Renault Dauphine (pronounced [dɔfin]) is a rear-engined
economy car manufactured by
Renault in a single body style – a
three-box, 4-door saloon – as the successor to the
more than two million were manufactured during its 1956-1967
Along with such cars as the Volkswagen Beetle, Morris Minor,
Fiat 500, the Dauphine pioneered the modern European economy
Renault marketed variants of the Dauphine, including a sport model,
the Gordini, a luxury version, the Ondine, the 1093 factory racing
model, and the Caravelle/Floride, a Dauphine-based two-door coupé and
3.2 Styling and interior
3.3 Marrot at Renault
10 External links
As Louis Renault's successor, and as Renault's chairman, Pierre
Lefaucheux continued to defy the postwar French Ministry of Industrial
Production – which had wanted to convert
Renault solely to
truck manufacture. Lefaucheux instead saw Renault's survival in
automobiles and achieved considerable success with the 4CV, with over
500,000 produced by 1954.
The Dauphine was born during a conversation with Lefaucheux and
engineer Fernand Picard. The two agreed the 4CV was appropriate in its
postwar context, but that French consumers would soon need a car
appropriate for their increasing standard of living.
Internally known as "Project 109" the Dauphine's engineering began
in 1949 with engineers Fernand Picard, Robert Barthaud and Jacques
Ousset managing the project.
A 1951 survey conducted by
Renault indicated design parameters of a
car with a top speed of 110 km/h (68 mph), seating for four
passengers and fuel consumption of less than 7 L/100 km
(40 mpg‑imp; 34 mpg‑US). The survey indicated that
women held stronger opinions about a car's colors than about the car
itself (See below, Marrot at Renault).
Engineers spent the next five years developing the Dauphine.
Within the first year, designers had created a ⅛th-scale clay model,
studied the model's aerodynamics, built a full-scale clay model,
studied wood interior mockups of the seating, instrument panel, and
steering column – and built the first prototype in metal.
Having largely finalized the exterior design, testing of the
prototype began at Renault's facilities at Lardy, France –
by secrecy of night, on July 24, 1952.
Using new laboratories and new specially designed tracks,
engineers measured maximum speed, acceleration, braking and fuel
consumption as well as handling, heating and ventilation, ride, noise
levels and parts durability. Engineers tested parts by subjecting them
to twisting and vibration stresses, and then redesigning the parts for
By August 1953 head engineer Picard had an almond-green prototype
delivered to Madrid for dry condition testing, ultimately experiencing
only five flat tires and a generator failure after 2,200 km
(1,400 mi). Subsequently, Lefaucheux ordered engineers to
test a Dauphine prototype directly against a Volkswagen Beetle.
The engineers determined that noise levels were too high, interior
ventilation and door sealing were inadequate and most importantly, the
engine capacity was insufficient at only four CV (748 cc). The
four-cylinder engine was redesigned to increase its capacity to
845 cc by increasing the bore to 58 mm, giving the car a new
informal designation, the 5CV. By 1954 a second series of
prototypes incorporated updates, using the older prototypes for crash
Lefaucheux followed the testing carefully, often meeting with his
engineers for night testing to ensure secrecy, but did not live to
see the Dauphine enter production. He was killed in an automobile
accident on February 11, 1955, when he lost control of his Renault
Frégate on an icy road and was struck on the head by his unsecured
luggage as the car rolled over. The Flins factory was renamed in
his honor, and he was succeeded on the project by Pierre Dreyfus. A
monument in Lefaucheux's memory is erected at the Saint-Dizier highway
exit, Haute-Marne 52100.
By the end of testing, drivers had road tested prototypes in everyday
conditions including dry weather and dusty condition testing in
Madrid, engine testing in Bayonne, cold testing at the Arctic Circle
in Norway, suspension testing in Sicily, weatherseal testing in
then-Yugoslavia – a total of more than two million kilometres
of road and track testing.
