Renault Caravelle

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Renault Caravelle

1959 - 1968
4 cyl.
956 - 1108 cc
49 bhp
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
90 mph
Number Built:
3 star
Renault Caravelle
Renault Caravelle
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


by Johanna Patterson

Renault entered the American postwar market in 1949 with the small 4CV sedan. This car struggled with its tiny 760cc 19-bhp rear-mounted, water-cooled engine. With a top speed of around 55 mph it was almost unsalable in the US resulting in only 1400 sales in that time declining to 374 by 1952.

In 1953 Renault made some changes of adding the 110 ¼ inch wheel base, 60 bhp Fregate sedan but it was priced nearly $400 more than a Buick special, so it never got off the ground.

The head of Renault, Pierre Dreyfus, released a car called the Dauphine in 1957 which he believed was perfect for the US market. It was designed to compete against the Volkswagen Beetle and with its 89-inch wheel base it proved very successful in Europe resulting in more than 200,000 being shipped across the Atlantic to the lucrative US market.

In 1960 sales took a sharp decline which many blame on the droopy “three box” styling. But the primary reason for the nosedive in sales was its fragile construction and awful reliability which ultimately jinxed not only the Caravelle in the US but also Renault itself.

Whilst all this was happening the Karman-Ghia had been introduced by Volkswagen. Essentially this car was a Beetle cleverly disguised as a sports car and its success prompted Renault to devise something similar so they contracted Ghia to transform the boring Daupine.

Events over the next year or so are shrouded in mystery with Ghia being commissioned the work, Frau of Italy were taking credit for styling. It seems that Ghia were heavily involved in other projects causing them to sub-contract Frau to do some of the work. These two companies had set a precedent earlier opening joining forces to create the Volvo P1800 coupe.

In March 1958 the car was officially introduced in Paris, although its prototype had been show some months earlier in Geneva. The British The Autocar magazine wrote ‘…clearly aimed fair and square across the Atlantic; but a lot of French men and women, too are falling for its chic.” The car was named Floride in Europe and Caravelle in the US.

The Caravelle made its US debut at the New York Auto Show at the end of 1959 where 13,000 anxious purchasers placed an order for what was deemed as “a dream car come true”. Unfortunately, these buyers did not receive delivery of the Caravelle until many months later. Many changes had to be made which delayed production and did not help Renault’s sad quality image. Despite all this, the Caravelle continued to sell in the US over the next few years.

Production stopped in 1968 but the last delivery to the US was thought to be 12 months earlier. The main focus of the Caravelle was style and not performance with earlier models being dreadfully slow compared with standards of the time. For example 0 – 60 crawled at a snails pace of 23.8 seconds and when the car did get to its top speed it was a rather disappointing 83 mph. The models made after 1963 were much faster with 0 – 60 being achieved in 17.6 seconds and top speed was 90 mph. But one upside was that these cars were very economical with figures of 40 mpg not uncommon. However, an economical plus was offset by an unreliable car mechanically.

The same attributes that attracted the Caravelle buyers of the sixties are the same ones that coerce the buyers in the new millennium with styling being the major reason for the appeal. And whilst its uniqueness held appeal to many of the original purchasers the ravages of time escalated by the dreadful rust problem have caused the Caravelle to be extremely rare today. But if you revel in the unique this expression of Parisian chic may hold tremendous appeal.
Renault Caravelle

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Also See:

Louis Renault
The History of Renault
Renault Car Commercials
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4 cyl.


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