V.I.S.I.T. – Renault Dauphine

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Now here’s a Renault that wasn’t made in Kenosha, and one that some believe to be more attractive than the ones made there. This of course is the Renault Dauphine, which was made from 1956 till 1967. Before its debut in 1955 this project was known internally as the 5CV, and was intended to be a successor of sorts to the 4CV that got Renault through the tough post-war years. Renault anoraks will also know that for a time Renault considered the name Corvette for this model, just as Chevrolet was considering using that name for a new sports car of theirs across the pond. Ultimately Renault went with the name Dauphine, and for their sports car Chevrolet instead ended up using the name…. uhh…. can’t think of it right now. Hmm. Oh well, it’ll come to me eventually.

The Dauphine was powered by the Ventoux engine out of the 4CV, which was good for 27bhp. I know, I know, but hey, this was a small rear-engined car in 1950s France. The Dauphine later received a (slightly) more powerful 36bhp engine which got the 0-60 time down to 30 seconds, though I have a feeling that performance stats weren’t a major concern for this car’s target audience, not then and not now. This Dauphine appeared to be in concours condition throughout, as they invariably are over here. There are still some unrestored examples out there, but chances are that if you see 1950s Renault in the US, it’s going to look approximately like this.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Jeep Wagoneer

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Writing for Hooniverse often takes me to strange and dangerous places, like the parking lot of an Applebee’s. But it wasn’t the peppery smell of the 1,420 calorie Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger, or the tangy aroma of the 1,340 calorie Cheeseburger Sliders with Applewood Smoked Bacon that drew me there, delicious though they may be. Rather, it was the sight of this first-generation Jeep Wagoneer. Or upon closer inspection, a later Wagoneer retrofitted with a first-generation front fascia. Now, I’m not really a fan of lifted anything, but there was something very compelling about this truck, something that’s missing from the SUVs of today. The front fascia alone is a piece of industrial design that probably wouldn’t be allowed in our day and age, simply because it looks menacing enough to make dogs faint and infants cry. And that is precisely what makes it so cool today.

Long before Wagoneers became the hottest thing to keep at your manse on the Cape, to make runs into town to pick up “provisions” for the upcoming sail with Tad, Cabot, Topper, Garrett, Lander, Kitty, and Mackenzie (I have more of these, by the way), Jeeps were actually working vehicles and were used as such. First put into production in 1962 in pickup form, the Gladiator premiered with a 3.8 liter Tornado engine making just over 140bhp. The Wagoneer joined the lineup the year after that, when Willys became the Kaiser Jeep Corporation, and a couple years later AMC’s 5.4 liter V8 became optional. And in 1971 a slightly softer (less manly, according to expert assessments) front fascia was unveiled. But those old Jeeps were almost never babied, and along with the Gladiator the first-generation Wagoneers were just used up and then left out to rot out in the woods, next to a 1970 Shasta LoFlyte camper that’s now a trendy hotel and spa for raccoons.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Audi Ur-S4

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Remember these? That’s right, from waaaaaaay back in the 1990s. A decade when the interwebs were slow, revolutions weren’t televised, and pants were baggy. The 1990s were also a time when spy agencies didn’t talk about what they did on national television every day, and when wearing a foam John Deere cap meant you were an actual farmer engaged in farming. Rather than an owner of a vintage records store in a posh northwest suburb of Washington DC. You know, the one right up the street from that vegan place run by that gentleman with dreadlocks that also sells knitted hats for $79.99 and the Chinese restaurant where a Ukrainian diplomat was once shot in the crotch by an unidentified assailant using a silenced pistol. And when that happened the metropolitan police shrugged and declared that it was a random act of violence, and speculated that the petty thief who did it was likely after the Szechuan Chicken takeout, the expired Amoco gas card, and $27.50 in crumpled bills and change that the diplomat had on him. Although some longtime beltway residents suspected a more complex motive. But who knows with these things.

Given how relatively non-old these Audis are, it seems kind of funny to ask where all of them went. “The junkyard!” the cynical and the well informed among you will declare in unison and roll your eyes. “Lithuania” some will say and nod knowingly. Okay, so most of these didn’t quite survive the last fifteen odd years. And yes, most of them were undone by the things that Audis of those years tended to become undone by, namely small electrical parts the purpose of which escaped even the master techs at the dealership, and which tended to cost the same as a transmission rebuild on a Chevy Cavalier. And the ones that weren’t undone by small electrical parts the purpose of which escaped even the master techs at the dealership, and which tended to cost the same as a transmission rebuild on a Chevy Cavalier, were undone by the fact that these cars depreciated faster than a Volvo wagon with golden retriever fur all over the interior. And that’s pretty fast.

