Renault Dauphine

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Renault Dauphine

Renault Dauphine

1956 - 1968
4 cyl.
845 cc
32 bhp
3/4 spd. man
Top Speed:
Number Built:
2 star
Renault Dauphine
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


The Dauphine was, like its predecessor the 4CV, a unibody constructed vehicle. The Dauphine however, was a four door sedan with conventionally opening doors, unlike the "suicide" doors of the 4CV. The wheelbase of the Dauphine was six inches longer than the 4CV, and the overall length of the car was 12 inches longer. The drivetrain arrangement was nearly identical to that of the 4CV (rear engine, water cooled, in-line four), but the engine capacity was raised from 760cc to 845cc, and the horsepower was increased from 19hp to 32hp. 0-60mph time was calculated by Road and Track magazine to be an amazing 32 seconds!

Over the years that the Dauphine was produced (1956 - 1968), a few "high performance" options were available. For the 1957 model year Amedee Gordini engineered a version of the Dauphine with certain engine modifications that increased the horsepower about 20%, from 32hp to 38hp. In 1961 the Gordini Dauphine's horsepower was upped again, this time to 40hp. The Gordini Dauphine had special trim and a special green & black steering wheel to distinguish it from the standard Dauphine.

The Ondine was a luxury version of the Dauphine sold during 1961 and 1962. It featured a four speed transmission, upgraded wheels and designer interiors. The ultimate factory-built Dauphine was the 1093, introduced in 1962. It was a limited edition, with only about 1000 built. Several powerplant enhancements tweaked 55hp out of the 845cc engine. The colour scheme of the 1093 was white with two narrow blue racing stripes from nose-to-tail. There were also "1093" decals applied to the body.

Sturt Griffith's Renault Dauphine Road Test

A name synonymous with quality automotive journalism in the 1950s was Sturt Griffith. He would take all cars on offer in any particular year, then drive it over a punishing course to determine what was good, and bad, with a particular car. Obviously his yardstick was the best on offer in any particular year - and something we do not have the benefit of today. While we make every endeavour to judge a car on its contemporaries, sometimes it is very difficult. We refer to many of his road tests in compiling our own, but for the record, the Renault Dauphine review below remains as told in 1957.

The Renault Dauphine is a small car offering comfortable accommodation for four persons. It is characterised by particularly attractive body lines, and by first-class riding and roadholding. The latest model incorporates a number of improvements. The heater and demister system now provided is an elaborate mechanism which does its work quietly and effectively. The wheels have been changed to the conventional disc type from the rim type which characterised the small Renault for many years. Appearance has been further improved by this change. The seats have been redesigned and the driver finds the seating most comfortable on a long trip.

The Dauphine is indeed a pleasant car to drive. It has enough power to make it lively, and its road-holding and handling qualities are good. A keen owner could, without too much modification, make a noticeable improvement in power output. The car would then qualify as a small sports saloon. Riding over really bad roads must receive special mention. The car has a very compact and solid feeling when driven hard through bad potholes, and it is rare for the suspension to bottom. In the city the Dauphine is exceptionally manoeuvrable. It has a small turning circle, the steering is light, and the driver's vision is good in all directions. The only criticism of any consequence is that the car "weaves" slightly at maximum speed and in a cross wind. This characteristic of the steering is unpleasant, but it does not reach the dangerous stage. The Dauphine has a three-speed gearbox, with the consequent pronounced drop from top to second gear.

On the Road

The test car did not, on this occasion, perform as well as previous examples of the make. Its top-gear climbing was only moderate, but in second gear it climbed difficult mountain passes. The gears and speeds on the test hills were:
  • BODINGTON (average grade 1 in 111): Top and second gears in equal proportions at 50-29-33 mph.
  • RIVER LETT (1 in 12. maximum 1 in 81): Second gear at 40-25-34 mph.
  • SCENIC HILL (1 in 10, maximum 1 in 8): Second gear at 50-21-24 mph.
  • MOUNT TOM AH (1 in 12, maximum 1 in 9): Mainly second gear, after a start in top, at 50-29-34 mph.
  • KURRAJONG WEST (1 in 121): Top. with second gear for the upper half, at 50-27-37 mph.
The power: loaded weight ratio is rather low at 37 b.h.p. per ton. Overall, gearing in top is. not low, yielding a road speed of 14.8 m.g.h. at 1,000 rpm. The very smooth engine and good roadholding permit the Dauphine to be cruised in comfort around 55-60 mph on safe highways. In top gear flexibility and prompt response are maintained down to 30 mph The average speed over the test route was 42.5 mph Weather was fine and hot, with little wind. Times for acceleration were disappointing, 20-40 mph in second gear took 9.5 seconds, 20-40 mph in top gear took 16.0 seconds, and 30-50 mph in top gear took 20.5 seconds. For prompt overtaking, second gear was necessary up to 30 mph, over which speed top gear sufficed. The maximum tugging-power, a torque of 48.4 lb-ft, is developed at the usefully low speed of 30 mph in top gear, which results in the maximum urge in the town-driving range.

