Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
Domaine featured simple, straight-forward lines without the frills and unnecessary bright work that so many of its contemporaries had. Better still there was an honest 80 cubic feet of loading space with the rear seat folded, to catch a bit of the station-wagon business then booming in many parts of the world.
You have probably guessed by now that the Domaine was an expansion of the Fregate
series. The engine was square, and the displacement of the wagon and that of the sedans being imported into Australia was fractionally over 130 cu. in. Compression and general layout remained about the same, but rated power was up 17 bhp over the older 60 horses. Underneath, the Domaine had the tried and true four-point independent coil suspension
with the rear hubs supported by trailing arms.
At a time when driving 6-up was commonplace for any car considering itself worthy of finding a spot in the family driveway, thanks to mandatory full bench seats, the Domaine was a little intriguing. It was not a ball of fire, and compared to the power output of cars these days, describing it as underwhelming would be an understatement. But to its credit, it could out-handle some U.S. wagons through agility, due to its firm suspension
and really remarkable road holding qualities.
One road test we un-earthed had the driver punting the Domaine through sharp and rough corners, and ... "after taking the precaution to over-inflate the tyres
to some 34 lb., found that about the only factor that limited the Domaine's prowess was its rather un-European five-and-one-third turns lock-to-lock on the steering
wheel. I suspect that the front wheels had virtually no castor, and therefore it was necessary to do some speedy wheel unwinding to stay on the road. In the interests of fairness, it should be noted that the car had covered 182 miles only".
On the Road
In spite of the Domaine's smallish sedan heritage, the car represented Renault's approach to the full sized car in the American sense - and it was obviously designed to appeal to that market. It measured a fraction over 110 inches between axle centres, or nine inches (and 150 lb.) more than the standard Fregate - there being no power increase. As you can imagine, the Domaine's top speed was therefore a little less than the Fregate ... around eight miles per hour, the Fregate
running out to 85 mph, while the Domaine ran out of puff at 77 mph.
During the road test referred to above, the driver pushed the card hard at all times, and was surprised by the good fuel consumption of around 18.1 miles per gallon during some 100 miles of fairly brutal driving and 23.9 mpg during a couple of hours around town. Performance wise, the Domaine was a bit of a slug, but with a reasonable break-in period and proper tuning it was capable and would not leave you too red-faced at the traffic lights. It was in the direct ratio third gear that the Domaine suffered the most, fourth gear - actually an overdrive actuated by an additional lever position in a gate slot below third, made for clumsy shifts until you had put in a lot of time behind the wheel and mastered the art of up-shifting.
Behind the Wheel
To their credit, the Renault
engineers knew that distinctiveness alone would not be enough to ensure sales - and so they ensured the car would offer excellent roadability. At fairly sharp highway speech there was very little cross-draught inside the car, even with one window and both vents fully open. Not so important these days, but back then air-conditioning was reserved for large luxury cars - so open window driving was the norm. The sill was bit high, in spite of chair-height seating, to allow for comfortable arm-high driving, and the lack of an armrest seemed an oversight.
Rear-seat passengers would have also noticed the lack of armrests, and children would soon loose their wmall toys, objects easily slipping through a wide separation between the rear-seat cushion and the backrest. The latter folded down after two thumb-nuts were removed, and the result, for those who needed to be able to tote large loads, was a full 80 cu. ft. of space with a floor length of 69 inches with the tailgate up.
The weight limit was 1320 lb. The rear opened conventionally, the boot having an exterior lock and latch on the upper half, which after being opened was held aloft at an angle not too likely to have become a hazard to heads. The interior was upholstered in plastic that had an affinity for heat, so it was not ideally suited to an Aussie summer.
The instruments were clearly read, the lettering being in white over a dark background - and were in French. There was an automatic choke. The light and horn control was strictly a la Parisienne and was incorporated in a lever gadget on a pedestal jutting out from the left side of the steering
column, where Australian drivers were used to finding the turn indicator stalk.
As is commonly the case today with European cars, the indicator stalk was located on the left of the steering
column. And while the stalk itself was a little short, because the steering
wheel on the Domaine was sans horn ring (rare for a car of this era), you could simply put your hand through the wheel to activate it - assuming of course you were not turning at the same time.
A rubber beading across the enitre bottom of the dash protected knees, and fresh air, heating and wiper controls were at the extreme bottom of the dash at the right of the column in easy reach. Plastic door-pull straps matching the upholstery were on each door and the windows rolled up or down in just 3.5 turns; the rear passengers windows, however, wound down to half-mast only.
Forward visibility was excellent, a tall driver being able to see the road in just a hair more than 15 feet in front of the bumper. The wipers moved together, thus eliminating practically all of the centre-shield blind spot. The right front mudguard, though, could not be seen unless you lifted the chin a good two inches.
There was no ignition key in the usual sense: if you wanted to keep your Domaine from being stolen, you needed to lock all the doors using the inside knob, and then lock the left front door - which would have been the drivers door in Continental Europe, but was the passenger door here in Australia. A little annoying that Renault
did not bother to relocate this for right-hand-drive markets. The ignition itself was turned on by a husky switch on the bottom of the steering
column in the latitude it of the dash, and turning this switch all the way to the right activated the starter.
Around town the Domaine was an easy car to live with, having light steering
in an era before power steering
, making for easy parking. Up until you were pushing 45 mph or so, the lack of dig was not bothersome to those who cared little for traffic-light drags, and the Domaine's ability to shuffle along at 10 mph in third and pick up without stumbling was admirable.
Even in overdrive, which hds no kickout, kickdown or free-wheeling, you could drift along at 18 to 20 mph and step up without a needing to shift gears. On the highway fourth, or overdrive, was the best ratio for any speed over 40 mph, and passing speeds of from 30 to 50 could be attained in just 2.8 seconds more than in third. We can't remember the last time we saw a Domaine on Australian roads - it has been a very long time.