In December 1955, Pierre Bonin (director of the Flins
and Fernand Picard presented the first example to leave the factory to
Pierre Dreyfus, who had taken over the project after Lefaucheux's
Renault officially revealed the model's existence to the press through
L’Auto Journal and L’Action Automobile et Touristique in November
1955, referring to it simply by its unofficial model designation "the
Advance press preview testing began on February 4, 1956, under the
Renault press secretary Robert Sicot, with six Dauphines
shipped to Corsica. Journalists were free to drive anywhere on the
island, while under contract not to release publication before the
embargo date of March 1, 1956.
The Dauphine debuted on March 6, 1956 at Paris' Palais de
Chaillot with over twenty thousand people attending, two days
before its official introduction at the 1956 Salon International de
l'Auto in Geneva.
In addition to its internal project number, Project 109, the prototype
had been called by its unofficial model designation, the "5CV".
Lefaucheux, Renault's chairman, often simply called it La machine de
Flins (the Flins machine), referring to the Flins factory where
Renault would ultimately initiate its production (and which would
later be named in Lefaucheux's honor).
Renault considered the name Corvette for its new model, but to
avoid a conflict with the recently launched Chevrolet Corvette
instead chose a name that reinforced the importance of the project's
predecessor, the 4CV, to France's postwar industrial rebirth.
The final name was attributed to a dinner conversation at l'auberge de
Port-Royal, chaired by Fernand Picard, where either Jean-Richard
Deshaies or Marcel Wiriath said "the 4CV is the Queen of the road, the
new arrival can only be the Dauphine. Dauphine is the feminine
form of the French feudal title of Dauphin, the heir apparent to the
Robert Opron and
Flaminio Bertoni of
wanted to name the
Citroën Ami6 the Dauphine, though by that time,
Renault had registered the name.
At introduction, the Dauphine was positioned in the marketplace
between the concurrently manufactured 4CV, and the much larger
Frégate. The new model followed the 4CV's rear-engine, four-door
three-box sedan format, while providing greater room and power and
pioneering a new focus for
Renault on interior and exterior color and
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 19–32 hp (14–24 kW). According to Road
& Track, the Dauphine accelerated from 0–110 km/h
(0–68 mph) in 32 seconds.
Engine cooling was facilitated by air
intakes behind each rear door and a vented rear fascia.
Heavier and 12 in (300 mm) longer than its predecessor, the
4-door body featured monocoque construction with "a pair of
perimeter-shaped longitudinal box sections and substantial
cross-bracing", but without the 4CV's rear-hinged suicide doors.
Swing axle suspension characteristics: :
camber change on bumps, jacking on rebound
Renault offered a three-speed manual transmission for
the Dauphine, with synchronizers on 2nd and 3rd gear. In October 1961
synchromesh was provided for the 1st gear.
There was also the option of a semi-automatic transmission - in effect
a manual-selection transmission coupled to dry clutch that engaged and
disengaged by touching the gearshift – beginning in 1957 with
an electromagnetically operated Ferlec clutch and no separate clutch
pedal – similar to Volkswagen's Autostick. Beginning in
1963, the Dauphine could be had with three-speed transmission with
electro-mechanical control, developed by Jaeger, which functioned as a
fully automatic transmission. Renault's "automatic transmission" was
controlled by five dash-mounted buttons: R N D 2 1. A Renault
advertisement at the time said "out went the stick, in went the
pushbuttons – and in stayed the zip, the fun, the economy
(35-40 miles a gallon isn't unusual). That's because the only
difference between our shift and shiftless cars is this: an electronic
control unit on our pushbutton model shifts the gears for you,
Suspension: Front suspension was conventional coil-spring/wishbone
layout with an anti-roll bar and rack-and-pinion steering, on a
detachable front cross member. Rear suspension was a high-pivot swing
axle with concentric coil-spring/telescopic dampers sitting atop the
swing tubes which
Renault called trumpet casings. With the exception
of the trunnion arms in the transaxle housing, there was no fore-aft
'location' of the rear suspension. The pressed
engine/transaxle/suspension mounting member was detachable from the
main body structure. 61 percent of the Dauphine's weight was
carried by the rear wheels.