The Dauphine is very good on bends and corners. It enters the curves very willingly and it shows good road adhesion. This eagerness to get around the bends is the result of a moderate over-steering tendency, which the keen driver will appreciate, and which will not bother the novice if reasonable care is exercised in the wet. There is little body roll on fast corners, and the tyres are commendably quiet.

The car sits down on the road particularly well, and the rougher the going the more the Dauphine shows to advantage. I was impressed by the way this light car handles badly potholed country roads. The all-independent suspension works hard, but the car rides calmly on an even keel, and pitch and bottoming are absent. The back seat is as comfortable as the front compartment.

Steering, Brakes and Fuel Consumption

The rack-and-pinion steering is rather on the slow side, requiring 4J turns from lock-to-lock. As the turning circle is small at 28ft, this is not quite as slow as it appears, but, nevertheless, it is not as rapid as the nimble character of the car would warrant. The steering gear is free from reaction in the hands over bad roads, and steering effort is negligible. A weakness of the steering is the tendency of the car to weave (wander) slightly from the straight-and-narrow at high speeds, or in a strong crosswind. The Lockheed brakes give excellent results, provided one uses reasonable pedal pressures. A determined jab will stop the car very suddenly indeed.

Brake lining area is ample at 82.5 sq. ins., and the brakes proved themselves free from fade. , The handbrake, of the pull-up type at the driver's left-hand, is powerful enough to lock the rear wheels down a gradient of one in eight. At an average speed of 42.5 mph over the test route, the Dauphine returned 39.9 miles per gallon. Taking the loaded weight into consideration, this gives 32.4 ton-miles per gallon. The fuel-speed factor (ton-m.p.g. x average speed) is 1,380. These two figures are only fair. At this rate of consumption, the fuel tank gives a fast cruising range around 280 miles.

Behind the Wheel

The new driver's seat is comfortable, and suits the wheel position. Vision in , all directions is good. The pedals are offset a little to the left to avoid the front wheel arch, but no discomfort results. However, larger pedal pads would be an improvement, and would reduce apparent pedal pressures. The driver's window is slow, requiring 3.5 turns of its winder for full movement. The instruments, comprising speedometer and gauges for fuel and temperature, are grouped conveniently before the driver. Warning lights are provided for oil and generator, but the light for the turn indicators cannot be seen in daylight. The minor controls are sensibly distributed, and the driver can reach the heater control under the fascia.

A blind is provided to regulate engine temperature, and its control is convenient to the driver. The floor gearshift is set a trifle forward, but its operation is a pleasure, and the synchromesh is excellent. The handbrake is convenient to the driver's left hand. The little engine is a gem of smoothness and quiet operation, and is particularly accessible in. its rear compartment. Bore and stroke are 58 x 80mm (long-strok6) and compression is moderate at 7.25 to 1. The carburettor air is drawn from the front of the car, and is passed through a dry and an oil-wetted filter in tandem. The transmission and swing driving axles are ahead of the engine, and the whole power-unit, with transmission and rear suspension, can be removed from the car. Overall gear ratios are: Top gear 4.7, and second gear 7.9 to 1. Synchro is fitted on these gears only.

Coil spring suspension, damped by telescopic shock absorbers, is used for all wheels. An anti-roll bar is fitted to the front end. The provision of four doors, plus a flat floor, makes access to the body interior particularly easy. Space is generous in the front compartment, where the individual seats are 20 inches wide. The rear compartment has foot wells, a seat width of 47 inches, and reasonable leg and head room. A good heater supplies hot air to the front passengers and for demisting, but there is no provision for cold air ventilation of the front floor. However, the location of the engine in rear minimises floor heat. The front windows wind up and have ventilating panels. The rear windows are of sliding type. The luggage compartment is under the bonnet, is of an irregular shape, but has a capacity of about 7 cub. ft. It is night-lighted from the rear of the headlamps. The spare is carried on a tray beneath the front of the car, and is quickly accessible.

Sturt Griffith's Road Test Summary

The Dauphine is a small car which has a singularly good appearance, and which offers excellent riding and road-holding. The car is a pleasant one to drive, and its performance, though moderate, is quite sufficient to prevent the car from becoming dull. The Dauphine carries four in comfort, with a small amount of luggage. It is economical on fuel on tour. For city use the car will be found unusually manoeuvrable, whilst for country districts its particularly good riding and ample clearance are valuable characteristics.

