1978 Renault R17 Gordini

Update, 10/13/09: Here it is again. Seller (flipper?) is trying to double his money to $3500, which has to be all the money for one of these. He offers more detail, including that it’s got 38,000 miles, a sliding sunroof, and fuel injection. It was apparently dry-stored in a heated garage, and comes with all records.

Update, 10/5/09: Here’s a 1972 R17 for only $750 in Minneapolis, and in pretty decent shape too. Check out the sweet sport striping just above the rockers.

1972 Renault 17

Here’s a car you don’t see every day, that might give my Lancia a run for its money in terms of rarity on a budget. The fact that Renault made (essentially) two versions of the same car, the 15 and the 17, under the same brand, is something you’ll probably only see a government-owned car company doing! Most in America have disappeared, and to be honest I can’t ever recall seeing one of these in person. Needless to say, that’s where some of the fascination lies for me – I suppose if I had one of these I could cover both sides of the annual French-Italian show in southern California.

This particular car is a 17 Gordini, listed on craigslist in St. Genevieve county, MO for $1800. It’s the top of the range with the 107hp (Euro power – I’m guessing less with smog controls) fuel-injected R1313 engine originally seen in the 16 TS, plus a 5-speed transmission. While this car is the last to carry the Gordini name, it’s not clear that he actually had anything to do with modifying the car. Most of the underneath of the car is shared with the more humble Renault 12.

1978 Renault R17 Gordini side

As you can see, it’s a pretty visually interesting car, certainly more so than the 15, which did without that funky dual-rear-side window arrangement. Maybe this is where Chrysler got the inspiration for their Lancer/Daytona coupes’ side profile, which was even odder. Some period alloys would toughen up the look a bit, although I’m partial to OEM wheels on cars this unusual. The part-vinyl roof and louvered rear windows allude to some sort of targa top arrangement, while the trunklid lip spoiler, mudflaps, and lower-door striping give it a wanna-be rally look in a 1970s way.

1978 Renault 17 Gordini interior

With these seats, bolstered as they are, you’d expect this car is powered by an engine out of an R5 turbo! Note the split front bolster – does the passenger really need different support on his right and left legs? The interior seems to be in remarkable shape for a car of its age, which, combined with the fact that the car still exists 31 years later, suggests it was garaged winters. Careful eyes might notice a bit of rusty-looking color at the base of the b-pillar.

1978 Renault R17 Gordini rear

The rear shot confirms most of the shutlines are pretty good, at least as much as one can see on these pictures. While you can see why this car would not have found mainstream success alongside competitors such as the Ford Capri, BMW 320i, and VW Scirocco, its unusual styling and decent drivetrain spec, along with its parts commonality with the R12 makes it an appealing alternative.

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29 Responses to “1978 Renault R17 Gordini”

  1. John Says:

    Way back in the 80’s I had a Renault Gordini R17 convertible. This car was in Montana, Billings area. There were actually 2 of these cars there both black with red interior. The car was a real POS. but I loved it. I drove the car when I moved back to NY and barely made it , my father, a professional mechanic, wouldn’t even help me fix it, told me not to waste money on the car. I drove it until the engine blew up, literally.
    I left the car on the side of the road in massachutes. Never to be heard of again.

    All these years I always thought about the car and how special it was to me. So if anyone has a handle on one I would like to know about it as I want to restore one for old times sake.

    • Jesse Says:

      I have a 78 Gordini I have been considering selling. I have 4 kids and no time to put into it. I makes me sad to see it sit and deteriate. I would like to see it go to a good home, I would love to be driving it again but just don’t have the extra love to give to it. It has the original Mag wheels plus steel wheels. Plus extrt parts such as engine and other under the hood parts.

      • Chris Keen Says:

        Send a couple pics (and details, if you have time) and I’ll write a quick post on it if you like.

      • alberto sbarra Says:

        Jesse have you sold the R17?

      • juan m castillo Says:

        hi my name is juan im looking for 79 r17 or 77 r12 gtl manual transmission pleas contact me at jucastil777@yahoo.com

      • John Says:

        Had two R17 Gordinis, all-around fun car. The first was a 76, the motor was strong and sweet, the car really moved out for a small non-turbocharged car, but the rockers eventually rusted out and the bushing in the distributor wore out. Trying to find replacement bushings was impossible, but found a 79 with a blown motor for a $100, transplanted the 76 (with the “new” 79 distributor) and got another 4 years out of it before brakes/wheel bushings went. I found it very reliable, and easy (but not obvious) to work on, never left me stranded.