The rear swing axle design, unless ameliorated by any of several
options, can allow rear tires to undergo large camber changes during
fast cornering, leading to oversteer – a dynamically unstable
condition in which a vehicle can lose control and spin.
on a front anti-roll bar as well as tire pressure differential to
eliminate oversteer characteristics – low front and high rear
tire pressure — and induce understeer. The tire pressure
differential strategy offered the disadvantage that owners and
mechanics could inadvertently but easily re-introduce oversteer
characteristics by over-inflating the front tires. In the United
States, drivers (and General Motors) experienced virtually the same
issues with the Chevrolet Corvair. In 1960
Renault revised the
suspension with the addition of extra rubber springs up front and
auxiliary air spring units (mounted inboard of the conventional coils)
at the rear – marketing the system as Aerostable –
and giving the rear wheels a small degree of negative camber and
increased cornering grip.
Engine configuration: Speaking about the Dauphine's rear-engine,
rear-wheel-drive layout, Renault's Fernand Picard said in a paper he
delivered in 1957 that the car was part of a rear-engine trend led by
Volkswagen, Fiat and
Renault whereby the rear drive/rear engine
configuration had increased from 2.6 percent of continental western
Europe's car production in 1946 to 26.6 percent in 1956. The
United Kingdom auto industry, which had also managed largely to avoid
the front-engine/front-wheel drive trend of the 1930s, was excluded
from Picard's figures.
0-60 mph seconds
0–97 km/h seconds
Type Ventoux 670-1
at 4000 rpm
112 km/h (70 mph)
Gordini - Ventoux 670-5
at 4000 rpm
130 km/h (81 mph)
Styling and interior
The Dauphine used a three-box design of the ponton genre, with
cargo volume forward and engine volume rearward.
Overall, Dauphine styling was a scaled down version of the Renault
Frégate, itself a classic three-box design of the ponton genre.
Renault received styling assistance for the Dauphine at the request of
Lefaucheux in June 1953 from
Luigi Segre of Carrozzeria Ghia,
especially with integrating the engine's air intake at the rear
The Dauphine had a front-hinged trunklid, which housed the headlights
and opened to a seven-cubic-foot trunk. The spare tire was carried
horizontally under the front of the car, behind an operable panel
below the bumper.
The interior featured adjustable front bucket seats and a rear bench
seat, a heater, painted dash matching the exterior, twin courtesy
lamps, a white steering wheel, rear bypassing (vs. roll down)
windows, twin horns (town and country) selectable by the driver and
twin open bins on the dashboard in lieu of gloveboxes. Exterior
finishes included a range of pastel colors.
Subsequent to its introduction, and as a promotion for both companies
(and an early instance of co-branding),
Renault worked with Jacques
Arpels of the prominent jewelers
Van Cleef and Arpels
Van Cleef and Arpels to turn a
Dauphine dashboard into a work of art.
Marrot at Renault
Main article: Paule Marrot
In 1950, the president of
General Motors (GM) had visited Renault,
noting the cars' drab colors, inside and out. According to their
own 1951 Survey, Renault's studies had shown that women held stronger
opinions on the colors of a car than the actual choice of a particular
model. Coincidentally, well-known Parisian textile artist Paule
Marrot (1902–1987) had written to Renault's chairman,
Lefaucheux, giving her opinion that the cars of postwar Paris were
a uniformly somber parade, and wondering whether an artist could not
help find fresh, vibrant colors.
Marrot had attended Paris' prestigious L’école des Arts
Décoratifs, had won a gold medal in 1925 at the Exposition
Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes and had
received a 1928 Prix Blumenthal.
Convinced of her value to the project,
Pierre Lefaucheux made her a
member of the Dauphine team — "to rid
Renault of their stuffy image.
After decades of being dipped in various shades of black and grey, car
bodies [would be] painted in happy pastels."
Working with four others and after setting up a new test laboratory to
measure fabric wear as well as paint wear and uniformity, Marrot
proposed new body and interior colors. The new paint colors contrasted
with those from the competition, the
Peugeot 203 and Simca Aronde,
including bright colors with names such as Rouge Montijo, Jaune
Bahamas, Bleu Hoggar and Blanc Réja. Marrot and her team then
developed complementary interior fabrics for the seats and door
panels, turning to Paris' large textile houses. Marrot also
designed the Dauphine's emblem of three dolphins over a crown,
which adorned the Dauphine's steering wheel and hood throughout its
Later in life, Marrot went on to win the French Légion d'honneur
(Legion of Honor), and Marrot's textiles were later licensed by
companies as diverse as Nike and Hayden-Harnett.
