The Renault Dauphine has always been an attractive small family car, but the Gordini version is far cooler.
The Dauphine was launched in 1956 as the successor to the Renault 4CV; more than two million were manufactured until it was withdrawn in 1967. It was, along with the Citroën 2CV, Volkswagen Beetle, Morris Minor, Mini and Fiat 600, a pioneer of the modern European economy car. It was popular in Britain (one of the first imported cars to sell in large numbers), with its rear engine giving rise to quite a few cartoons set in garages with the front boot lid open, on the theme of “No wonder it’s not working, mate, the engine’s dropped out!”
Renault considered the name Corvette for the car but that clashed with Chevrolet’s recently introduced model. At a dinner conversation between Renault engineers, Fernand Picart said “the 4CV is the Queen of the road; the new arrival can only be the Dauphine [the feminine form of the heir apparent to the French throne.]
The Dauphine used a version of the 4CV’s water-cooled Ventoux engine with capacity increased from 760 cc to 845 cc, and power increased from 19 to 32 hp. The car was offered with a three-speed manual transmission, with synchronisers on 2nd and 3rd gears. Front suspension was conventional coil-spring/wishbone layout with an anti-roll bar and rack-and-pinion steering. Rear suspension was a high-pivot swing axle.
The Dauphine body changed little in its 11 years of production, but its floorpan and engine were the basis for the Renault Caravelle, offered as a 2+2 coupé, a 2+2 cabriolet and a convertible, the latter being a cabriolet with a removable hardtop. Its body was designed by Pietro Frua of Carrozzeria Ghia.
And now we come to the Dauphine Gordini. Offered from the start of production, it had a 4-speed transmission and increased horsepower, tuned by Amédée Gordini (known as ‘Le Sorcier’ for his almost magical ability to extract high power outputs from engines) to at least 37 hp. In the late 1950s/early 1960s, competition-tuned Dauphines did well in many forms of motor sport. A Dauphine was the first car ever to win outright the three most important rallies of the day; the Tulip Rally (1957), the Monte Carlo Rally (1958) and the Alpine Rally (1959) while also enjoying success on the track. For several seasons the Dauphine dominated national 1,000cc classes around the world, carrying off overall and class victories in such events as the Mille Miglia, 12 Hours of Sebring and Tour de France. This example spent much of its life in Italy where it participated in the ‘Rally 4 Regioni’ in 2011 amongst many other events, before coming to the UK in 2013.