Smooth And Fast As A Bullet Train: The 1981 Renault Le Car

Was the Renault Le Car (aka Renault 5) really the best-selling front-wheel-drive car in the world in 1981? From the country that brought us the bullet train, here comes the Le Car!


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Rob Emslie

Back in the '80s I went car shopping with my mom (god rest her soul) and one of our stops was the Pasadena AMC/Renault/Jeep dealer to look at the Medallion (R21 to you non-deodorant users) as a possible replacement for her aged Fairmont.

The sales people came crawling out of the shadows when we arrived, like hollow-eyed zombies from a post-apocalyptic landscape called France, and attempted to engage in the kind of car-salesman banter you would expect. Only, it had been so long since they had met a potential customer that all they could do was ask what the world outside was like, and whether or not we had brought brie.

Mom was only interested in a notch-back and all they had in the dark, claustrophobic showroom was a wagon, which had the wheelbase of a Kenilworth tractor-trailer.

We begged off coming back to the customer's lounge to look at brochures and watch the mime perform. It was apparent that this was not the car for her, and that this showroom of the damned might be our final destination should we tarry too long examining the oddities of brand- "Essence Sans Plomb" it read inside the fuel door, and the tires were by Micheline - freaky.

She eventually bought a Taurus, and the dark, little dealership closed not long after. Years later, it was bulldozed and a Taco Bell went up in its place. When ever I drive by there now, I whisper to myself essence sans plomb . . . and slowly shake my head.