1956-1968 Renault Dauphine

1956 Renault Dauphine

Renault's "princess" -- the 1956 Renault Dauphine -- made her public debut in March 1956, and the French were enthralled.

Renault kept its conventional "Ventoux" ohc inline four-cylinder water-cooled engine with removable cylinder sleeves in the tail, and swathed it all in pretty and curvaceous bodywork. At 89 inches, its wheelbase was 6.3 inches longer than that of the 4CV. The Dauphine was a full foot longer end to end, and it was wider and slightly lower than its predecessor (which hung around until 1961).

The result was a peoples' car that looked much classier than it was, could swallow an impressive payload of people and luggage, and would swish along France's tree-lined Routes Nationales at more than 60 mph.

Unhappily for Renault, at that stage, it knew no more than Dr. Porsche did about controlling tail-heavy swing-axle handling characteristics. If the heavy engine and gearbox were mounted in the tail, and most of the front sheetmetal surrounded nothing but fresh air for carrying luggage, the resulting weight distri­bution was bound to be scary.

Nearly 62 percent of the Dauphine's weight was carried by the rear wheels, and since the rear suspension was by simple high-pivot swing axles, those wheels always had a hard time. Everything you have heard about Dauphine handling -- the nervous way in which it might pass a semi on the Interstate, and the skittish way it crossed high exposed bridges -- was true. Not even a weird combination of recommended tire pressures --15 psi at the front and 23 psi at the rear -- could completely tame that problem.

Early road tests in U.S. publications were quite content with the Dauphine's handling, but by 1960, Motor Trend had this to say: "There is nothing in the handling at normal speeds to indicate that the engine is stowed in the rear but push up to some high-speed cornering and the rear end becomes quite skittish, requiring skilled control of an oversteer condition that presents itself."

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