Who Would Restore A 1983 Renault LeCar?

Wow, a Renault LeCar, I haven’t seen one of these in years and honestly didn’t think it was possible for one of these to last 36 years, but here it is. Of course, to look this great, it took giving it a full restoration. Who in their right mind restores a LeCar? Located in Reedsville, Pennsylvania, it is available here on eBay with current bidding at $4,200, reserve not met.

The LeCar starting showing up on U.S. shores during Renault’s 50+% ownership of American Motors in the late ‘70’s early ‘80’s. Renault was able to tap into an established dealership network with this move so it helped them generate the minimal market penetration that they were able to achieve. Renault’s biggest issue was its reliability reputation. I clearly remember it wasn’t good with their U.S. spec cars. They were frequently viewed in a very derisive manner. One common name for the LeCar being bandied around at the time was the LeTurd while the common belief that the main purpose for the rear window defroster was to keep your hands warm when pushing it in cold weather. Full disclosure, I never owned, rode in or drove a LeCar so I’m going to be completely objective. The reality is that the LeCar was actually an established model known in Europe as the Renault 5 and had a successful history as a rally car.

Powering the LeCar is a 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine developing 51 horsepower. The seller states that this example has a new carburetor and is now minus its smog control equipment so, “it has good power and acceleration compared to the stock set-up.” I have to believe, with 51 HP, the “stock set-up” wasn’t too hot. Motivation is controlled by a four-speed manual transmission. I would be a bit concerned about the seller’s statement that “It starts, runs, drives and stops Okay…..”, not exactly a ringing endorsement.

This LeCar has a spotless interior, it truly looks original but the seller states that it has been replaced. The clock has only registered 38,000 miles, so even though the upholstery has been replaced, the original would have encountered little wear with so little usage. The tan upholstery works well with the bright white finish.

The seller states that the body is solid and the paint is nicer than factory new. If I were interested, I’d want to look closely at the underside; Renaults are known for corrosion and this example has been domiciled in a salt state. Another interesting statement is that this LeCar had a dealer-installed AC system but it was removed. Under separate sale, the owner will include it along with instructions on how to hook it up.

My research tells me that 1983 was the last year that the LeCar was imported to the States, so this one is the end of the line. It was replaced in 1984 with the Renault Alliance. The seller has put a lot of money and effort into this little Renault, many new parts, and I have to admit that it looks good. But there may be the rub, has he put too much into it and will the investment be recoverable? No way to know if the seller will get to his reserve but there are 33 bidders interested so far, might you be one of them?

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Comments

  1. RayT Member

    I may be the only person here — or maybe anywhere outside of France — who would cheerfully restore a Renault 5/Le Car, obviously not for money, but because I really enjoyed owning and driving them (I had three, my ex-wife had one, and I maintained another for a friend) in the past.

    I might also be the only one here who knows what a gargantuan task a restoration would be. There were replacement parts I simply could not get even when there were still R5s in dealers’ stocks, and some of the odder bits — like the strange “woven” headliners on the early cars — I simply didn’t even try to find. One would have to make friends in France and hope for the best.

    My preference would be for a pre-1980 car, with its smaller bumpers and simpler dashboard. I’d want a “Deluxe” model as well, with the fabric sunroof and carpet on the floors. Only one of mine had the solid top, and I didn’t like it so much.

    But if I was going to go that far, I would take advantage of the “25 year” rule, and import an Alpine 5 from France. Those had more instrumentation, a 5-speed transmission, and, most important of all, a considerable performance boost, which came from a 1397 cc (vs. 1289 cc for U.S. models) engine with a hemispherical cylinder head and freer-flowing manifolds. They produced 93 horsepower, vs. the U.S. version’s 56. You could feel the difference.

    I had an Alpine engine in one of my cars and, aside from the fear that it wouldn’t pass the CA smog test — it did, but don’t ask how — it was all good. I only wish I had been able to acquire all the other fancy pieces that went with the Alpine package….

    This is probably more than anyone wants to know on the subject! But, knowing what is most often said about these cars, I wanted to make sure the good side got Equal Time! Kudos to the guy(s) who put this car into shape. I’m a bit envious.

