Back in Black – Pair of Renault 17 Gordinis

While taking something of an unintentional hiatus from writing 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 it’s a black car and the pictures are tiny, it’s hard to judge much of anything, but the fact it exists and was driven as recently as a few weeks ago does say something about its condition. And worst case, you have a mangy, spider-infested parts car to show you how things should look… when a car is mangy and spider-infested. You can find them listed for only $850 – how could you go wrong?? – in Scottdale, PA.

1979 Renault 17 Gordini plus parts car

Kudos to the seller for having the balls to open up the hood – I was uncomfortable enough finding dead black widows and their sticky webs (hint: they don’t stick to blue surgeon’s gloves) under the hood in my former Lancia Beta. If he’s like me, he wore thick leather gardening gloves when he did it.

1979 Renault Gordini interior/engine

The folks who commented on the last write-up on one of these had surprisingly flattering things to say about them, considering the general sentiment towards French cars in this country. I simply admired them for being rare and kind of weird-looking, but it seems they were actually pretty powerful and good to drive – I would seriously consider one if it popped up on a local ad.

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39 Responses to “Back in Black – Pair of Renault 17 Gordinis”

  1. Dave Says:

    Awesome find! The wheels on the black car are tough to come by.

    I knew a Renault-head in PA many years ago. He had a few R17s. I wonder if these are / were his?

  2. Dave Says:

    Is it an optical illusion, or does the shifter have a bend to it? I owned a couple of R17 Gordinis and have never seen anything like that. The steering wheel isn’t stock, but it’s cool.

    • Chris Keen Says:

      Weird, isn’t it? I noticed that too and then my thoughts drifted to how it shifts, and I thought about my dad saying how the shifter on the Fuego was horrible… so I never mentioned it in my write-up!

    • Tara Says:

      Actually, I’m inclined to believe the wheel is stock- or at the very least, a dealer installed option. When I was removing the 3 layers of floormats, I stumbled across a small silver paper circle, with a Renault diamond printed on it in black. Fits right in the center of the horn button, though it’s a bit rough so I’m going to find something better to go there.

      And though it’s only a piece of paper, I can imagine that only Renault themselves would be cheap and chintsy enough to have an option of a sport steering wheel that would have a printed sticker logo..

      In general, the plastic on this car has about the same kind of build quality as a 1979 Matell Intellivision, so I wouldn’t expect anything nicer..

      The s-bend shifter is actually becoming quite handy, as a straight one would be a little too far to reach.

      -Tara (the new owner of this car)

  3. Dave Says:

    I owned a Fuego, too. Your dad is right. The shifter was awful. It felt like it ended in a bowl of Jello. The R17 was marginally better. I never owned any Renault that had a decent shifter.

    Maybe this guy found that it shifted better with the modified shifter. That’s just a complete guess.

  4. R1326 Says:

    The R17s (from the later model years) actually have more precise shift mechanisms in comparison to 1970s front wheel drive cars and earlier Renault 12s/15s/16s/17s. The shift lever is certainly not from a 17 Gordini, and was transplanted there from something else. Wonder what has to be reconnected in the black car’s transmission…Also, I find the R17s I have shift better than my previous R5 and Caravelle. Nice Find!

  5. Brett Says:

    Too bad these things are so far from Seattle..I would be there tomorrow…I want one of these…and the pestulence infested parts car is a bonus!!

  6. Brett Says:

    Figure out a way to have shipped to Washington and I am up!!

  7. njsimca Says:

    Excellent seats, roomy trunk, sensational style. My friend had a 76,with the old, cooler dash and a very long shift lever. Cooler and funner and CHEAPER than a BMW or Alfa, too!

  8. Tara Says:

    I can now say that I am going to be the proud (?) owner of this beast and a half!

    A friend of mine who dabbles with Lotus Europas bought the pair of them since he needed an engine for one of his cars. He only wants one engine,(thankfully the one out of the parts car), and then said “Hey, want the rest of it? I don’t exactly need it”.. So I’m getting it all for basically nuthin’, though I offered to throw him some cash for transportation costs. The cars are now out of PA and in western Mass.

    Years ago I had an 18i wagon that was the nicest car to just sit in and imagine driving down the road.. It only ever travelled like 5 miles from my house, and then the alternator packed up, and at that time I was too young to know anything about it so I gave up on it. But I’ve always wanted a 17, and remember the Matchbox car of it very well..

