The Renault 12 Replacement
The Renault 12
was introduced to Australia in 1970
. A decade later it was finally superseded by a new model, but one that took Renault
to an entirely different price group, and far away from the cheap-and-cheerful entry level. The Renault 18GTS had been introduced on French soil a few years earlier (1978
), and for European buyers it was offered in basic TL form, powered by the same 1397cc engine fitted to the Virage.
Next came the TS version fitted with the 1647cc A-Type engine (which was the same as used in the Renault 17 TS) but without the fuel injection, which lowered the output to 79 PS (58 kW; 78 hp). It was this engine that featured on the top of the range GTS, driving through a five speed gearbox. It was this top level model which was assembled by Renault
Australia from "Completely Knocked Down" kits manufactured in France.
As an exercise in packaging the 18 was efficient. It used the 12's floorpan, suspension and other underbody components, all modified to take the 1647cc engine. Longitudinal box strengthening members, together with transverse boxes produced a very rigid frame which shared the loads as much as possible through the very light body – only 960 kilograms – which for a relatively well equipped car was brilliant. The great enemy of fuel economy, mass, was kept to a minimum, assisted by the engines aluminium construction.
The 1647cc engine was developed from the original 1600cc engine used in the Renault 16. Very little of the original design was left, although the layout was still of pushrod operated ohv type. The cylinder head
was no longer of cross flow design, but despite the needs to meet exhaust
emission regulations, together with numerous other requirements around the world, it was still a reasonably lusty performer with a high degree of sophistication in the way it operated. It had been used in some Renault 16 and 17 models previously, and powered the European base version of the 20.
The five speed gearbox was the same unit, with the same ratios, as used in the Renault 17 TS and the 16 TX, this in turn being a development of an older four speed box which featured the same ratios. In order to maintain maximum interior cabin space the transmission was mounted behind the axle line, with the engine ahead in longitudinal position. Thanks to its light weight however, it had little effect on handling despite its location. With this layout, weight distribution was well biased towards the front to the order of almost 60%.
was the same as the Virage, featuring a lower wishbone, an upper transverse link and a high mounted (almost MacPherson strut) coil spring/shock absorber combination. A sway bar was also fitted. At the rear there was a fabricated sheet steel dead axle-beam located by lengthy lower longitudinal radius arms and an "A" bracket connecting the centre of the upper part of the beam to the chassis. Coil springs and shock absorbers were used, along with a sway bar.
Steering was by rack and pinion, the rack being mounted fairly high on the front bulkhead. Departing somewhat from the traditionally radical body designs of previous Renault’s, the 18 GTS was moulded in the three box sedan form in order to gain ready acceptance in a wide range of markets. Even so the lines were unquestionably French. The front end would seem to have been developed from Renault's "Basic Research Vehicle" of the early seventies, along with the crushable structure design front and rear. Dimensionally it was 25 mm longer overall than the 12, 68 mm wider, but 109 mm lower – and that meant improved aerodynamics
. The wheelbase remained the same at 2438 mm, but track front and rear were increased to take advantage of better stability in view of the wider body. At the front there was an additional 101 mm track, with 51 mm more at the rear.
In Australia you could choose from two types of alloy wheel if you didn’t much like the standard pressed steel variety. Best of these was the Amil alloy wheels
which were made in Belgium. Other options included cloth seat trim, factory fitted air-conditioning
, metallic paint finish and an auto transmission. There was also a wagon version. In addition to the options, there was a plethora of standard features, such as electro-magnetic central locking of all four doors, headlight washers and wipers, leather or velour trim, pushbutton radio and stereo cassette, remote control driver's exterior rear view mirror, child proof locks in the rear, electric window operation at the front (manual in the rear), and an engine compartment diagnostic terminal to assist in reducing labour costs during maintenance. Shame then that Renault did not follow that thinking through to creating a tidy engine bay, which most considered an electrician's nightmare.
Renault claimed the 18 GTS was designed from the outset as a "world car". It featured a clean, simple and spacious look. Inside the facia was plain and had some hard plastics. The instrument binnacle rode on top, but was narrow. Running across the top of the panel was a strip of warning lights, below which there were, to the left, a 180 km/h speedometer with odometer and trip recorder, and to the right a combined water temperature, fuel gauge and a battery
charge warning light. Between these dials was a quartz clock surmounted by the direction indicator lights. Heating/demisting was controlled by horizontally sliding levers at the top of the centre console. Below this was the standard AM/FM Sanyo radio and stereo cassette player with a wide range of features. Rocker switches across the console below the stereo control, from left to right, left hand window, rear screen demisting, central electro-magnetic door locking system, hazard warning lights and the right hand window.
