The Ondine was a more refined Europe only version of the Dauphine introduced in 1961 and phased out at the end of 1963. It had an upgraded interior, thicker carpets, matt black dashboard, reclining front seats, unique steering wheel, and even a windshield washer. Definitely not a cheaper version.

        They were offered in predominantly metallic colors and had a large Ondine logo on the rear engine cover. A 4 speed gearbox was standard along with the 31 bhp engine, but a buyer could opt for the Gordini spec with the 37 bhp engine and a 81 mph top speed. More desirable collector car today than the standard Dauphine.

        Data and photos:

        The rarest and most desirable Dauphine is the 1093 which was a homologated performance version with 55 bhp available in white with narrow twin blue stripes from front to rear on the bonnet, top, and engine cover. Top speed for the 1093 was 97 mph.

  15. Stan Bowers

    Sadly, I owned one of those disasters of an automobile. Other than seats that wore out within 36 thousand miles, a windshield that had to be scraped on the INSIDE in cold weather, red paint that faded as soon as purchased, door hinges that failed causing the door to nearly fall off, and engine that stalled requiring my wife to consider cranking it by hand it was a car to be forgotten. Car was done for at 36,000 miles.

  16. Ken Nelson Member

    Supposedly around 1963 all Dauphines and Caravelles got 4 WHEEL DISC BRAKES – my two ’67 Caravelles had discs. I asked the seller if he knew what brakes it has. The disc calipers were really peculiar – much like those on my ’64 Bristol 408 Mk I with Chrysler V8 & Torqueflite pushbutton slushbox.
    Both the Dauphines and Bristol discs had a retracter rod in the center backside of the caliper pistons. Seems neither mfr trusted the pistons to retract far enough to prevent pad wear when unpressed. The Dauphines were the strangest design as the pistons had to be oriented with a slot in the retractor spring ring on the center retractor pin that had to be placed at top of the hollow backside of the pistons so it didn’t trap air that had to be bled out.

    Citroen was far smarter – they used the Orings on their dual piston calipers to retract the pistons after initially using retractor springs on the whole floating caliper block. shortly after production launch they threw the springs away.

    So I threw away the internal guts of my Bristol pistons as they were useless and made the brakes more work than necessary – been working fine since!
    Suggest anyone with a Renault with the early discs remove the guts of those pistons also & just plug the hole in the caliper rear where the retractor pin goes – silly design!

    Like 1
  17. benjy58

    Ah the Balloon car. Early ad show a balloon on a string wafting through the sun roof. Automotive critics gave those cars a through trashing with good reason.

  18. Louis Chen

    Ah!!! Memory lane….I’ve ridden and driven these cars in the past! These cars were used as Taxi in VN which I was assigned to the U.S. Embassy. The ride was ok but had 4 doors! After VN I was sent to Paris, France and at the time they were also used as Taxi and eventually I bought one. It was easy to repair. Too bad I didn’t ship it back to the States! It would a unique car to restore!

    Like 1
  19. eric

    Hello Boys and Girls;

    Open your minds
    And imagine this little thing going like hell…
    and to finish first in all categories in the Rallye Monte-Carlo 1958 – with Monraisse and Feret.
    Off course over the snowy ”col de turini” in the French Alps…!
    Just smile and close your eyes…

    Warm regards from France
    E. E.

    Like 2
  20. Dennis Z

    My girl friend had one of these. (Gordini). I smile every time I think of driving it. The shifter didn’t stay in any gate to speak of. You could wave it around as you drove and then swirl it in circles for a wind up to thrust it toward the next gear. She was quite annoyed with me for laughing at her little car.

  21. Cobra Steve

    Many people are very thin-skinned when someone laughs at their vehicle choice. Disney and company made millions capitalizing on the love affair with the humble VW Beetle!

  22. Philip Bregar

    I was going to read the article that JamesHGF posted, but it’s all French to me. I still like the car. Hmmm…

  23. Rex Kahrs Member

    Hey Phil, I had a social studies teacher in Ohio named Bregar, probably around 1971 or ’72. Any connection?