    But right now I’ve got a Citroen 2cv and a gaggle of Citroen DS’s so it’ll be in good company. And something cool to show up with at the next Citroen rendezvous in Saratoga Springs next year! I guess we’ll be stripping down the parts car and hopefully in the process learning how its screwed together. For some nutty reason I already have the R15/17 Haynes manual, bought years ago at a closeout store for like $.25, so we’re a leg up already..

    -Tara

  9. R1326 Says:

    Tara – Best of luck! Glad you can join the remainingn R17 Gordini owners who love their cars. (How many of us are left in the US?) Keep in touch. I can help you with information when you are ready. We need all the support we can get!

  10. Tara Says:

    Well, I got a first real look at the car today.. In the dim light of dusk, its looks pretty shiny, but the reality it that it’s pretty rough underneath, and there are some rust issues that will need to be dealt with fairly soon.. It was painted sometime in the last 20 years, and there are some sections where whole large pieces of paint flaked off, and surface rust is starting to form. Plus there seems to be no inner fenders, but it seems more or less solid wherever a suspension bit is bolted on.

    However, it does drive and does stop.. Right now, the shift linkage is mostly fixed, but my biggest concern is that the alternator seems to be putting out between 16 and 18 volts for what logic seems to suggest should be 12-14. So I want to figure out if that’s normal or if I’m going to fry the electrical if I drive it a lot. The car is about 80 miles from my house, and I’m planning on driving it there, but I don’t want it’s maiden voyage to be her last..

    Plus I completely got pillaged by the state of Mass when I paid sales tax. They charged me sales tax as if it was worth $6,700 which no way any Renault is worth that much! I think they assume that if the car exists and is driveable, than it must be a concourse restoration.. Not yet, and I need to have some strong words with the tax abatement office about that…

    -Tara

  11. Tara Says:

    A little adendum:

    I don’t know if the power windows are original or not, but they almost seem like some weird accessory someone installed.. The motors themselves actually are bolted to the outside of the inner door panel , and they physically connect to where the old window cranks would go. But they actually work, but what a back-asswards way of doing it..

    I haven’t cracked open the roof yet.. The parts car has the fiberglass roof cover that goes OVER the cloth roof, which seems redundant..

    There’s not a lot left to the parts car.. It almost snapped in half when they moved it.. Thankfully they didn’t break the windshield, because that’s probably made of unobtamiun. The parts car has a title too, but after paying $300 in sales tax, I’m not going to re-title it, since It’s pretty much beyond hope.

    And whenever the US spec back bumper of the black car fell off (or was removed), the brackets that stuck out were cleverly covered by modified antifreeze jugs..

    My plans are to also remove the front bumper, and bring the car as close as possible back to a clean, Euro spec look. I might be able to cobble together one passable set of seats from whatever fabric is leftover from the parts car.

    It is adorable, and actually a bit smaller than I thought. It’s pretty nippy driving around and has a bit of pep. It’s going to be fun – just gotta get it indoors for the winter..

    -Tara

  12. R1326 Says:

    Tara,

    Congrats on driving your R17 and joining the remaining few who own a 17 Gordini. The power windows were added by the previous owner. They are wind-down windows from ’74 thru ’79. There are no real inner fender linings on these cars, but a protective sealant was added at the factory. Check under the spare tire in the trunk, the rocker panels and the floor under the driver/passenger seats – worst areas of rust and the last two being important structural areas for the car.

    Electrical and fuel components will have to be worked out. I will be figuring out a warm start problem myself this coming weekend.

    Don’t attempt to move the electric sunroof with the top bolted on. It will burn out the two motors and crack the plastic runners and gear. The thought in the seventies was to use the fiberglass hardtop to protect the vinyl sunroof in cold weather, but if it was left on through the seasons, humidity caused the vinyl to shrink and ruin the convertible top.

    Good luck, and hope to hear more soon!

    • Tara Says:

      so, the early cars (pre-74) had power windows, but the later cars didn’t? According to the Haynes manual they reference power windows with the motors in the doors (the normal way, not the backasswards way like on mine).

      i find it a little odd that they had a feature on early cars that they didn’t have on later cars, but then again, I don’t know what was going on when renault imported them. When I paid sales tax they quoted me a original price of something like $9000 when this car was new (which seems pretty high?), so maybe there was something in the exchange rate in ’79 that made French cars very expensive in the US, so they eliminated power windows?

      I’m having a tough time finding good info on these. Just looking at the different noses on the R17’s (not the 15’s) and it looks like they started out with one kind of grille, went to the segmented one, then back to the original kind, without the chrome surround to it. Plus somewhere in there they changed the rear hatch to a different design. And apparently they changed the colors of the taillight lenses between 78 and 79. The lenses were shot on the black 79, so i used them off the rusty 78, but the orange and the red bits are in different places, so now I have white brake lights..

