Here’s proof that more than two million people really can be wrong. What we have here is the Renault Dauphine, a curvaceous rear-engined saloon conceived by the French car-making giant in the early Fifties as a cheap, no-frills vehicle in the mould of the Volkswagen Beetle, Morris Minor and Fiat 500.
Although not a bad looking thing (which partly explains why so many hapless individuals bought one), the Dauphine earned a reputation as a bit of a laughing stock. Propelled by a wheezy 845cc four-cylinder engine eking out 27bhp, the bulbous Renault took a yawning 35 seconds to reach 100kph, and it was said to be so prone to rusting that one severe winter could corrode the front fenders into sieves. A standing joke in France was that “if you stood beside it, you could actually hear it rusting”. Given its woefully slow acceleration, we can only imagine how delighted French criminals would have been when the local police force was equipped with Dauphines. More laughable still was that the snail-like contraption was even used in car racing.
Another amusing gem is that Renault considered the name ‘Corvette’ for its new model, but to avoid a conflict with the recently launched Chevrolet sportster with the same badge, the company instead chose a moniker that reinforced the importance of the project’s predecessor, the 4CV, to France’s post-war industrial rebirth (Dauphine is the feminine form of the French feudal title of Dauphin, the heir apparent to the throne).
Despite its shortcomings, the Dauphine holds nostalgic appeal for many people, making it a sought-after collector’s car.
Renault marketed numerous variants of the Dauphine, including the range-topping Ondine, sporting Gordini versions and a factory racing model. There was also the Caravelle/Floride, a Dauphine-based two-door coupé and two-door convertible.
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