  24. Philip Bregar

    Don’t know. My wife is doing my family tree, and we’re finding our name all over the country, but most aren’t related.

  25. Pete in PA

    I have two words… okay three letters, for this car and you can probably guess what they are.
    My friend Carl’s dad bought a used one when Carl and I were in high school. This would have been the late 1970s and IIRC the Dauphione was a 63.
    Originally a deep red color, it had been repainted light blue, and that didn’t seem to be an improvement.
    It had an automatic transmission or what passed for one. Pushbuttons to engage like a Chrysler product of the same vintage. Only the Chrysler transmission worked.
    You’d press the “D” button and a horrible grinding noise would come from the back of the car. If you had a passenger they could get out and push the car a bit and then the transmission might engage. Or it might not. This was an iffy way to get going if you were by yourself.
    The car was, as you might expect, the subject of much ridicule in the HS parking lot. It was quickly replaced by a 65 Ford Falcon coupe.
    One summer day Carl and I were clambering over the motor pile at a huge rural junkyard and we happened up on the engine and transmission from a Dauphine. We did some quick disassembly on that pile and discovered that there were large contact rings and carbon brushes that ran again the flywheel. Also a gizmo responsible for shifting the transmission (speculation) that spewed an assortment of small gears and springs when we took it apart. It looked more like mantle clock guts than a transmission.

  26. V8roller

    In the 70s I had a Cambridge Engineering Austin 7 special, with what was said to be an 850 Gordini engine.
    I bought it over the phone, from an ad in Exchange & Mart magazine, by the time I went to collect it the engine had blown, but full of naïve optimism I towed it home behind my 46 Wolseley 14/60.
    Then with the vague idea that it would be useful for spares I bought a Dauphine.
    Then we moved house.
    The Austin got parked in the front garden, and eventually sold, the Dauphine probably got scrapped.
    I read an article recently on the Dauphine which said it was made of very thin metal, for lightness. Hence the rust.
    Years since I saw one on the road in the UK. Hope someone saves this one.

  27. Russ Hobden

    I currently have a 1962 Renault Dauphine Gordini, 85% original, including the paint and an original white wall tire that I keep in the spare tire compartment. No rust anywhere but this car has always been garaged. The Dauphine’s main fault was the thin sheet metal which rusted and dented very easily.

    Another weakness was the use of plastic for the window cranks, inside door handles, turn signal arm, and headlight/horn lever. These broke very easily.

    On the positive side;
    1. Water cooled engine. Quieter and better heater. The black box in the engine compartment housed the fan and an air filter that could be cleaned. The intake air for the heater entered the car via the side louvers in front of the right rear fender. The louvers on the left side of the car bring air in for cooling the radiator which is mounted ahead of the engine and behind the ear seat.

    2. The interior floor is entirely flat; no hump down the middle. Even though the VW Beetle had a rear engine, it had a hump.

    3. The gas tank is under the car, below the rear seat. Eight gallon capacity. The VW Beetle’s tank was in the front luggage area which occasionally made clothes packed in the suitcase smell like gasoline.

    4. The spare tire is mounted in it’s own little compartment under the luggage area which is accessible via it’s own door under the front bumper. The VW ‘s spare was inside the luggage area. I sure didn’t like to have to put a dirty tire that I just changed in with my suitcases.

    5. The brake fluid reservoir is mounted inside the Dauphine’s luggage area, close to the battery. VW’s battery was under the back seat.

    6. The rear doors had child proof locks so they couldn’t be unlocked by them.

    7. The best thing about the Dauphine is it’s looks. Beautiful!

    8. Easy to work on, fun to drive and it is admired every where it goes.

    Renault Dauphine actually outsold VW for one year in the US. But not many people remember it.

    I feel that if Renault had made the Dauphine with less plastic and thicker sheet metal, it would could have outsold the VW. But then it would have weighed more than the 1300 pounds it came with.

    Like 1

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