      -Tara

  13. Tara Says:

    Well, the black car is now cozily at home in my garage! In order for me to drive the 80 miles of so from central MA to home we had to put the shift linkage back together and find a volatage regulator for it (both Ducellier ones were toast)

    Somewhere in CT the shift linkage fell apart again, so I crawled under, reattached it and wrapped two zip ties around it. I’m making a better effort this week to fix it permanently. There’s some bushings missing from the linkage, and then a big washer and a snap ring.. without the bushing, too much pressure is placed on the washer, and it pops it off along with the snap ring.. I fabricated a bushing out of some plastic from a spray paint cap and it’s a LOT tighter, and shifts nicely now. That s-bend shifter everyone mentioned? It’s actually pretty handy for me as I have long legs but not quite so long arms.. However, in reverse it conflits with the handbrake lever..

    I have the feeling I’m going to be fabricating a lot of parts from scratch. And apparently the previous owner has done this, as the center caps for those mag wheels? They’re the bottom of beer cans..

    So.. it made the drive home, and chugs along pretty good. The engine seems to run pretty cold, as driving all around town the temp gauge barely made it into the middle zone. Even idling for about 10 minutes, only put it into the top of the middle zone, and it never got hot enough to make the fan kick in. Maybe it has no thermostat in it?

    The good: Runs well, though it has come clattery valves. I guess they need to be adjusted. The suspension and steering feel pretty tight, and the ride is so nicely smooth that only the French can do. Miraculously, most of the electrical bits and pieces seem to work fine, and with a little tinkering, it’ll probably pass inspection ok. It’s a lot of fun to drive, and well, when you get down to it (esp after getting money back from scrapping the carcass of the other car), I don’t have much of any money in it. Just to buy any driveable car for $600 isn’t a bad deal.

    Just the fact that this car still exists means that someone loved it, and things like window rubbers/dashboard plastic show little sign of cracking or being out in the weather. I didn’t get to meet the PO, but there was one funny story my friend related, as the PO was “pretty wierd”. I guess the car belonged to this guy’s dad, who passed away. The son used it for a little bit, but wouldn’t give it to his own son, because it was “too fast”. instead, they were restoring a Pinto for him.

    A Pinto? Someone please take this car away from that household and get it into protective custody! Anyone who restores a Pinto needs their head examined.

    So yeah.. Not sure this guy was French car material..Anyway..

    The bad: It’s pretty rusty. Looks ok in pictures, but up close you can really see some problem areas.. About typical of a late 70’s car that’s been in the northeast, but garaged probably since the early 90’s. I’m guessing that in the late 80’s it was “restored” and painted, but the restoration work was really,. really craptastic.. They apparently didn’t use any metal at all for repair panels, instead fixing the floor footwells with fiberglass, and doing strange things like building a radio box out of cardboard and then covering it with electrical tape. WTF???

    There’s lots of horrendously botched center console work, and hopefully some of those trim bits from the parts car will be better. And then they screwed all sorts of pockets and shit to the door panels, and even one of them interfered with the glove compartment door. You actually have to open the passenger door if you want to open the glove box. Seriously “mickey-moused”, as my car mechanic dad would say, when he’d discover that someone patched a VW bug floor with a “DO NOT ENTER” sign.. That sort of crap… Also for some reason, somewhere between the fenders and the door hinges in the a-pillar are tennis balls, I guess acting as some kind of bumper stop?

    And when I mentioned the “inner fender”, what I meant was the area that if you were looking down inside the engine compartment, the area between the fender and well, the engine.. Some of that metal is non-existant, and again, it was repaired using fiberglass. Bondo in the fenders, of course. And when I stepped on the floors to access the back seat, there’s a bit of a “crunch”. About what I expect from any 1979 car in the NE usa. Though I suspect a lof of these cars rusted away, I really blame California for the way they crush old rust-free cars or when they say “rusty”, they mean a dime-sized spec of surface rust… Geez, they need the low standards we have to deal with.

    The interior it pretty trashed and underneath that sheepskin cover in top of the back seat was pretty bad.. still, bits of the seats are ok, and I might be able to salvage some material from the parts car. The PO did screwed up stuff like patch rips in the seat with tape instead of using a needle and thread.

    So yeah.. rusty.. but otherwise “solid”.. i got adventurous today and not only drove it in the dark(!), but in the rain (!!), in order to test out important things like defrosters, wiper blades, etc..

