’74 Renault R17

Only the French would paint a car this color!

I once owned a French car. There. I said it. Not only was it Gallic, it was bright green and fuel injected. Go figure. Those crazy Frogs. Okay, as long as I’m “coming out”, actually, I’ve owned two French cars. The other one was Peugeot 504 wagon that was so weird and funky it was actually cool. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.

Seriously, I think this was one of those cars that could be defined as a ‘sleeper’. Not in the sense that it was so slow that it was a snooze to drive, but in the sense that you’d never know how fast it was until you got it in it and got on it. Today, of course, we sort of expect Renault to build little pocket rockets but back in the early 70s it wasn’t so. Renault was mostly known for the hopelessly cute Dauphine and a number of other econo boxes. So the R17 was a bit of a departure.

I happened upon my example while on the look for a Fiat 128 sedan that I was contemplating turning into a sedan racer. A couple of friends of my at the time, ran a tuner shop for Fiats where I used to hang out on occasion. One day, while visiting, one of them mentioned he knew of a this Renault that was a little screamer. I was skeptical but these guys knew their stuff so I chased the car down. It was real green and real weird on the inside. Switches were in positions that only made sense to the French. The shifter felt like you were stirring a pot but, man, did the thing hustle. I was completely surprised.

The owner had been trying to sell it for quite a while so as soon as I showed interest he was all over making a deal. I took ownership and never really did anything to it other than change the oil…which you needed to do regularly or risk imploding the motor.

My best story about the car involves some late night partying. I was “in between” things as polite folks say and was staying (not living) with my mom at her townhouse at the time. Sitting at the kitchen table after a late night on the town, my mom looks over her paper and inquires if I had a good time the past night. Total deadpan. Kind of an odd question I thought.

I had my curiosty satisfied when I stepped out the front door to see the R17 parked quite neatly right outside. It appears that I had eschewed the street and the driveway altogether, electing to hop the curb and drive straight across the lawn. Shortest way between two points.

To my kids, if you’re reading this, I’ll deny everything.

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