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Motoring: Renault Dauphine - 1956

If you ever wanted to know what sank Renault in the U.S. and kept the French manufacture out in the cold for decades, look no further back in history than "Le Car" as it was unaffectionately known there. The Dauphine, one of the first postwar Renaults, was analogous to the first Hyundai Excel: high volume, new-fangled and bad. Renault used to be one of the biggest car companies; the Dauphine, initially a populist vehicle that sold neck and neck with Volkswagen's Beetle for a time in the late 1950s, started a pattern of unacceptable engineering that almost killed the company.

It was drastically underpowered - we're talking about taking half a minute to get to 0-100 kph and a top speed of 70km/hr - and handled awfully thanks to its rear engine, which threw the weight ratio between front and back wheels into hyper spin. Up against gas-guzzling V8s in the US, the Dauphine was never in the race! In 2002, the auto enthusiasts' website Car Talk voted the Dauphine the 9th Worst Car Of The Millennium, calling it "truly unencumbered by the engineering process".

The Dauphine was launched in 1956 to replace the highly successful Renault 4CV. Like the 4CV, the Dauphine used a single-shell monocoque body. It was a 4-door saloon design as was the 4CV, but it lacked the rear-hinged "suicide doors" of the 4CV. It was also heavier and 12 inches longer than its predecessor, but used the same engine, albeit a version increased in size and power from 760 cc to 845 cc and 19 hp to 32 hp (14 kW to 24 kW). The Dauphine was originally intended to be called the Corvette, but was changed to Dauphine (the female form of the French feudal title of Dauphin) to avoid confusion with the recently-launched Chevrolet Corvette.

The Renault Dauphine was produced from 1956 to 1967. A luxury version, badged as the Renault Ondine was sold from 1960 to 1962. The Dauphine was assembled in many countries; South Africa, Australia, Mexico, Belgium and Ireland and under license in Italy, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, USA and Japan. A sport model, the Gordini, was also available with a standard 4-speed transmission and 4-wheel disc brakes, as well as engine modifications to increase the horsepower. A factory racing model, the "1093" was homologated with about 2140 units produced in 1962/3. 2,150,738 Dauphines were produced in its production run. In the United Kingdom, it was one of the first imported cars to sell in large numbers, in a market that had, until then, been dominated by British manufacturers.

The Renault Dauphine is one of only a handful cars that has the ability to poke its tongue out

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