Welcome to Used Car Face Off, where we find two similar or similarly priced used cars and ask you which one you would buy. Choose wisely!
What makes a good coupe? Is it style, performance or just the two doors that say, “To hell with practicality, don’t complain about getting into the back of my car”? All of those are good points.
In the case of the two coupes here today, one has style, one has performance and both have practicality issues in the form of being absurdly expensive but interesting pieces of automotive history.
A Renault 17 owner is an interesting person, that’s a fact. Actually, will all the Renault 17 owners in the room please stand up? That’s what I thought. Well, there’s going to be a new one, since this 1978 17 Gordini is up for sale. Introduced in 1971, the 17 accurately predicted the wedge trend that would proliferate through the decade and while it probably dated very quickly, it’s interestingly ‘70s for now.
The 17 was based off of the 12 sedan, but the only thing that should mean to you is that it was front-wheel drive with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with about 100-and-some horsepower. Not fast, but economical for posing speeds. Odd, since this is the “performance” Gordini model, but probably perfect in practice because of that massive sliding fabric roof. How French.
Believe it or not, the 17 was officially sold through US Renault dealers in the '70s and was the predecessor to that laugh of the '80s, the Fuego. I have an unquestionable soft spot for the Fuego and an even bigger admiration for the 17. Compared to a Capri or a Manta, it looks so much more adventurous – which is what a slow coupe should be. This is probably one of the best remaining examples out there, so the $12,000 asking price is a lot, but not ridiculous.
It's absolutely reasonable compared to $20,500 for a 1982 BMW 320is. The E21 was a relatively popular car that was wedged between the legend that the 2002 was and the legend the E30 that followed became. Tough crowd.
Not to say the E21 is to be ignored. It's like an extra-strength version of all of the classic BMW styling cues and hard to believe the design is nearly 40 years old. It may only be an emissions-restricted 1.8-liter four, but through a five-speed manual and in a car that doesn't weigh much (and is rear-wheel drive, after all) it's more of a driving machine than the Renault wedge will ever be. And just look at the logical position of the radio.
E21s aren't the most uncommon sights and perhaps they aren't as iconic as a 2002. That's why the price on this one, as much of a time machine as it is, seems awfully steep – even for a 320is that has sporting bits like a bigger antiroll bar and limited-slip diff.
Which is why I'd be really different and take the Renault. It's not going to be a daily driver. It's not going to be a performance machine. It will be an attention-grabber, though, and that's kind of the point, right?