    Like 32
    • Davi65

      No, RayT, you’re NOT the only person here — or maybe anywhere outside of France — who would cheerfully restore a Renault 5/Le Car .
      Being a huge fan of oddballs, orphans, and 1-year-only’s, restoring a LeCar would be something I would do!
      I took in a 1988 Chevy Nova from a local wrecking yard, and a 1993 Geo Metro convertible. The oddballs always seem to find me

      Like 7
      • Will Fox

        God Bless those that rescue the orphans!

        Like 4
    • Emmanuel

      Well, here I am – I am French and living in the US.
      My grandpa got a dying R5 (or LeCar) in his yard in France – it was my grandma’s car in 1978!
      Several like this in France.

      So if one day you want to restaure a LeCar/R5, feel free to reach out and I will help you find and send the parts needed!

      Like 9
      • gentooq

        emmanuel, as a matter of fact, i am in the process of trying to upgrade a spare 847 engine to a gordini/alpine turbo for my US-spec 5-door. i would also like to put an HA1 5-speed gearbox in the car, which i should be able to do at any time.

        i have a line on an HA1 that is for sale in France, but i am having difficulty getting it shipped to the US.

        your assistance would be invaluable to my project. what would be the best way to contact you?

      • Franky Sausage

        I would love to have an R5 here in the US. very hard to find them here.

      • Miguel

        Franky, how many R5s do you want. We have plenty of them just south of the border.

    • Miguel

      Ray, you can come to mexico and take them all if you want. there are still a lot of old Renaults around of all models.

      Like 1
    • Coby Deslatte

      I know this post is a few months old and am hoping this finds you. My parents have an late 70s early 80s Le Car that i would like to try to restore. Its been sitting in a garage for about 30 years. I know that it needs a new engine. Was wondering if you or someone you know may be able to point in the right direction as to finding a used or one from another car that would fit. Thank you for any help you may be able to give. To best reach me my email is deslatte.coby@gmail.com.

      Like 1
      • Keith Johnson

        Join the Renault club and facebook page. There’s lots of Renault people here!

  2. Fred W

    I’m a firm believer that there needs to be a good example of EVERY car in a museum somewhere. This is probably the LeCar example. At the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, you can see examples of cars like the Trabant from the Soviet bloc and other God forsaken areas of the world that have been preserved (to the extent that it is possible) for posterity, so we can see just how good we have it here in the US.

    Like 13
  3. Will Fox

    The car itself looks great; I can’t fault the ‘restoration’ job at all from an observation standpoint. But my question is the same as everyone else: WHY?
    Restoring one of these morphadites makes as much sense as restoring a Yugo or Trabant. Just filling the tank doubles the value. Way, way back in the early eighties I remember seeing one of these in bright yellow that was in a TERRIBLE accident; the driver definitely didn’t make it. What surprised me was the shoddy construction of the car! Where our cars have I-beams in the doors and other crash protections, these had SQUAT. The engine was in the back seat of that wreck–you can only imagine what was left of the driver. The construction of LeCars I would rank right up there with the Russian Ladas; nothing but a rolling coffin.

    • gentooq

      will fox, there ARE reinforcement beams in the drivers and passengers doors, at least on my 1983 US-spec 5-door. this has been a requirement of manufacturers of vehicles sold in the US since the earlier 70s.

      as far as seeing the engine in the back seat, perhaps, if you were being literal, you saw an accident involving a turbo 2?

      as far as construction quality, i have had the misfortune of being in an accident in my very first le car. the car did really well, considering the fact that i slid into a concrete bridge abutment as the result of a really bizarre set of circumstances – involving a freak snowstorm in southern virginia, a tractor-trailer truck that lacked one mudflap and it being very late at night.

      i was actually able to unbolt the driver-side retention cable on the bumper, it popped back into shape (albeit without any sheet metal behind it) and i drove home. the next day, i did discover that the crash cracked the transmission case.

      the misfortune of the entire occurrence was that i loved that little car. it always did me right.

      Like 2
  4. Superdessucke

    There’s a patootie for every seat. Hopefully for the seller, he can find the second one.