A left mounted column stalk operated multi-speed wiper/washer control, while of the two stalks to the right, the shorter looked after direction indicators and the longer one headlights, flasher, dip beam and horn. Remote control of the driver's exterior rear view mirror was standard, placed ahead of the door latch. The headlight wash and wipe system came into play as soon as the windshield wipers were switched on with the headlamps lit. They operated on an intermittent basis, with a positive up and down movement. The door hinges were bolted, rather than welded to the body to facilitate cheap replacement in the event of accident damage. Mudguards were similarly attached for the same reasons.
The seats were soft and the front buckets had little in the way of front to rear squab support, but they featured well shaped backrests. Proper support for under the thighs was considered by many road testers to be inadequate, and not suited to hours behind the wheel on Australia’s long highways. The rear bench seat was even narrower than the 12, but leg room was adequate provided driver and front seat passenger moved their seats forward. For improved rear end collision safety, the petrol tank was relocated from its under boot location on the 12, to the area between the rear cabin bulkhead and the boot. Space was thereby reduced at both ends. As a result, although the boot was very deep and wide, lengthwise it lacked a little. But it was of uniform shape with no unwanted protrusions, and was lined. The spare wheel was mounted under the floor as on the Renault 20 TS.
Behind the Wheel
A very natural driving position was obtainable. With backrest and fore/aft adjustment of the front buckets, it was possible to set it up efficiently for most sizes and shapes. All round visibility was likewise very good, with the exception of one blind spot when reversing. The gearshift feel was typically Renault
. It had a certain rubbery feel associated with the remote linkage to the gearbox. Despite this each ratio selection was precise, accuracy being no problem even when changing very quickly. You could shift gears with the flick of the wrist, as the short lever didn't have to travel very far to reach any ratio. There was also a very light yet sensitive clutch. The brakes
were servo assisted, and some road testers noted that they could lock the front wheels before the rear, thanks in part to the proportioning valve built into the system.
The Renault’s suspension setup was also very good, providing a comfortable ride over poor road surfaces, thanks to generous vertical wheel movement. The suspension would come into it's own on gravel. Only when you were punting the 18GTS hard did the engine noise become noticeable. Road noise levels were likewise low except on some surfaces when the combination of Michelin XZX steel radials and the fabricated dead rear axle conspired to transmit rumble through the cabin. The Michelin tyres
were hard wearing with strong grip, but they were not too good on gravel because of their flat tread design.
pressures of 23.5 psi front, 26.5 psi rear. We are not sure if that was a contributing factor in making the car a classic understeer. Around town the rack and pinion system provided reasonable initial response, but once into a turn, even with stable throttle pressure, understeer would builds up. Backing off the throttle resulted in very little change to this steady increase in ploughing. At very high cornering speeds it got worse. You could try lifting off the accelerator, but this would have little effect, and if you took your foot off the accelerator entirely the car would tend toward the dangerously unstable.
If you were travelling long highway distances the 18 GTS was excellent. Once in fifth gear engine revs would drop way back, and sitting on the speed limit was easy on both car and driver, with cabin noise suppression of a very high standard. Light steering made for comfortable motoring around town, little effort being needed for parking or for tight manoeuvres in narrow spaces. Performance was better than you would have expected too. Zero to 100 km/h would come up in 12.4 seconds, not earth shattering, but it was the equal of the contemporary Ford RS 2000, and was only sightly slower than the Alfasud Sprint Veloce. It was much better than the Sigma SE two litre's 13.3, or the Gemini SL/X at 13.6.
was also reasonably fuel efficient. 11 litres/100 kms (27 mpg) was attainable around town, and a mix of country driving would see that figure down at 9.2 litres/100 kms (30.8 mpg). Cruising in fifth gear over long distances, even at 100 km/h or more, achieved an easy 8.2 litres/100 kms (34.5 mpg), and some owners even claimed figures close to 7 litres/100 kms (40 mpg). Maybe not in Priius territory, but for technology of 30+ years ago it remains astounding.