Introduced in 1962, the Renault 8 eschewed the swoopy rounded looks of its predecessor, the lovable Dauphine, for a more fashionable angular look. Underneath its chiselled new skin though, its basic architecture remained very close to the Dauphine – retaining the rear-engined layout. The R8 did introduce some innovations, including all-wheel disc brakes, and the option of an automatic gearbox, which at the time was unusual for a car of this class.
The introduction of the performance focussed R8 Gordini kick-started a trend of hotted-up Renaults that has continued to this day. Updated engines and running gear for the rest of the R8 range including the more luxurious R10 variants kept demand high through the production run, and it sold in massive numbers.
In usual French tradition the Renault 8 also continued to be built, under licence, in various countries around the world long after official production in France had ceased. Winning a number of European rallies gained the R8 an enviable reputation for performance and reliability, making a well-maintained (and mildly tuned) example is a great useable classic today.
Which one to buy?
The Renault 8 range features a single bodystyle, the four-door saloon, but there’s a fair amount of different versions and spec to choose from. While automatic gearboxes were available, the vast majority today are manuals, while more powerful engines were introduced throughout the production run.
Early models came with a smooth 43bhp 956cc engine, and the introduction of a larger 1.1-litre option in 1964 increased power output by 6bhp. The facelifted 8S added a further 10bhp to this total, as well as a more appealing updated interior. While these were all great little cars, most people gravitate towards the more sporting Gordini models.
The first of the Gordinis was introduced in 1964 with a heavily modified twin-carb 1.1-litre engine, developing a pokey 89bhp. Twin rear shocks, uprated close-ratio gearbox and numerous performance enhancements also improved things massively. This was a Renault aimed squarely at the sports car market.
In 1967 the entire model range received a substantial facelift, seeing the Gordini’s power output swell to an enlarged 99bhp, thanks to a 1.3-litre power plant. The rear-engined, rear wheel drive chassis could prove tricky at the limit and this was especially the case with the Gordini’s.
Thanks to the interchangeability of parts, a large number of surviving cars may have been modified, with a common modification to install more powerful engines, or build full-on Gordini-style replicas. Check over all documentation and service histories to ensure that the car has been well maintained over the years, and that it isn’t a standard model posing as one of the more desirable variants.
The Renault 8S was a sportier version of the standard car with a bit more power and the same larger twin headlights of the Gordini. Later models received uprated gearboxes and the automatic versions are best left alone due to parts scarcity.
There are precious few good condition Renault 8s out there, so being too picky is generally not an option today. Gordinis tend to pop up from time to time at auctions or specialists, while more mainstream versions can be found online or through the Renault car club.
Performance and specs
Renault 8 Gordini 1300
Engine 1255cc, 8valve OHV in-line four-cylinder
Power 99bhp @ 6750rpm
Torque 86lb ft @ 5000rpm
Top speed 108mph
0-60mph 10.9 seconds
Fuel consumption 30mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Curb weight 850kg
• Rust is an ever present issue and while great strides were made to improve on the abysmal corrosion that beset the Dauphine, it is essential that all the usual trouble spots should be checked. This includes the front and rear footwells, all arches, bottom of door sills and around the hinges. A rusted through body shell can make restoration unfeasible.
• Most engines are robust, and many owners will have upgraded or replaced the original motors, especially in the standard versions. This means that a thorough check over by a specialist is usually worth carrying out, as it will ensure that any conversion work has been done properly
• Most parts can be found through specialists and clubs, and there is a lot of specialist knowledge surrounding the modification scene for these cars should you be looking to build a rally car.
• Disc Brakes were standard all-round, however some versions of the Renault 8 built outside of France were fitted with drum brakes. Both systems work well enough however.
• Gearboxes were improved throughout production, with a three- and four-speed ‘box for the standard cars and 1100 Gordini and a five-speed box for the 1300 Gordini. Watch out for crunching second gears as this can indicate an abused transmission and damaged synchros.
1962: Renault 8 introduced with 956cc 43bhp, inline four-cylinder engine.
1963: Semi-automatic transmission introduced as an option
1964: Renault 8 Major introduced with more powerful 1108cc 49bhp engine. Performance Gordini model introduced with 89bhp 1.1-litre engine. Gordini models feature close-ratio four-speed gearbox, uprated suspension and unique blue on white paintwork
1965: 8 Major replaced by 10 Major, which featured more luxurious interior and redesigned front and rear body panels
1967: Major revisions to entire Renault 8 range. R8 Gordini received quad headlights and uprated to 1255cc engine producing 99bhp. Renault 8 Major reintroduced as basic model, and 8S introduced as sporty variant with 59bhp 1.1L engine
1973: Renault 8 production ends in France
1976: Global production of Renault 8 ends
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Original mint condition Gordinis are very rare, and are commanding up to £30,000 in today’s market. There are a fair few replicas out there though, which generally sell for a fraction of that value. Obviously, a replica’s collectability and potential future value will not be in the same league, but it can offer good value for money.
A standard, unmolested early or face lifted Renault 8 can be found for between £2500-£5000. Buying cheap is generally not a good idea, as the time and effort to effect a proper restoration can easily outstrip the cheaper purchase price.
Words: John Tallodi