Renault Dauphine-Gordini

The Renault Dauphine-Gordini was produced to meet the demand among sports enthusiasts for extra power and a four-speed gearbox which would permit fuller exploitation of the fine road holding abilities of, by 1958, France's then famous small sedan. Developed was in collaboration with Amedee Gordini, famous French racing car constructor, and while the Gordini was outwardly the same as the standard model (except for a script nameplate on the rear bonnet panel) there was plenty going on under the hood. The modified engine sent power through a new four-speed gearbox. Those modifications included changes to the cylinder head, with inlet and exhaust manifolds which were all new, valve springs which were stronger and valve lift was increased, but the standard valve sizes were retained.

The carburettor was larger, a Solex 32PICBT, and an offset water pipe with two off-takes which took the water from the cylinder head to the radiator. The compression ratio was raised from 7.25 to 7.6 to 1 and power was raised from the standard 30 b.h.p. at 4,250 r.p.m. to 38 b.h.p. SAE at 5,000 r.p.m. A new set of gears, giving four speeds with synchromesh for the top three, managed to fit into the standard three-speed gearbox casing, giving overall ratios of 16.19, 9.21, 6.38 and 4.68 to 1, and 16.19 for reverse. The first surprise for road testers of the day wa the fact that the extra power was obtained without in any way impairing the smoothness or quietness of the engine and there was also no loss of flexibility.

The gearshift was very good, but the lever still wobbled about under the effects of torque reaction, as on the standard model. One car reviewer noted speedometer readings of 50 m.p.h. in second, over 71 in third, and 81 in top, which suggested that Renault's claim of a 79 m.p.h. maximum was not exaggerated. Acceleration from a standstill to an indicated 50 m.p.h. took about 12 seconds. With these modifications the Dauphine became, for the time, a very potent little road car, with much better performance in the overtaking ranges, and much better climbing potential. Third was a particularly useful gear, bringing in real urge where the standard model was labouring rather hard in top. Extra power did, however, make it easier to provoke momentary wheelspin if cornering hard on full throttle, and the higher general level of performance made it possible to produce tail-end breakaway, where this was generally difficult with the standard model.

There was a "faster" steering gear, used on the works' team cars, and by certain French tuning experts, which would have been an asset in correcting incipient slides with the minimum of wheel twirling. Unfortunately this steering set-up was not available as an option from Renault, but they were offered by various French and Belgian tuning specialists at the time. Cars thus fitted made it possible to corner the Dauphine at staggering speeds. The same guarantee applied to the Gordini as to standard Dauphines. Production of the Dauphine-Gordini started out at a very low 10 per day, which rose to 30 by March, 1958. Not a lot, and few examples survived the journey, making the lucky few owners today in possession of a highly collectable and brilliant driving little car.

Renault Dauphine-Gordini DeLuxe

In 1961 Renault added to their range of small, rear-engined cars a deluxe version of the Dauphine-Gordini. This model benefitted from easily adjustable backrests for the front seats, a much improved interior trim in two-colour leather-cloth, a facia covered in matt-black material, map pockets in the front doors and a fully lined luggage boot. External differences were the rubber inserts in the rear bumper overriders and repeater turn indicators on the body sides.

Of course during the life of the Dauphine-Gordini Renault made numerous mechanical changes. "Aerostable" suspension was added and, by 1962, the 845cc four-cylinder engine no longer had the Gordini cylinder head with inclined valves, a modified Dauphine head being used instead. Raising the compression ratio from 7-75 to 8 to 1 helped to increase maximum gross power from 37-8 to 40 bhp., and the final drive gearing was higher.

Those that tested the deluxe Dauphine all noticed how much more lively the Gordini version had become. All acceleration times were better than those of the previous model. For example, it reached 70 mph from rest in almost the same time that the earlier car took to 60 mph, while to 50 mph the time was cut by 3.7seconds. A mean maximum speed of 77.5 mph was recorded, an improvement of 5.5 mph. Although the compression ratio was raised, there was no pinking on premium fuel; in fact, a 50-50 premium-regular grade mixture was used by most road testers without ill effects. The little engine was flexible, pulled smoothly from only 14 mph in top on the level, and was very willing to rev freely.

Indirect ratios were sensibly spaced, second and third being slightly lower geared, but first remained unchanged. With a usable maximum of 65 mph, third gear could be employed freely for overtaking, while second was a good ratio for towns, with its maximum of well over 40 mph. At no speed did the engine become rough, though a fair amount of noise came through the rear bulkhead. In top, the Dauphine-Gordini cruised happily at 65 mph, at which speed the fuel consumption was 36 mpg under motorway conditions - a remarkably good figure. An automatic choke looked after the rich mixture setting for cold starting, which was always instantaneous. While operating, it kept the engine running at a fast idle and ensured unfaltering acceleration when cold. It was set before a cold start by one full depression and release of the accelerator pedal.