    • Jake Loring

      We used to watch these race at Road America Elkhart Lake un I believe the LeCar Cup! Always fun as a big pack always as just Mino modifations and they would be on 3 or 2 wheels around several of the corners!

  5. Rosko

    Owned one like this in ’85. Loved it. Wish I still had it.

    Like 5
  6. Pickles

    The LeCar is so rare now, it’s no surprise that this one will do well at sale. I’ve had a search for one on eBay for about 10 years and I’d say, in that time, maybe 20 have come up. From 100s of thousands to near zilch. Craigslist had one 15 miles from me in functional condition, in dry Healdsburg, California and it went in hours. People who know, know the rarity, especially in decent condition. To the comment about safety on one from the 70s (the yellow would have been “old” by the 80s), likewise, 70s American cars were also death traps, as were Hondas, Toyotas. We are all lucky that cars the safety tanks they are today. Viva LeCar!

    Like 11
    • Miguel

      Pickles, how many do you want? Mexico has a lot of them and some are in pretty nice condition.

      Like 1
  7. Edselbill

    What’s up with the rockers? Is something missing? They couldn’t have left the factory that way. Especially the Driver’s side… looks like some plumbing pipe sticking out.

    That being said, I feel like this car is the equivalent of IKEA furniture. Cheap, cheerful, unique design quirks, non-traditional, and fun when new. But, don’t lean too hard on it or it breaks easily and much easier to replace than repair.

    As for “worth it” to restore — that is up to the owner. For the most part, it always costs way more to restore a car than it will be worth — with the exception of the few limited hyper value cars de jure (Yenkos, Hemi’s, Vette Split windows, Porsche’s etc..) the restoring party has put sentimental value above market value. Nothing new.

    With any crazy resto job like this… My interest lies in finding out what story goes behind the motivation to restore this car. Was this the couple’s first new car? Their late son’s or daughter’s car they can’t part with? Their parents car they grew up with? That is usually the motivation for a restoration like this.

    Like 1
    • LeCar Fan

      What you see under the driver’s side rocker panel is the exhaust pipe…factory position for the exhaust on a LeCar.

    • gentooq

      edselbill, i am trying to figure out what you mean with your comment about the rockers.

      are you talking about the exhaust pipe that exits the engine compartment through the fender well? this is normal and it left the factory this way.

      are you talking about the little holes at the very bottom of the bodywork, just ahead of the rear wheels? this is where the torsion bars are installed as well as adjusted after installation. again, this is normal and it left the factory this way.

      • Edselbill

        If you take a look at the driver’s side photo, and zoom in, below the door, there is an odd silver pipe running along the rocker. I’m using a decktop screen, and maybe it’s not clear on a smaller screen or cell phone, but it is def. there.

        I was curious and I looked online at several other LeCars and it seems that maybe there is a trim piece missing, or possibly they were originally painted black as they don’t appear as these do on this car.

    • gentooq

      edselbill,

      LeCar Fan is correct about one thing . . . that *is* the exhaust pipe. it is, however, about two or three inches farther towards the outside than it *should* be.

      i just checked on my car, and my exhaust pipe is not visible from a similar vantage point, however, my oversized replacement (only one i could source and required for california) catalytic converter is visible in about the same way as the pipe you’ve noticed.

      one oddity, as i will refer to it, with the paint job is that the body is *typically* painted with some manner of rubberized black rock and chip resistant coating below that lowest piece of chrome trim.

  8. John Wilburn

    I remember one of these belonging to a girl that worked at a video rental store back in the early 90s. The car was green and the three lug wheels always stood out to me.

    Like 2
  9. the one

    Had one for a short time. My carburetor head friends laughed their butts off until I took them for a ride.They were like, wow, what a smooth ride!

    Like 5
  10. Phil Parmelee

    I have owned 4 LeCars, though only 1 was a driver for any length. If I were more mechanical, I would have gotten more miles out of the other 3. Loved ’em and would love to have another in the future. Yes, the ride was Cadillac smooth. (I owned 2 ’76 Coupe DeVilles at the same time I owned the LeCars, so I would know that.)