    And though the floors have been repaired with fiberglass, I hit one large puddle on the right side of the car, and out of nowhere, water came shooting from somewhere into the passenger footwell across to me in the driver’s seat.. So yeah, I won’t be driving it in the rain anymore.

    So my plans are to putt around with it locally as a second car for this fall, then start the proper resotration this winter as soon as it snows/ roads are salted. And paint it some bright primary color, because this car is far too innocuous in black.

    The car also came with a set of Gordini decals, brand new, not yet installed.

    I’m looking forward to the restoration!

    -Tara

  14. R1326 Says:

    Nice work, Tara, especially on the drive home. I believe the car may have been from West Chester, PA until about 1999-2000. May be wrong, but the title may show you when the PO first titled/bought you car…

    The rear lights were sometimes replaced with some sort of European rear lenses, and red bulbs have to be placed in the brake light section. The interior trim plastic from 77-79 can be brittle. The earlier cars’ plastics were a little stronger.

    The gears for the electric windows were problematic and very slow, and I don’t think they were even offered for the entire run of the R17 in Europe. In the 70s, there were import tariffs on foreign cars, so prices surged on all cars by 1976. The 1978 and 1979 sticker prices were in the mid $7,000 range

    The 1978 and 1979 were only painted in black, metallic blue, gold, metallic brown, and silver. Earlier models had the bright primary colors, especially 1972 and 1973, but were offered until the “new body” 1977s.

    The steering wheel looks like the Formuling boutique option item installed by the dealers. Sorry to hear about the inner fender area at the engine compartment; it adds the structural rigidity to the car.

    Keep up the good work, and hear more soon!

  15. R1326 Says:

    Any news from Tara? How are your R17Gs?

    An update would be great!

  16. Tara Says:

    It’s happily registered, and I take it out for a spin every week or so. I try to be gentile with it

    I’ve owned a lot of French cars in my life, and I’m suprised that this one starts up like a top every time.

    I do want to get to the bodywork pretty soon though. I fear the amount of dodgy bodywork that exists under that Maaco black paint job. But even if we end up riveting or bolting in pieces of sheet metal to replace the floors, it will be miles better than the fact that most of the repairs were done in non-structural fiberglass.

    I’m hoping that if we plow ahead with that work in the next few months, we might even repaint it. The boring black has to go. this thing just screams.. well some primary color.

    I recently removed the awful antifreeze jug covered rear bumper braces. It’s pretty apparent that the Euro spec ones would’ve just had the flimsy fibreglass rear bumper (that’s ok)

    I’m also very interested in going for that minimal early 70’s front bumper look, but I haven’t found any hard evidence that the late 70’s ones had the front bumper regardless of where it was sold.

    It looks like the early ones have a chrome rubber tipped bumper all the way around , with small teeth at the bottom.
    Then the mid-year ones they went to a totally different grille and the full bumper surround went body color.

    Then it looks on the last ones, they went back to the old style grille but kept the body colored bumper surround on top (still with a rubber “pad”) I’m wondering what it might look like without the front bumper at all, and if it could be brought closer to the designers intent (without making it look like.. well.. a car missing a front bumper)..

    -Tara

  17. alberto sbarra Says:

    is the black R17 still available?
    please contact me if it is.

  18. Nick Goldberg Says:

    Wow!! Just found this website!! R17 freaks…..didn’t even know they existed anymore!! I am desperate for camshafts as I race a Lotus europa with R17 engine with 1796cc, dry sump, bigger valves, fuel injection (mounts to Weber manifolds) with programmable ecu, no distributor…..200hp!!! Really need R17 (or R16ts) camshafts. Please call Nick at 802-324-0908 or email nickg@accessvt.com Thanks

  19. R1326 Says:

    Hi Nick,

    We are trying to preserve Renault 17s. I am glad you are enjoying your Renault R17-engined Lotus! Best of luck.

    • Nick Goldberg Says:

      Thanks for the welcome. My two friends and I have had around 200 renaults in our day…..Dauphine, R5,8,10, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, Alliance GTA, R8 Gordini, Matra Djet, as well as a dozen or more citroens. Those days are gone except the Matra, Lotus europa, an R10, and a couple GTA’s. The matra has the engine and tranny from a eurospec R17 Gordini with the 807-13 engine and the 365 tranny. Anyway, any help with R17 cams would be most welcome.
      Thanks, Nick

  20. Tara Says:

    Hi all..

    Was just bombing around SE Mass in the black 17 today. I spent the better part of the day chasing electrical gremlins and making lights work. While the lights are working correctly I’ll use that oppurtunity to get a proper inspection sticker.