        If anyone knows of a 76 Gordini, I would be very interested in giving it a good home, still have a manual and some parts, can reach me at woopdeedoodaa@yahoo.com

  2. mike matthews Says:

    you won’t believe this, but back in 1981, I owned a light blue gordini in billings, mt. had a lot of trouble keeping it running. even the dealership couldn’t keep it running. i junked it. but it was special. when it ran it was a blast.

  3. Rob Jestadt Says:

    My 78 17 Gordini has been my daily driver for many years. I know this car quite well,its fabulous. 200,000 miles now,I’m in the repaint process. Used as a ski car,hillclimb racer and loaned to a girlfriend for a couple of years. If it breaks,take it off. Bypass flowmeter points. Add filter before fuel pump. Set lower A arms to run flat camber. Clean oil pump screen! Set timing at 35 degrees max. If your brave,enter flowmeter,relax spring slighly,radius trap door 1/16″. Remove stock muffler,add two cherry bombs
    and it will thrill you!

  4. R1326 Says:

    Starting an R17 and perhaps R15 registry. Please contact via email about your R17 so we can track our cars.

    Thanks!

  5. bob Says:

    i purchased a 1973 new Renault 17 Gordini on Long Island back in 1973. I loved the car and everyone would pull up to it not knowing what it was or what to expect.

    Except for a throw-out bearing that went and took forever to get, it was a fun auto!

    • R1326 Says:

      So few R17s on Long Island! Had one of the first 17 Gordini coupe/convertibles on Long Island (a 1974 model). Took over 4 months to deliver after the order was placed. And yes, no one knew what to expect or what it was when we were on the road. Our dealer serviced only a handful in the mid-70s! How long did you own your 17, Bob?

  6. Dale Says:

    I had a 1978 Gordini and would buy one again today. I drove it for 5 years, my sister drove it for another 4 years and my nephew for 2 more. Anyone who had issues with theirs I’d say didn’t take care of them (like engine AND tranny oil), or anti-freeze flushes. Probably the worst aspect was the exhaust system. Would have loved to put the Fuego Turbo into it!

    I replaced it with a Fuego 2.2l. I loved that car too!

  7. Gary Says:

    I Have to agree with Dale. I had a 1975 Gordini I loved. The only problems I had with it were problems I caused. That wasn’t very often even though I missused and abused it. While many of the writers in this forum seem to have loved their Gordini’s, the seem embarrassed to brag about them. I’m not. I was constantly street raceing it, which I’m ashamed of today. I also used it as my offroad vehical.
    What it lacked in ground clearence, it made up for with the front wheel drive. In the seventies front whell drive was very unusall. It only existed in the Oldsmobile Toronado, Volkswagon Rabbit, and the Renault 5, and 17. I’m an avid hunter and fisherman in WV, so I would throw a set of “snow” tires on it before I left the house and add chains when the going got rough and go, sometimes with four guys in it. Yes the back seat was uncomfortable and crowded, but our other option was a buddy’s rear wheel drive Chevy Luv. That ment two guys had to ride outside and it wouldn’t go places the Renault did. I told you I missused and abused it.
    I drove that car for years, but I kept up all the preventive maintainence. Oil changes, tune ups, filters, grease, quality gas, I used Sunoco 260 when I could get it. It was the easiest car you ever saw to change the tires on. The car was so light the included scissor jack went up with a speed wrench like the car wasn’t on it. Then you pull three lug nuts, remember it only had three lugs which was often a topic of conversation.
    The cars acceleration was great to. I guess that’s why I was raceing it so much. It weighed less than a Volkswagon beetle, but the high compression, fuel injected, hemi engine had three times the horsepower. It wasn’t much good for an 1/8th mile because like all cars the weight shifted to rear tires when you launched. Not a good thing for a front wheel drive car. It was a little more competive in the 1/5th mile and good enough in the 1/4. Where the car really suprised everyone though was the crooked mountain roads of West Virginia. That little car outclassed everthing it ever went up against. The front wheel drive would pull it through the corners and if the back end got a little loose you just added a little power and pulled it back straight as you accellerate to the next corner. The car was so light you could brake much later than the competition. That car and I took on all challengers, Mustangs, Comaros, Corvettes, and even Challengers. It never dissapointed me.
    There were a couple of issues discussed in this forum I would like to address. One is wether or not Gordini had anything to do with the car. Renault had two versions of the 17. The Renault 17 had a conventional 4 cylinder engine. The Renault 17 Gordini had some extra striping and different wheels, but the big difference was the engine. The Gordini had a mechanical port fuel injected, high compression (9.5), Hemi. This engine was designed by Gordini. The other issue is some people have talked about putting a turbo on the Gordini. While that sounds exiting at first glance, I see lots of problems. First the engine is already 9.5 to 1 compression. You can’t put a turbo on that and expect the engine to hold up. You would have to change out the pistons for a much lower compression. Second the engine is mechanicaly fuel injected. The turbo gives more power by allowing you to put more of the fuel air mixture in the cylinder before compression. However the turbo only supplies the air. Modifing the mechanical fuel injection to add more fuel to the mixture is not near as easy as today’s computer controlled electronic fuel injections.
    I’ll close by saying Thank You. I was just browsing when I got a wild hair and googled the gordini. I never expected to find some many people with so many memories. Thank you for takeing the time to read mine.

