Wednesday 8th October 2019
There is nothing quite like driving a ‘new’ car for the first time, and this time the car in question is from a very short list of cars that I haven’t heard my Dad say ‘I’ve driven one of those’ or ‘I used to own one of those’. This is even more impressive given the fact that he used to be a Renault mechanic in his youth and is something of a Renault nut.
We collected this Gordini yesterday afternoon after purchasing it over the phone at Anglia Car Auction’s most recent classic car auction on Saturday. I’d been to view the car the day before the auction and whilst the description listed it as having an MOT, it did look a little sorry for itself, with plenty of surface corrosion all over the body and inner wings. Despite this the car appeared to be quite solid, with only a couple of small holes that I’ve spotted so far. I did the unthinkable at an auction and left without hearing the car run or checking the paperwork, although I already knew that we were interested in buying the car just for the sheer rarity.
This is the second Renault 17 Gordini that we’ve bought, with the first being the green example that we bought at a CCA auction nearly two years ago. When we bought that car it was described as being one of only two known examples of a RHD R17 Gordini left in the UK. That car was a one owner car that hadn’t been on the road since the 90s and was a non running example. It now runs but in the intervening period its been a project that has been tinkered with in between other work and hasn’t been on the road, and we’ve been debating whether to restore it fully or just to tidy it and preserve some of its originality.
This isn’t the first time we’ve bought a car from ACA and risked driving it home, and I can remember plenty of journeys home in a wide variety of cars (although we had usually seen them run through the auction earlier the same day and knew that they were running, driving, and the old man had a good chance to listen how healthily they were running). One of my favourites was probably the BMW 1602 which is one of the most enjoyable cars I have ever driven. Usually the cars have little fuel and we stop at the nearby petrol station to fill up, which also gives us a chance to decide if the car is driving correctly and running well enough to make it home. In this case we had half a tank of fuel and considering how well it started, we decided just to stop at the half way point to home, where we leave the B-roads and join the A11. Fortunately we got there with no issues, and the little Renault appeared to be driving very well.
At this point we swapped over and I got a chance to drive after figuring out the switch arrangement (which makes a great deal of your controls available to your right hand without removing it from the steering wheel). The knob to turn up the dash lights has been snapped off so I would be driving without being able to see the instruments, though luckily I was being followed home and we agreed that he would flash his headlights if I went near 70mph. The steering wheel is large but feels slim (though more solid than some similarly aged cars), and slightly squidgy. The lack of PAS isn’t bothersome and once the car is rolling the steering feels smooth. The pedals are reasonably positioned although the brake pedal is set quite high and requires a little adjustment from the driver for smoother progression. The brakes themselves had more bite than I was expecting, which is a pleasant surprise when driving an old car (especially one that is relatively unknown to you). Though this car is badged as an injection model, it is fitted with a carburettor and the fuel injection set up is in the boot, along with a box of other parts. We’ll investigate this at a later date along with the other restorative works that need to be completed.
Mostly I kept the speed fairly low and stuck with the HGVs during my trip down the M11, and the car quite happily settled down. When pushing on a little more the Renault proved to be happy with motorway speeds, and provided more acceleration than I expected it to. The engine of this car feels very strong and happy to rev, which is always pleasant.
My driving experience was mostly on the M11 and M25, so I didn’t get to fully experience the driving characteristics of the car, but I did leave the motorway a junction early to take the back roads for the last leg of the journey. Whilst not a B-road ‘weapon’, the little R17 proved to be very enjoyable to drive on a country lane. It still needs to be handled with care and corners approached with caution as any old car does, but it is still a car that is capable of being enjoyed fully at reasonable speeds. If I needed any more convincing I’ve spent most of today itching to go out and drive, and that tells me all I need to know about how much I like this car.