    Like 1
  11. XMA0891

    I owned an ’83 or an ’82 five-door, with a cloth sunroof and A/C, for years and loved it. Dark blue over light tan, lots of folks would compliment me on it. The common derisive name I remember for the LeCar was not “LeTurd”, but the more realistic “LeCart” – But the car was far from that – Zippy and taught, it ran like a Swiss watch and was a lot of fun to drive. The rear brakes were on eccentric cams and needed to be adjusted frequently. They were a poor and, IMO, unsafe choice on the part of the manufacturer. I was advised that “standard drum” or caliper upgrade kits were available, but never got around to a swap-over. I sold mine to an Irishman for for than I paid for it, and he was most-eager to get it! Yeah; I’d buy another – But those rear brakes had best-be converted…

    Like 3
  12. Car39

    Also known as LeaKars for the puddles found underneath. SCCA had a Spec LeCar series. 60 of the little critters in the Downhill at Lime Rock were a hoot!

    Like 1
  13. Joe Btfsplk

    I suppose you could win a show-down with a Chevette diesel.

    Like 1
  14. Sportzcars

    I purchased an early,1976, Renault 5 in 1982 as a daily driver. The car was great and never let me down or stranded me. Unfortunately the floors rusted out and I sold it.

    I believe the black air scoop for the air intake for the heater is on backwards (the opening should be facing the windshield). I picked up one of those at a junk yard and installed it facing forward first and found it collected water into the heater intake when driving in the rain. Turned it around and it was fine.

    Also, the spare tire currently in the rear hatch area should actually be in the engine compartment on the passenger side, close to the firewall. Good packaging by Renault!

    I watched the LeCars race in the LeCar SCCA Showroom Stock class at Lime Rock and since they ran “stock” with complete exhaust systems it was like standing by a highway with the cars going by pretty quietly by race car standards!

  15. LeCar Fan

    Some answers to the questions and concerns you raised, Jim…first and foremost…why restore it…the guy who did most of the restoration wanted a nice LeCar as he owned one years back and missed it. Unable to find one already in great condition and also having interest in doing some restoration himself, he opted to buy this one, since the body was so solid. Looking at the vehicle history report, this particular car spent most of it’s life in Texas, and the body condition reflects that. The interior and paint suffered typical sun exposure, warranting fresh upholstery and paint.

    Solid and complete LeCars are hard to find, and even though most folks, including you, do not appreciate them nor value them for much, there is a small set of folks out there who love them and respect what they are…me included! If this car had a soft top and some accessories, it would command more money, but it is what it is, and there are absolutely buyers out there willing to spend to have one as nice as this. I hope the seller gets good money for this one, as I have seen several others sell recently for close to the current bid price yet were nowhere near the condition of this car.

  16. James

    Mine was red and I had it for a couple of years in the early 80’s. It was a smooth driver and fun to throw around despite its lackluster straight line performance. I remember that one of the auto magazines described it at the time as being “built like a tank.” Frugal with gas, I enjoyed it a lot. Unfortunately, it was during my drinking days, so I have no idea where I left it or what happened to it. I still have the registration though!

    Like 2
  17. the one

    California smog cut off 1980. Bummer. I seriously thought about it.

    Like 2
    • angliagt angliagt Member

      When did it change from ’75?

      • The one

        July 2016

    • gentooq

      the one, the current smog cut off in california is *still* 1976 (75 and older no smog, 76 and newer smog required).

      there was legislation proposed and passed by the calfornia house, which never passed the california senate. reference this SEMA article from June 9, 2016 –

      “By SEMA Washington, D.C., Staff

      The California Senate failed to gain final approval before the June 3 deadline for amended legislation (S.B. 1239) to exempt motor vehicles prior to the ’81 model year from the emissions-inspection requirement.

      In a severe disappointment for the old-car hobby, the California Senate failed to gain final approval before the June 3 deadline for amended legislation (S.B. 1239) to exempt motor vehicles prior to the ’81 model year from the emissions-inspection requirement. Under the amended bill, vehicles manufactured after the ’76 model year but prior to the ’81 model year would have been exempted if the owner submitted proof that the vehicle was insured as a collector motor vehicle. This exemption would have been a two-year trial that would have needed to be renewed by separate legislation in order to continue. Current law requires the lifetime testing of all ’76 and newer model-year vehicles.”