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V.I.S.I.T. – The Wisconsin Glaciation Edition

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During the late Pleistocene era, specifically between 110,000 and about 12,000 years ago, the North American Laurentide ice sheet covered most of present-day Canada and US. This glacial formation extended southward toward the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast, and reached its peak about 21,000 years ago. This period is known (in nerd circles) as the Wisconsin Glaciation, and you can still see evidence of the glaciers’ retreat all across present-day US and Canada, often in the dramatic form of a boulder the size of a house sitting in the middle of a cornfield. The Wisconsin Glaciation is also credited with creating a land bridge across the Bering Sea, as the glaciers contributed a lower sea level worldwide. This allowed early hoons fed up with the suffocating tax regimes of Asia to cross over to North America, where they survived by hunting mammoths, and (for dessert) small saber-toothed rodents who had a strange affinity for acorns. But last week the glaciers suddenly returned for a one month only special engagement in New England and Acadia, and did a reeeeaaal number on pretty much everything. And that brings us to this Shackleton-style tableau.

I think it’s been well established that the 505 and its predecessors from Sochaux can handle extremely hot climates for years on end without complaining. More than three decades after their debut the 505 continues to be a popular car all over Africa. Just a couple years ago an acquaintance’s US-market 505 was purchased through the popular periodical gazzette Sir Craig’s Listings & Notices within mere hours of its posting. And just days later it was already on a ship sailing out of the Port of New Jersey, doubtlessly to join a vast taxi fleet in some place like Morocco. But was the 505 really built for snowy climates?

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The Dilapidated Duo: Northeast Snowpocalypse Edition

Jay Ramey February 11, 2013 Project Cars

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What do you do when the headlights on your Bentley Turbo fog up and then short out? Replace them? Pfff, not worth it, not for what the dealer charges per hour. Makes more sense to just upgrade to a newer car. But what do you do with the old one, trade it in or sell it to an independent dealer? He’d give you five grand if he’s feeling generous, which only buys you and the gang half a shopping trip to the city, maybe just a couple hours’ worth. And what can you buy on 5th Ave with that much anyway? Not even a proper suit. A bunch of ties and a belt maybe, if they’re on sale. Maybe a pair of leather shoes. Not the good ones, just a spare to keep in the office when it’s mucky outside with all the leaves. Oh well, might as well park the Turbo next to the Shadow in the backyard and figure out what to do with them later, let Rocco play around in them in the summertime when he’s not at camp on Block Island. Let him pretend he’s like his old man back in the 80s when he used to work in the city, trading something or other, but mostly just tapping golf balls into styrofoam cups while on speakerphone with Singapore. Later he’d drive the Turbo to the Hunt Club and hang out with the guys, smoking embargoed Habanos while trading dirty jokes. And then on Saturdays they’d hit the links, mixing bourbon with Pepsi till one of them, usually Chip, drives the golf cart into the bunker again! Hah! Whatever happened to those days?

All right, so this isn’t quite a common sight in the northeast. And clearly this duo isn’t going to get any worse sitting under all that snow for a week or two. But what exactly makes them different from just another pair of used sedans that aren’t especially worth fixing, like a busted E65 behind that shady repair shop run by that guy with tattoos on his neck? (They must be prison tattoos, right?) Let’s face it, most “ran when parked” Bentleys and R-Rs are worth more as parts than they are as drivers. That birdbomb-stuccoed 30 foot yacht that your neighbor hasn’t used in eleven years (he’s been meaning to start working on it any spring now but the weekend weather’s always bad) is actually worth messing with even in the condition that it’s in. And unlike this sad pair, a yacht can be refitted with brand new everything.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Audi 4000 Coupe

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This is a different kind of Audi. Before Audi became the Audi of today, and sometime after it ceased being a DKW, Audi was what you see here. The Giugiaro design is a bit boxy and color sensitive viewed through today’s eyes, but it was quite stylish for the time and has aged well overall, even if the design language overlaps with its corporate parent to the point that one could easily picture a VW badge on the grille.

Our readers in Europe know this car as the second-generation Audi 80, but in America we got it with this huuuge model number with a lot of zeros at the end to highlight just how awesome it was.  This was during a time when every self-respecting appliance and household product ranging from exercise machines to laundry detergent got the number 2000 as a suffix to highlight just how modern and 21st century it was. Well, Audi beat them at their own game by multiplying that number by 2, and giving us a whopping Foour Thoouusand sedan and coupe. And while the sedans can still be found on our roads as daily drivers (an increasingly rare sight it must be said) the coupes seem to have sold in much more modest numbers, which made seeing this 4000 coupe a special treat.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Audi 5000