  8. Chris Keen Says:

    Really impressed by the amount of commentary these two R17s have generated… I’ll be keeping my eye open for one. I’m surprised I don’t see them in the SF Bay Area, which seems a magnet for odd cars.

  9. R1326 Says:

    I am very impressed about the interest, but the cars were nicely made and perform well. I presently own an R17 Gordini (or two!) for the past 12 years, and they have been more fun than ever.

    As stated, would like to start a registry, so leave contact information in this forum and we can get started.

  10. Back in Black – Pair of Renault 17 Gordinis « Rusty But Trusty Says:

    […] here, I stumbled across a pair of Renault 17s for sale. Knowing the significant amount of interest this car is still generating, I couldn’t let the listing pass without doing a quick writeup. Since […]

  11. Bruce Says:

    Hello R1326,
    I believe I have an R1326 that was transplanted into my old my Lotus, but I am trying to confirm that Renault engine number 843 7 13 is in fact an R1326. Is there a reference source anywhere that can confirm these two relate? And can you tell me if these engine numbers mean that my 843 was in fact originally from an R17 Gordini? Thanks BW

    • R1326 Says:

      Bruce,

      The 843 engine is seen in many “made for the USA” Renaults from January 1974 onward, usually from the R12, R15, R17 and the R17 Gordini. (It may have also been in the USA Fuego/R18s). The 843-13 was for vehicles with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection only – started in the USA 17 Gordinis I believe starting from July, 1974. Has a slightly higher compression ratio, too, than the 843-15 engine fitted to the carbureted R15s and R17s. Note that the R17 Gordini before July 1974, it had the 807 engine seen in many other countries with 1565cc (and it had Bosch D-Jet Injection). This information can probably be obtained from a repair manual. I do not know why there is a “7” in the middle of the 843-13. The longer string of numbers is the engine serial number. And yes, it would be from a 1979 Renault 17 Gordini since many cars had their engines removed to be placed into Europas. Webers were often seen replacing the fuel injection.

      Hope this helps.

  12. don Says:

    I once owned a beautiful 1973 Gordini that was originally shipped to the U.S. but needed to be converted to U.S. standards which meant that the bumpers had to be bigger, steel beams added inside the doors and 2 anti-smog air pumps for the engine. An Audi/Porche dealership in New York did the conversion nicely but the door panels were obviously removed and then re-installed. She was Metallic Mint Green with a saddle interior and yes, the petal seats. It was a convertible but had a hard top too. The air pumps didn’t last very long nor did the computer controlled fuel injection system. Got rid of that crap quickly and went with 2 Weber carbs which required cutting a hole into the right front wheel well so that it would all fit properlly. It was one wicked character that constantly needed front tires for some strange reason. It also had a very scary tendency to let the back end step-out on occassion but that was usually corrected by simply pressing on the gas pedal a little harder. With the top open and the windows down that car was a girl magnet in Atlanta, Ga! Sadly, it was stolen! I still have the title but,,, a private investigator told me it probably went to Los Angeles and was parted out for the few other Gordini’s still surviving here in America. Man, I had fun with that car though. It was even used on a photo shoot once with a beautiful model caressing that weird bump on the hood (the one were the fuel injection system used to live). I’d love to hear more stories about Gordini!!! Lol.

