First Car – Renault 5

Renault 5

 In 1975, my Dad bought our third Renault car.  In 1982, it would become my first car.  The family had already had a Renault 12 and 16 by 1975.  I couldn’t explain why he preferred Renault.  I’m sure being French had something to do with it.

I’m a bit nostalgic about this car because it was my first.  It was too small for me behind the wheel even with the seat pushed back.  I learned to wrap myself around the steering wheel with my knees pulled up.  Long after this car, I tended to pull up my knees even though there is plenty of space.

The car, an early Renault 5, had much more power than would seem.  It is clear that the French are good at squeezing out power from fairly small engines.  I used to zoom around Tucson and would even qualify this car as being fun to drive.

I remember first using this car in 1982 to get to high school and also out to IBM Tucson (about 16 miles away in the desert).  Tucson is such a big city that you really need to have a car to get anywhere.  Sometimes I wouldn’t take the car and would end up trying to catch buses.  Buses would often not arrive on time so I would walk.  I’d play this game of trying to catch the bus while trying to get to the next bus.  It rarely worked and I would end up walking around 5 miles just to get home.  This wasn’t so bad in winter but summer in Tucson can be a killer.

Mom had used this car exclusively from 1976 to 1982.  This included a major trip around the country and even Canada.  The family joke is that we got to Banff National Park and she managed to run over a section of glacier.  This caused a dent in the muffler pipe that pushed the muffler against the car.  The result was that it started to cook everything in the trunk (boot in Australia) and the smell of burning plastic filled the car.  I remember trying to fix this with a screwdriver at the side of the road but this failed fairly quickly.  We had to relocate stuff and the car was already too small as it was.

Considering all the things which that car did, it was an amazing vehicle.

In 1986, the Renault 5 was passed onto my sister.  She didn’t have a good experience overall.  Within the first few weeks, she had managed to not only have the rear view mirror fall off the windshield, but also have the lock come out with the key on the door.  She was convinced that the car didn’t like her and given that it didn’t give me trouble I would tend to agree.

One time I was driving to university from Mom’s home at night and something very odd happened.  I got to an intersection for a stop light and the car seemed to want to stop working.  The engine was sputtering and lights were coming on that had never come on before.  I couldn’t understand what could be wrong so I just gave it more gas and did my best to keep it going.  Ignorance is bliss.  I managed to get it to the parking lot after a lot of close calls with stalling.

The next day it would not start.  We called the mechanic and he came down to look at it.  He quickly surmised that the main belt had broken.  This belt was the link that made everything work and served as the timing belt for the engine.  He was surprised I hadn’t destroyed the engine.  It was an excellent lesson in paying attention to those obscure lights.

John was our mechanic for years for this car.  I think his nickname was “Frenchie” given his specialization in French cars.  A serious downside to Renaults of the time was limited service and parts.  If something went wrong, you were going to pay and pay some more.  John was the solution.  He would come to our house and always charged fair prices and gave great advice about the best way to solve the problems.  I enjoyed talking with him as he worked on the car.

Dad had bought this car in Illinois when we stilled lived in Woodstock.  When the divorce happened, Mom got the car and took us and the cats to Tucson to start a new life.  I remember how crowded it was.  I also remember how exciting it was to get close to Tucson.  We had only been there once before from a plane.  We arrived in late 1978 with the Renault 5 being our only car.

It wouldn’t matter being a single car family until 1982 when I got my driver’s license.  Mom bought a 1982 Toyota Corolla which turned out to be a much more practical choice.

I’m thinking that this post isn’t overly interesting.  Perhaps it’s just a fun way to spend time remembering.  Most men would probably tell stories about their first car if given a chance.   I’m lucky I guess.

The picture of the actual car is at the top and was taken in Tucson around 1986 in Tucson.  I cropped the photo down but if you could see the original picture you would see sections of the other two cars the family had at the time.  One is Mom’s car (Corolla) and my sister’s Toyota pickup truck.  Around 1992, Mom had a serious accident in the Corolla and it was totaled.   The pickup would last much longer and I don’t remember when it was sold.  If you click the picture above, the full size image will be displayed.  I don’t know why but I decided to take this picture from the roof of our house.

Not long after having bought the car in 1975, the car dealer insisted that Mom enter a contest to see how many baseballs could fit into a Renault 5.   Basically he gave her the answer.  She entered and won.  The prize was a trip to see the Chicago White Sox.  Being a huge Cubs fan at the time I was a bit disappointed.  However, Mom and I went and we had a great time.  I just remembered that there was a bigger prize of winning a new Renault but obviously the salesman wasn’t there to give us the winning ticket for that.

As the final trivia point, there was a movie called “Dude, Where’s My Car?” At the end of the movie it is revealed that the missing car is a yellow Renault LeCar.  The LeCar is just a renamed Renault 5.  When I saw this I was surprised and extremely funny.  It brought back memories of the Renault 5.  The movie triggered me to want to write about the first car I had.   Finally I have done it.


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