      • the one

        Thanks for clearing that up for us all, y’all..

        Like 1
  18. gentooq

    i have had two in the past (a gold 3-door and a silver 5-door). they were both a hoot to drive. with the 3-door, i startled the hell out of a teenage kid in an early 80s mustang (which probably had a 4-banger) at a red light. that put a smile on my face that wasn’t easily removed.

    i have one now that i would wager looks as good as this one, but a $3500 paint job will do that for a car. it runs really well. it has never suffered the fatal overheating issue, although the fan died in order to attempt to provoke the condition. i drive it almost every weekend. friends who ride it do compliment its smooth ride.

    the last major thing i have to do right now is replace the seat upholstery, which brings me to a point that the article writer should be made aware of – the original cloth interior on these cars didn’t even last four years from manufacture. they always died a horrible death due to ultraviolet damage. i got my first, which was an 82, in late 85 and the top center of the rear seat was very thin at time of purchase, and totally rotted away within a year.

    the seller reupholstered the cloth seats because all that was likely left was some tattered evidence that there *used* to be cloth seats. ;-)

    if i am right in my suspicion that clayton hoover is the seller, then this car will be well-sorted and the information provided in the e-Bay auction is as complete as he can make it.

    some purchaser will be having a lot of fun soon.

    Like 2
  19. Daryl Conley

    I had a 1980 LeCar that I drove to college, about 100 miles round trip, in 1991 -1992. I bought the car for $100.00 and drove the bejeezes out of it. I even took it off-roading to hunt deer!

    Like 1
  20. tom

    Le Car was always a fun choice of name a “car” in france is the name for a bus.
    These cars were great on a race track)Lime Rock) and would be alot of fun
    with the Alpine motor and suspension bits. The european headlamps made the front of the car look much better, I even have a pair somewhere in my garage, was planning long time ago to build a Alpine version………

    Like 2
  21. Greggo

    I too had a couple of LeCars back in the day. I lived in DC, you could park them in impossibly small spots, great gas mileage, quick, but not fast, great seats (Like all French Cars) and both of mine were very dependable. My last one was destroyed by a truck while parked, and it was one of the saddest days of my life. I would own one again in a heartbeat if I could find one.

    Like 2
  22. Terry

    I also owned a couple of these in the 80s. I lived in Northern Wisconsin and they were great in the winter. Huge ground clearance and excellent traction. Reliable and fun. No more rust than anything else at the time. Which is to say they were loaded with it. Really good cars.

    Like 1
  23. Comet

    Damn it. I knew I shoulda bought Armor-all stock.

  24. Gransedan

    Anecdotally, during an annual family Thanksgiving trip, just east of Chicago on I-94 in the late ’70’s, I spotted a Renault 10 travelling in the opposite direction. I assume the owner was a Renault enthusiast as well as a humorist. The silver sedan was emblazoned with lower body side graphics that mimicked the “Le Car” graphic seen on R5’s but said “Le Heap”.

    Like 2
  25. rapple

    From Jim’s Barn Find write-up: “Full disclosure, I never owned, rode in or drove a LeCar so I’m going to be completely objective. In spite of that he goes on at length about how terrible these are. Brings to mind the old saying, “often wrong, never in doubt.”
    Fortunately many BF commentors have weighed in with memories of their actual experiences that demonstrate that, in spite of a poor AMC-based dealer network, they provided an entertaining and economical driving experience and with any kind of proper maintenance were as reliable as any of its competitors.

    Like 4
  26. the one

    You wouldn’t think so many of us owned this relatively obscure car. And on top of that we all, well most, really liked them!
    you never know which way the wind blows.

    Like 3
  27. Keith Johnson

    Like many others here, I owned several LeCars and loved them. Wonderful French ride and very reliable. Bought my first one new in ‘82 with (I assume) factory A/C which worked well but made the poor thing even slower. Changing a starter was a major task though.

    Like 1
  28. Phil Parmelee

    Yes, it sure was! I replaced 2 LeCar starters. Not for the faint of heart. :)

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