Monday, March 05, 2018

Classic Cars: Renault Caravelle Cabriolet Spotted At The Renault Flagship Showroom in Petaling Jaya

I was over at the Renault Malaysia flagship showroom in Petaling Jaya over the weekend for their Chinese New Year celebrations and sales party. Amidst the new Renault cars on display, the flurry of events and other activities was a classic Renault on display - the Renault Caravelle Cabriolet. This is a rare classic here in Malaysia and it is always a pleasure to see such cars in somewhat pristine condition here. From the looks of it, this is a post 1964 1100cc Caravelle.

The Renault Caravelle is a sports car which was produced by Renault between 1958 and 1968. It was also called the Renault Floride in North America and the United Kingdom until around 1962. According to history, they called it the Floride due to the fact that the car was produced after a Renault convention in Florida, USA where it was decided that the brand needed a sporty type of car in the mould of the successful Volkswagen Beetle and Karmann Ghia variants. Renault thought that a coupe was needed to boost the image and also add to the then popularity of the Renault Dauphine sedan. So in 1958, the Floride aka Caravelle was born.

But whilst the car was styled by Frua, an Italian sytling house and the fact that being based on the Dauphine platform, rear engine and rear wheel drive too, it wasn't one of those performance oriented coupes or cabriolets (depending on version). It was saddled with a typically small powerplant - the first cars came with a tiny 842cc engine and about 37hp... and a standard three speed manual gearbox. Things moved really slow back in the 1950s. So when it was first launched, it was more about cruising rather than spirited driving.

This one you see here is the post 1964 variant. It has the uprated 4 cylinder 1108cc engine with 55hp and most likely the better 4 speed manual gearbox. It only allowed the Caravelle to hit 100kmh from zero in 17.8 seconds and a top speed of 143kmh. But I suppose in the 1960s it was good enough for the uprated suspension which Renault fitted to the Caravelle in 1960 which they called "Suspension AĆ©rostable". How quaint.

But one would say that the Caravelle found things a little tough. It had to compete against cheaper Italian coupes from Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo as well as tariffs on cars exported in and around Europe. All this affordable sports cars caused Renault to eventually case producing the Caravelle in 1968, which by then was also dated in terms of styling and performance.

Whatever the case is, this could be the second Caravelle I've laid my eyes on in Malaysia. The first was years ago in the 1980s if I wasn't mistaken. Renault wasn't a marque often seen in this parts. Prior to this recent move by TC Euro Cars to bring Renault in over the past decade or so, the last big sales for Renault was way back in the 1980s. There was a smattering of Renault 5 and Fuego on sale at the time. I've seen a few back then and then by the 1990s, not any more. Most just disappeared.

The older cars aren't as common, but I had an uncle who actually bought one when he first started working in the late 1970s. It was a Renault 12TL. There were quite a few running around back then and the previous model, the Renault 8 and 10 were also around back then. Especially when I was growing up in the north of Peninsular Malaysia. 

But none were as exotic looking as the Caravelle. It may not have been much of a sales success for Renault back then, but if you took a look at the one on display that weekend, it does look good and it does remind you of a more glamorous time where manufacturers actually made properly affordable sports cars for people to buy. These days we have to buy a warm hatchback to feel the thrill of driving. Those days, the thrill would actually come in various forms which did not mean all out performance, but also affordable open top driving. Choice is something lacking these days. 

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