Renault Fregate

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Renault Fregate

1951 - 1960
4 cyl. OHV
1996 cc
62 bhp / 46 kw
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
137 km/h
Number Built:
3 star
Renault Fregate
Renault Fregate
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3

The Most Expensive Renault

When released, the Fregate was the most expensive car in the Renault range, it being given a more powerful personality by a series of interesting and functional modifications. Launched at the end of 1951, many "models" of the Fregate would emerge during the cars production life, including the Fregate (1951 - 1952), Fregate Affaires (1953 - 1955), Fregate Amiral (1953 - 1958), Fregate 2 Litre (1956), Fregate Grand Pavois (1956 - 1958), Fregate Caravelle (1957) and finally, the Fregate Transfluide (1959 - 1960).

Most commentators of the day felt the Fregate was Renaults attempt to move "up market", an ambitious attempt given the company was still under the control of the French Government following its incestuous relationship with the 3rd Reich. The car was first fitted with a 1996ci engine producing 62 bhp (46 kw), and in 1954 the compression ratios were raised (subsequently increasing the performance of the motor).

In 1954 the engine was bored out square at 88 mm, to produce 77 b.h.p. - almost 22 more than its predecessor. That made it the most powerful car ever to have been built by Renault. The then new engine had wet cylinder liners, aluminium head and fully-balanced crankshaft. At 2141cc capacity it meant the Fregate could no longer be considered among the 2-litre class; the original 1997cc unit was, however, retained in the less elaborately equipped Affaires (business) model.

Handling Characteristics

Test drivers of the time found the 77 b.h.p. engine, with the big Renault's all-round independent suspension by coil springs, quite a combination to play with. The front end had conventional wishbones, the rear trailing arms. The ride was very good on most types of surface - the rougher it was, the more the car showed to advantage. It would take quite a bump to break rear-wheel traction. On corners you could use a surprising amount of power; the attitude was flat and the tail stayed on line, except under the severest provocation.

Unfortunately the steering didn't match up - there was a certain vague feeling about it, partly due to back-wheel steering effects. These, however, were not pronounced, since there were two universals on each half-shaft. Behind the wheel, the steering would feel rather soggy and lacked any self-centring action. The ratio should have been a little higher, too. The Renault engineers had obviously favoured low-speed ease of use, and in this regard it was light enough for anyone, and reaction in the hands negligible. It was a pity about these defects, because the steering-box was designed to keep the turning motion of the road wheels in constant relationship to steering-wheel movement, right to the extremities of each lock. Also, the turning circle was only 33 feet, this considered for the time to be extremely compact for a full six-seater car.

Behind the Wheel

The unit-construction body was a masterly combination of large interior dimensions and aerodynamic shape. There was plenty of room for six people across the bench seats, and head and leg room were adequate, too. A perfectly flat floor front and rear helped enormously; the central passenger in front could stretch out just as much as their neighbour. Both bench seats had central armrests. The seats were on the hard side and covered in plastic material - which owners were soon to discover would wear out their clothes long before it suffered itself.

The plastic head-lining was a practical and refreshing change from the pastel-coloured combinations of hessian that were normally found on cars of the era. The cockpit arrangements were not bad either. Drivers of varying heights could easily see forward from the drivers sear. The instruments were grouped well up in front of the driver's eyes. They included a legible and spot-on speedometer, a clock, a temperature gauge and an ammeter. The steering-wheel itself was well placed, but the steering-column gear lever was in an unhappy position for the right hand, which would cause owners to knock their knuckles on the window-sill. The action of the mechanism made things worse.

Of course this was not such an issue on Left Hand Drive cars, so it was frustrating that Renault did not go the extra effort and re-locate the gear lever to the left side for Right Hand Drive cars. But either way, the actual gearchange movement was average at best. Test drivers described it as "stiff", "woolly" and "awful in every way". The positions of the individual gears would have taken some getting-used-to. Opposite the gear lever was the classical Continental-style combined light switch, dip switch and horn - in just the right place.

The old long-pull starter found on the earlier version Fregate was releaced in 1954 by the much better ignition key switch . The ignition lock also locked the steering. But the manual ignition advance-and-retard remained. Properly used, it could sweeten an engine's life and also save a bit of fuel. It was particularly useful in conjunction with the overdrive top gear, which was naturally pretty sensitive to variations in grade. On long fast trips you could save a few hundred thousand engine revs by adjusting the ignition precisely.

Moulded plastic was the order of the day, it being everywhere, including on the vulnerable housing for the gear lever and the lights-horn switch, The excellent vacuum-operated windscreen washers had a tiny mushroom-like plastic button that was not an ideal arrangement. For safety, Renault fitted a rubber coaming along the bottom of the dash - this intended to protect the knees in a crash, and the steering-wheel boss was also rubber-padded. The fresh-air heater and demister was efficient and could cope with Australian conditions. There was adequate provision for cold-air ventilation, too.

On the Road

The brakes were beyond reproach. They were sensitive, able to handle the 25cwt. car with ease and could really take punishment without fading or pulling off line. Twin hydraulic cylinders for the front shoes gave symmetrical expansion on to the drums. The engine was easy to get at for all routine tasks. Grease points were reduced from 19 to 11. But as good as all these features and improvements were, it seemed the designers had completely forgotten about NVH. Having gone to all the trouble to create such an efficient and beautiful body envelope, which sliced through the air in an extraordinary degree of silence, it seemed someone had completely forgotten all about mechanical soundproofing.

The body panels magnified and distorted engine and suspension noises - and this seemed to be amplified because the car was devoid of any wind noise. Gear change and mechanical noise issues aside, the Fregate was a very roomy, beautiful, lively (0 to 50 m.p.h. in less than 15 seconds), fast (85 m.p,h. with a little encouragement), and economical (averaging 21 m.p.g) car - and was found to be very suitable to Australian conditions. The pretty Fregate Caravelle model of 1957 was arguably the best of the lineup, coming equipped with a 2.141ci engine producing 77 bhp. Most people, however, will remember the Fregate as the last of the front-engined, rear-drive cars made by Renault.
Renault Fregate

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Also See:

Louis Renault
The History of Renault
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