The Ondine was offered with a 4-speed transmission, from 1960 to
Gordini version was offered with a 4-speed transmission,
four-wheel disc brakes from 1964 and increased horsepower, performance
tuned by Amédée
Gordini to 37 hp (27.2 kW).
The 1093 was a factory racing model limited edition of 2,140
homologated, which were tuned to 55 hp (41 kW) and featured
a twin-barrel carburettor, four-speed manual transmission and
tachometer, had a top speed of 140 km/h (87 mph), and were
produced in 1962 and 1963. All were painted white with two thin blue
stripes running front to back along the hood, roof and trunk.
Dauphine Alfa Romeo
Argentine Dauphine (made by Industrias Kaiser Argentina) - This unit
was made in 1962 - Note the additional piece over the bumpers
Argentine Dauphine (made by Industrias Kaiser Argentina) - This unit
was made in 1962 - Note the additional piece over the bumpers
Renault manufactured the Dauphine at its Flins factory, with a car
leaving the assembly line every 20–30 seconds, and with engines from
the company's headquarters factory on
Île Seguin in Billancourt,
Paris. The highly automated Billancourt site could produce an engine
every 28 seconds.
The Dauphine was also manufactured worldwide:
Industrias Kaiser Argentina
Industrias Kaiser Argentina produced under the Renault
License in the Santa Isabel facility 97,209 units of IKA Dauphine and
Gordinis. Dauphine (1960–66),
(1967–70, was a simplified model, without accessories). In Argentina
the law asks the manufacturers to put an additional piece over the
bumpers, seen in the photographs of an Argentine unit.
Renault (Australia) Pty Ltd assembled the Dauphine at
Brazil: The Dauphine was also produced under license by
Willys-Overland, between 1959 and 1968, in the following versions:
Dauphine: 23,887 units (1959–65); "Gordini" 41,052 units
Renault 1093": 721 units (1963–1965); "Teimoso"
(simplified model, without accessories): 8,967 units (1965–1967).
Renault Teimoso 1966
A total of 74,627 units was produced in Brazil.
Israel manufactured the
845 cc between 1957 and 1960 later in 1963 also the Hino Contessa
900 with the Dauphine's platform.
Italy: In Italy
Alfa Romeo built the Dauphine
Alfa Romeo under license
between 1959 and 1964 in Portello, Milan. Differences with the French
model are: electricity (Magneti-Marelli) 12 Volts, special lights, and
the logo "Dauphine Alfa Romeo" or "Ondine Alfa Romeo".
New Zealand: Dauphines were assembled under contract to W R Smallbone
Ltd by Todd Motors'
Petone plant from 1961 to 1967, according to Mark
Webster's book Assembly. This lists 1964 output at 199 units, 384 in
1965, 354 in 1966 and 233 in 1967.
shifted in 1967 to Campbell Industries in Thames and Campbell Motors
took over the franchise in 1968. Campbell's also assembled the Hino
Contessa from 1966 to 1968. When
Renault assembly began in Australia
in the late 1960s, Campbell's supplied jigs.
Japan: In Japan, the
Hino Contessa 900 used the Dauphine's platform
Spain: In Spain, Renault's subsidiary F.A.S.A built Dauphine FASA
between 1958-1967 (125,912 units).
United States: The Dauphine was the base vehicle for the electric
Henney Kilowatt. Among the aftermarket options for the Dauphine was a
supercharger from United States company Judson Research & Mfg.
Co.; this sold in 1958 for US$165, and was designed to be installed in
about two hours without any chassis or body modifications.