Dauphine-Gordini Road Tests

Light in action and free from abnormal slip, the clutch enabled a laden car to be restarted on a 1-in-4 test hill. Synchromesh on the upper three gears was very effective. First was noisy and so was the transmission on the overrun. The gear change mechanism was never one of the best features of the car, although the engagement of gears was positive enough. Movements of the centrally placed lever were long between the gears and transversely, and there was a fair amount of lost motion. The suspension was decidedly firm, but ride comfort was good for a car of this size and weight, and was little different whether or not there was a full complement of passengers aboard. On a poor surface the tyres remained firmly in contact with the road and adhesion was good.

The Dauphine-Gordini handled in a more stable and predictable fashion when loaded, the tendency for the rear end to lift during cornering being much reduced. Driven well within its limits, the strong oversteer of this car was hard to notice, but energetic handling readily caused the rear of the car to swing outwards in a corner. Because the steering was exceptionally low geared, rapid corrections were not easy to make. Undoubtedly this was a car better suited to the experienced driver than the novice, and arguably designed for more around town work than sporty country driving. It was strongly affected by cross-winds at speed, and much concentration was required to maintain a true course on a gusty day. Although the steering was a little too highly geared, it was fairly precise steering, light (obviously thanks to the low gearing) at very low speeds, with a fair amount of reaction at the wheel on poor surfaces.

The braking effort required was rather high for a car of its size and weight, and an unusually small pedal pad added to the driver's awareness-of this. There was an insensitive feel to the brakes, and for maximum retardation 120 lb. was required on the pedal. During road testing, it was reported that the rear wheels could lock prematurely in spite of a pressure-limiting valve in their hydraulic line. It was noted, however, that there was adequate resistance to fade, six stops from 65 m.p.h. being made in quick succession before pedal effort increased and unevenness began. The handbrake, well placed for reach between the front seats, held the car on the 1-in-3 incline.

Inside the Dauphine-Gordini

Comfortable, well-shaped front seats had a hand-wheel for adjusting the squab rake to any of four positions. There was a sufficient range of fore-and-aft adjustment to suit most drivers, but some sacrifice of driver space had to be made to give a rear-seat passengers enough knee room. The steering wheel was pleasantly small in diameter - which was unlike most cars from this era. Offset towards the centre line of the car because of wheel-arch encroachment, the pedals were bottom-hinged and had a comfortable arc of movement. Visibility over the short, sloping nose was good but the screen pillars were a little too thick. The large, plastic framed interior mirror gave a fine view to the rear. Rear-seat passengers had to crouch to look out of their side windows. The wiper blades, which parked well above the bottom edge of the screen, cleared a large area of the gently curved glass but owners soon discovered they needed a more powerful motor. The washer was standard.

Provided with a two-position, town or country loudness switch on the steering column, the horns had a distinctive, melodious note and were operated by depression of the rotary lighting switch on the left of the column. The headlamp main beams were no more than adequate. When dipped, the cut-off was very sharp, so that with the front seats occupied and luggage in the forward boot, the range was insufficient for more than about 40 mph with safety. Extra turn indicator lights on the sides of the car, ahead of the front doors, were a good feature. An effective fresh-air heater (a standard fitting) depended almost entirely on the booster fan for circulation of air in the car. Like most small European cars from the era, there was too little heat with the switch off and too much with it on. The heater unit, in the engine compartment, incorporated an air filter which could be removed for cleaning.

Pivoted ventilator panes in the front doors produced draughts, but opening the sliding windows in the rear doors gave a good extractor effect. On the rear seat there was sufficient width for two adults of normal size, and headroom was just sufficient. Ride comfort was scarcely less than that enjoyed by front seat passengers. Interior trim and finish were much improved compared with the earlier model. The floor was carpeted, there was a light-coloured, washable roof lining and soft, safety sun-visors were fitted. Interior lights of adequate brightness on the centre door pillars were switched on by rotating their plastic lenses. A thoughtful fitting was a lamp in the engine compartment.

The six-volt battery (latter models had a 12-volt system) occupied a corner of the quite large, lined boot in the nose. Also here was the transparent reservoir for brake fluid, the screen-wash bottle and the combined starting handle and wheel-brace. A flimsy spring catch, easily thwarted by a gust of wind, held the lid open; a similar catch was fitted on the engine bay lid. The luggage lid was locked by a handle under the facia. The spare wheel, lying beneath the boot floor, was reached by folding down the panel which carried the number plate. This had a release at the front of the boot. Good engine accessibility made this Renault an easy car to service and only six chassis points need greasing at 1,500-mile intervals. This was a neat and practical machine, well finished and of proved worth in world markets. It offered a more stimulating performance and better equipment than the standard Dauphine, and yet remains economical to run.
Renault Dauphine
Renault Dauphine

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