  13. don Says:

    BTW; my friend in Alabama has a Lotus Europa with a Renault engine and super long water hoses that seem to be a constant nightmare for him just trying to keep the engine cooled.

  14. R1326 Says:

    Don –

    Interesting to hear of a Euro-Spec R17. Could it have been a later model year? The “petal seats” came to be in mid-76 in Europe, and 1977 in the US.

    Post some pictures if you have them. Sounds like a great car! Quite fast with the Webers.

    There are some still loved by their owners in the US, but many were not well maintained after the 6-10 year mark.

  15. Brian Smith Says:

    I love those bucket seats- i would love to find a pair. Also, I am looking for the side window louvers, any ideas?

  16. Rob Says:

    I too just googled Renault to try and find the car i used to drive for a car dealer I worked for in Md. They sold Honda civics but HIS car was this Gordini. A Bright ORANGE one with as I recall black louvers or cladding or trim……, and man did it FLY! I drove the hell out of it daily for dealership “errands” all over the Washington DC area for probably 6-9 months around 1973-5 . Always got lots of looks, speed limit was 70 back then but WHO did 70 then? more like 75-80. It Always had a “CLUNK” in the front on hard right turns ( probably MUCH harder than normal) but who cares, it was a dealer tag car, right? LOL.
    Sadly it was sold as a used car when the mileage got up there, and the day it left the lot; the new owner WRAPPED it around a TREE!
    DAMN!!!!!!
    Fond, Memories……………..:)

  17. alberto sbarra Says:

    Gents:Re
    here a link of the car I’m doing a restoration, hopefully it will be hitting the road next week.
    it was a challenge to get all the parts together but thanks from a friend of mine who come from Argentina and is retired from Renault after 44 years we were be able to get this baby back on a 100% original shape here in Miami.
    i hope enjoy the pictures.
    https://picasaweb.google.com/105876176090498194630/Renault17GordiniRestoration#

    • Gabriel P. Says:

      This is amazing. I would of never thought that anyone in America would do such an undertaking and restore a Gordini. I had one in my 20’s and drove all over Montana with it until the engine seized at over 200,000 miles on the ODO. I don’t think I ever owned a car more enjoyable than that gordini. Mine was the same exterior color as your restoration but had the full red color interior. If you ever get tired of the Gordini please do not hesitate to email me and maybe we could work something out…….

  18. steve Says:

    I don’t like intruding on someone’s forum but I happened on this one by accident.

    I’m putting an 843 engine in a Lotus Europa and was wondering if anyone can tell me what the “rocker arm ratio” is…my guess is around 1.5, but I don’t like guessing, and someone (perhaps someone on this forum) must know!
    TIA,

    steve

    • Bruce Says:

      Steve, send your e-mail address to me at bjwnuk$optonline.net (Substitute @ for $) I have an article that may help you.

      regards,

      bruce

  19. SteveZ1 Says:

    Alberto’s restoration is amazing. He has made the car better than new.

    We had a 74 and 76 R17 Gordini. Loved the cars, both had untimely deaths due to accidents. The car got all the attention that other posters mentioned and I had great fun out running the 1977 Scirroco a good friend had and even a 75 Camaro that another friend had. What was really amazing was how good the car was in horrible conditions that I would not think of driving in today, oh to be young and fearless again. In college we took the 76 from Gainseville Florida to North Carolina to go skiing on several occasions and the car always ran where others were stuck.

    I also met one of my oldest friends in Gainseville as he had a 75 Gordini and he was from Japan. When he say I had a Gordini we met and became vast long time friends.

    If anyone has a 72 or 73 R17 or a 74-79 R17 Gordini and is interested in selling the car please email me at sdiamond59 at gmail dot com

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