By the early 1960s, Renault's sought to avoid the single-model-culture
that had nearly destroyed Volkswagen, accelerating the development of
the Dauphine's successor, the R8, which supplemented the Dauphine in
Renault celebrated the end of Dauphine production with a
limited edition of 1000 models. The last of the base-model
Dauphines was produced in December 1966 and the last
were sold in December 1967. By this time the Dauphine had been
excluded from the manufacturer's production lines and Dauphine
assembly during the model's final years was subcontracted, along with
that of the Caravelle, to
Brissonneau and Lotz at Creil.
In 1956, according to a retrospective in The Independent, when the
Dauphine debuted "it proved an almost instant success across the
globe: the new coachwork was deemed highly elegant, the price was low,
and the Dauphine's overall size was still suitable for congested
In 1957 the US motoring weekly The Motor called the Dauphine the
"prettiest little four-seater in the world".
In June 1957
Popular Science gave a phonetic tip on how to pronounce
the car's name as Renno DOUGH-feen, saying "the car feels and acts
like a Detroit product, despite the caboose engine" and adding
"Nimble, it reaches 50 mph in 19 seconds. It darts through traffic
like a beagle after a cottontail."
Popular Science had both good and bad to report, saying "It
has a host of exquisite touches, you can lock the steering wheel with
the ignition key, an ideal frustration for thieves. Choking is
automatic. The engine, for its size, is one of Europe's best. Driver
visibility is good. The ride is soft, the cornering excellent. Overall
maneuverability may be tops among the more popular imports. The
owner's manual is the most complete." On the negative side, the
magazine said "Yet the Dauphine incorporates a bag of annoyances
peculiar to itself. On the car tested, too much reach was required in
moving the transmission-mounted shift lever. There was inadequate toe
clearance above the pedals. In an anxiety to shrink the body, the
maker intrudes the wheel wells into the front compartment. Passengers
have to stoop and squat to get in. The doors lack hold-opens. The
transmission whines. Too-liberal use of plastics cheapens an otherwise
attractive interior and inclusion of two-toned horns for town and
country is – for the U.S.A. – pure caprice. But the real
fault of this car is low power and too-ambitious transmission and axle
ratios. Above 40 mph the remarkably quiet little engine begins
sighing over its chores. It has a marked reluctance for passing at
highway speeds. Will Paris please synchronize that first gear?"
In 1962 Road & Track tested the Dauphine
Gordini and called it
'peevish,' with a top speed of 80 mph (130 km/h) and a 0 to
60 mph (97 km/h) time of 22.3 seconds.
Motor Trend said "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
A retrospective in
The Evening Chronicle
The Evening Chronicle noted the Dauphine's
propensity to rust if not given careful attention, saying also a
Dauphine "has to be treated with a lot of respect because it was one
of the true pioneers of the modern continental car."
In July 2010 Jonathan Burnette, a Texas mechanic, set out to drive his
1959 Dauphine to
Alaska and back, saying "I've driven these cars all
over the country, many, many times, and I've never had that much
trouble at all. A lot of people don't like this car, so it's kind of
like the underdog."
In 1966 a
Renault press statement said Dauphine production passed the
million mark in just four years – more quickly than any other
car manufactured in Europe.
In the United Kingdom, the Dauphine was one of the first imported cars
to sell in large numbers, in a market formerly dominated by British
manufacturers and local subsidiaries of American manufacturers.
A total of 2,150,738 Dauphines were produced in its production run of
A 1958 Time article said: "The car that has come up fastest in the US
market in the past year is Renault's Dauphine. A snub-nosed 32-hp
Sedan, it is low-priced, economical and small enough to shoehorn into
a small parking space." The same article said "The Dauphine is
already outselling Volkswagen in eleven U.S. states, including Texas.
So brisk is demand that
Renault and the French Line have formed a new
shipping company CAT (Compagnie d'Affrètement et de Transport).
with six freighters that ferry up to 1,060 Dauphines each across the
Atlantic. To serve the U.S. buyer,
Renault in just 18 months has also
built a nationwide network of 16 U.S. distributors and 410
After initial success in the U.S. market, the Dauphine began to
suffer. An internal agent, Bernard Hanon (who would later become
chairman of Renault), conducted a thorough market study that
signaled trouble, and sent his report to the director of
in New York. The director filed the report away without acting on
it; it was found years later by envoys from corporate headquarters in
Billancourt. The damage had already been done; thousands of unordered
Dauphines sat at ports worldwide, decaying. The damage to
immense; and Régie
Renault faced the first serious crisis in its
By October 1960 a slump had hit imported cars in the US. Time reported
that "In August the U.S. imported 50% fewer French cars than in July,
and for the first six months of the year imports ran 33% below the
rate for the same period in 1959. Two ships loaded with Renault
Dauphines were turned back in mid-Atlantic because the docks in New
York were already overcrowded with unsold Dauphines."
