24 Sep 2007

50 Worst Cars of All Time

Dan Neil, in Time, invites the all-time 50 Worst Cars to his own rhetorical demolition derby.

Roger Viollet - Getty
1956 Renault Dauphine

The most ineffective bit of French engineering since the Maginot Line, the Renault Dauphine was originally to be named the Corvette, tres ironie. It was, in fact, a rickety, paper-thin scandal of a car that, if you stood beside it, you could actually hear rusting. Its most salient feature was its slowness, a rate of acceleration you could measure with a calendar. It took the drivers at Road and Track 32 seconds to reach 60 mph, which would put the Dauphine at a severe disadvantage in any drag race involving farm equipment. The fact that the ultra-cheap, super-sketchy Dauphine sold over 2 million copies around the world is an index of how desperately people wanted cars. Any cars.

Perfectly true. I knew someone who had one. Flooring it down a steep hill for a long time would barely get it up to 60. Riding in it was like occupying a rickety old house in a windstorm. It made an endless variety of demoralizing noises, some suggesting the imminent break-down of a vital component of the drive train, others merely alerting you to the continual flexing of the frame and body. You were always under impression that pieces were soon going to start falling off.

One Feedback on "50 Worst Cars of All Time"

Dominique R. Poirier

A testimony.

The Renault Dauphine was one of the first cars I have driven. But circumstances were unusual in this case. For the Dauphine I drove had no doors and it was ending its last days as “all purposes vehicle” at the airfield of Saint Laurent, in the Departement of Creuse, in France. We were in 1975 and I used to go there where I was known as the boy always ready to be the passenger of those old pilots who were so afraid to have an heart failure alone aboard their planes on Sundays.

That’s why no one bothered to let me driving this Dauphine on the “taxi-way” which was paved with nothing but authentic grass. So, my experience with that car limited to this, and to some moment of funs during which I learned how to control my skids at slow speed on the slippery grass. My recollections may be not as accurate as I would like because they are somewhat mixed with those of another car I found very similar, the Renault 4 Chevaux, which was still smaller than the Dauphine; but it seems to me nonetheless that the Dauphine was equipped with a 3 speeds manual gearbox and that this gearbox loudly complained when shifting from 2 to 1. It was a really slow car anyways, even by the erstwhile standards, but a wonderful toy for a French 15 years old kid in 1974.

By 1975 the Dauphine began to disappear from the French roads, though it had been one the most common cars in this country until about 1970. I knew the Renault Dauphine as the typical car of those long-haired young men wearing tightly adjusted and multicolored shirts with large wings-shaped collars wide opened on a bare chest preferably hairy; elephant-legged pants; and those desperately trendy orthopedic-like shoes with inches-thick soles anf heels.

From 1970 to 1973, my elder brother used to go work daily with an old tired white Dauphine, although he was the young general manager of a pleasure boats building company.
Richer young boys rode rather in the Dauphine’s heir, the Renault 8, a edgy redesigned version of the Dauphine with a slightly more powerful engine (44 HP). Some equipped those Renault 8 with larger wheels and I guess it was how and when automobile tuning began to be popular practice in France.

A “sport” version of the Renault R8, known as the R8 Gordini, was powered this time with a 90 HP engine and met certain success which lasted for years among the French youth. They wanted fast, nervous, small, and not too expensive cars and the small weight of those ridicule cars made up for the weakness of their weak 4 cylinders engines.
Interestingly enough, the success of the R8 Gordini prepared the French automobile market for a real success story of international scope this time: the Volkswagen Golf GTI.


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