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Before Audi started selling literally dozens of Audi V8s on our shores following that whole 60 Minutes unpleasantness, we had the Audi 5000 as the third fiddle in the German triumvirate of executive sedans. Actually, things weren’t going too bad for Audi during those years. The year before that program aired Audi managed to sell almost 75 thousand cars in the US alone. Very impressive figures, for a brand that just years before was selling cars that even diehard Audi fans now wince at. The 5000 premiered just as the economy was getting better, and Americans were no longer satisfied with rolling living rooms that handled like rolling living rooms. Offering turbos and quattros (whatever those are), the 5000 came with an impossibly sleek drag coefficient and a spacious, well thought-out cabin that practically exuded German engineering.
The example above was obviously in fantastic condition, though I have to confess that this is probably the first time I’ve seen these particular wheels on the 5000.  It’s curious to see just how differently the W126 S-class, the E34 7-series, and the Audi 5000/200 have weathered on our shores over the years. It’s seemingly impossible to go a day without seeing a W126 in traffic. But if we’re talking about the Audi 5000, or the E23 or E32 7-series, you might as well forget it.

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Weekend Edition – V.I.S.I.T. – Renault Alliance Convertible

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If it was 1987 outside and you wanted a flash European convertible, you had some options. At the top of the price range were the Mercedes-Benz SL and the Jaguar XJS, which had been in production for waaay too long but were still selling like hotcakes. Alfa was still selling its ever-popular Spider, which was aging remarkably well despite the various things that were added to it. Then there were the Saab 900 and BMW 3-series convertibles, both of which came standard with Wayfarers. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the purchase contract the owner was also obligated to wear a polo shirt with a popped collar at all times. But both of them were kind of pricey, especially the 3-series. And of course Volvo never figured out what a popular car the 780 Cabrio could have been, because they never made it. At the bottom of the price range were the Yugo, the VW Rabbit Cabriolet, and the Renault Alliance. What’s that? You had forgotten completely about the Alliance convertible?

That’s right, the Alliance was a popular and affordable European-plated convertible made right here in the USA. In sunny Kenosha, Wisconsin to be precise. The example I saw here appeared to be in pretty standard condition for a running Alliance. That is; in great cosmetic shape and likely with less than 50K on the clock.  The AMC-built Renaults that I have seen within the last few years have all tended to be in surprisingly swell shape, no doubt most being recently resuscitated examples found in Nana’s old garage out back where she also keeps Star Trek: The Motion Picture-style plastic swiveling chairs and the 1973 Yard-Man riding mower. You know, the green and cream-colored one that Uncle Hiram got at Montgomery Ward at a good discount cause he and the manager were bowling buddies.

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Weekend Edition – V.I.S.I.T. – Preservation Class Edition

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If there was ever a car that looked like it had been sitting in a garage in some town in upstate New York since the Carter administration, right next to a plaid sofa and a bunch of Atari 2600 consoles, this was it. I spotted this Fiat 128 2-door saloon on the not-particularly-mean streets of midtown Manhattan a while ago, looking like it had just recently come out of a decades-long hibernation. I think that might even be original 1979 grime on the inside of those windows. This 128 definitely had a sub-30K mile vibe to it, something that was bought, hardly ever used, and then put into the garage out back next to the exercise machine you used a total of seven times since buying it in 1988, and covered with Uncle Bertram’s old suits from his disco dancing days. You know, the ones that he’s been asked not to wear when we have company over for dinner, or when we all go out to the buffet at Ponderosa on Fridays with the Evanses.  

Barn finds are almost commonplace. We usually picture people finding some partially disassembled 60s muscle car in a barn in western Indiana that had been a resort and casino frequented by well-to-do mice from all over the zip code. Or at least that’s what we like to picture barn finds being, despite most of them turning out to be facepalmingly sad affairs, like grandma’s old Buick that she sideswiped the mailbox with for 22 years straight.  But since this is the northeast, odds are that a garage find is much more likely to be more random, more Malaise, and more European.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Renault Alliance GTA

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Now here’s a car you just don’t see anymore (unless you live in southern Wisconsin) as it comes from an oft forgotten chapter of our nation’s automotive history. Specifically, it’s the chapter where AMC needed a bailout from a French automaker, and as part of that alliance got to build an American version of the Renault 9 at the old Nash factory. This is the chapter that comes immediately after the one about Carter-era galleons that had a bigger footprint than a Ford Excursion, and right before the chapter about late Reagan-era galleons that had a bigger footprint than a Ford Excursion. Next was chapter 11, and that was a chapter about bankruptcy.

This example appeared to be in great condition for its age and rarity. Admittedly, it’s hard to find a well-used or beater example of an Alliance or any of its brethren, as many of them are either in an new or driver condition, or have permanently relocated to a junkyard. Over 623,000 Alliances were built at AMC’s plant in Kenosha between 1982 and 1987, which is a stupendous number any way you look at it. The annual production numbers easily eclipsed the total annual import numbers of several other European makes combined, including those of Peugeot.

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