In the U.S.,
Renault sold 28,000 Dauphines in 1957, 57,000 in 1958 and
102,000 in 1959 — falling to 12,106 by 1966.
Renault Dauphine at the top of the Continental Divide, in
Colorado, USA in August, 1964
A 2008 retrospective article in
The Independent said "as soon as the
US market had come to grips with the Dauphine's swing-axle manners and
useless acceleration, they were pole-axed by its abysmal corrosion
record. It would take only one New York winter of driving on
salt-strewn roads to give a Dauphine front wings that resembled net
In 1967, in debut U.S. magazine advertising for the Dauphine's
Renault said: "Our [earlier] cars were not fully prepared
to meet the demands of America ... More than a fair share of
things went wrong with our cars. Less than a fair share of our dealers
were equipped to deal with what went wrong," describing the Dauphine's
replacement as "The
Renault for people who swore they would never buy
In a 2000 survey,
Car Talk named the Dauphine the 9th Worst Car Of The
Millennium, calling it "truly unencumbered by the engineering
process" — albeit in a survey where
Tom Magliozzi called the
voters "a self-selecting bunch of wackos, most of whom are really
aggravated by a bad experience with one of the cars".
In 2007, Time with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
Dan Neil named
the Dauphine one of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time, calling it "the
most ineffective bit of French engineering since the Maginot Line" and
saying that it could actually be heard rusting.
The Dauphine achieved numerous motorsport victories, including taking
the first four places at the 1956
Mille Miglia with a factory team of
five cars with five-speed gearboxes; winning the 1956 Tour de
Corsica Rally) with Belgian female drivers Gilberte Thirion and
Nadege Ferrier; winning the 1958
Monte Carlo Rally
Monte Carlo Rally and the Tour de
Corse with drivers Guy Monraisse and Jacques Féret; winning the 1959
Rallye Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast Rally); and in 1962 winning the
Tour de Corse
Tour de Corse (Dauphine 1093 with drivers Pierre Orsini and Jean
Canonicci). The Dauphine also participated in the 1966 Trans-American
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Renault on the Go". Time Magazine, Jan. 06, 1958.
January 6, 1958.
^ a b c "
Renault Historie (in German)". Renaultoloog - Andreas
Gaubatz. Ein gewisser Bernard Hanon, von dem später an anderer Stelle
noch zu lesen sein wird, schreibt während seines Studiums in den USA
einen Bericht über die Marktentwicklung des nord-amerikanischen
Marktes und schickt diesen an den Direktor der RENAULT Inc. in New
York. Dieser reagiert verärgert und stopft den Bericht in eine
Schublade. Jahre später werden ihn dort Abgesandte aus Billancourt
finden. Doch dann ist es bereits zu spät. Hanon soll Recht behalten.
Der Markt in den USA bricht für RENAULT zusammen. Tausende Dauphine
stehen in den Häfen zur Verschiffung bereit, warten auf die
Bestellungen aus Übersee. Doch die Auftragsbücher bleiben leer! Die
Fahrzeuge auf Halde an den Seehäfen verrotten. Der Schaden ist
Renault That Rumbled". Hemmings.com, KARL LUDVIGSEN. March 1,
^ "AUTOS: Compacts in Paris". Time Magazine, Oct. 17 1960. October 17,
^ "The Worst Cars of the Millennium". Car Talk. Retrieved
^ "For Worst Performance by a Car: The Envelope, Please..." The New
York Times, Keith Martin, April 2, 2000. April 2, 2000.
^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on
2012-04-24. Retrieved 2014-08-16. First race of the season.
Listed as "
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