    However, I will be retiring this car later on this fall as it’s really going to need some serious structural work. The previous owner had really done a horrendous job “restoring” this car in the late 80’s and though it’s mechanically good, the amount of bondo and fibreglass right over rusty floors is.. well .. daunting and probably not worth it for a car that didn’t run like a top and wasn’t (dare i say it) somewhat mechanically reliable.

    Also today I was futzing with the sunroof motors as they weren’t working correctly, and discovered all sorts of weird fabricated parts the guy made when things like the plastic sunroof tracks broke off. So there’s a lot of botch jobbery that I’m going to have to undo..

    So, no, it’s not available. And the other car (the reeeeaallly rusty one) is the parts car, and the guy who I bought the cars with bought it for engine parts for his Lotus Europa.

    -Tara

  21. jalil gutierrez Says:

    necesito renault 17 gordini entero o piezas urgente

  22. alberto sbarra Says:

    finally I have found a 1979 R17 gordini and I got it in Miami on 4-16.
    here you will find pictures of the restoration progress, is almost done and I hope to get it out on the streets in 10 more days.
    it has been a chalenge to get all parts, I have mine without the linkage from the gearbox and I found the original part brand new in Puerto Rico. also, I have got parts from R15/R17 Amicale in France, some parts from Argentina – common parts with the R12- and others from England, israle, Ciprus and Germany.

    here is the link:
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/105876176090498194630/albums/5768969763471713841/5770451450048523618

    enjoy!!

    Alberto

    PS: jalil: dime que partes necesitas y te ayudare a conseguirlas, hay un amigo en Miami que tiene muchas partes para el R17.

  23. R1326 Says:

    Alberto,

    Congratulations! Your car is beautiful. I hope to see it in person one day. I know you will enjoy this car as much as I do mine.

    • alberto sbarra Says:

      thank you. I bought this car for sentimental reasons, I have imported 8 of this cars with friends from USA to Argentina back in 1979 at the time AMC was getting Renault and no one was interested in this cars for the lack of parts and support.
      I use to work as an architect for Renault Argentina for more than 10 years.
      My best Friend, Alberto Cordero was mechanical engineer in Renault Argentina for 42 years, he was working in Argentina, France, Venezuela and USA and caribbean in his carreer.
      He is retaired now and helping me here in Miami to put this car on the road.
      that being said, the sentimental reason to have this car again,is that my Son Rodrigo who now lives in Buenos Aires born in 1983, at that time I had the R17 Gordini and my wife ask me to sell it as a baby and a german shepard was too much for the R17.
      because of my relationship with Renault, I change to an R18, I have owned more than 20 Renaults in Argentina and this one was the only I missed always.
      My car was same as one of yours, grey but 1979 with red interior.
      Anyway, this one was black from factory and I didnt want to change the color, we have done a nut and bolt restoration and we are in the process to fix the Bosch injection and the polution system and start the engine next week.
      Hopefully everithing will run as new, previous owner did a lot of errors touching the car without know what they was doing, we found out a chain of missing fails all around the car.
      I’m leaving in Miami since 2001 and I have never seen any other R17 , so I figure out there will be a blast to drive this car around.

  24. DiamondGTV6 Says:

    That car is just fabulous! It is great to see someone putting time and attention into a Renault 17, most of them (the few that are left) are sorely neglected.

    I owned a 1976 R-17 Gordini in New York & Philly between 1979 and 1984. Had the great electric folding roof (never fit right though, so it always rained in), brakes failed once completely, various other mechanical issues, but I really loved that car. It was tremendous fun to drive, great with the roof open, beautiful timeless design, great engine note, You’d rarely see one coming the other way, but when you did, we’d each flash our headlights, I still miss it. The French car virus has stayed with me, I have a Peugeot 504 Cabriolet now.

    Good luck with that Gordini, I look forward to hearing more about it!

  25. R Jestadt Says:

    Renault 17 Gordini- Winner of the 1978 Press on Regardless Rallye in northern Michigan. 1st,3rd,6th place against factory teams from USA and Europe!

  26. ggmlanada Says:

    I am still looking for a source for seat covers for the tombstone seats or a good set of seats to buy- black, also the side window louvers, mine are broken due to neighbor kids playing soccer

  27. Daniel Says:

    hello,

    I’m glad to have found this site. Cool stories with those R17s. I myself am starting a restoration of a R15 1304…califronia model…but in Spain. I found it in a junk yard and had to save it. The problem…most parts can be found in France…but things like the blinkers on the sides of the front and back fenders were only for U.S models. Anyways, if anybody can help me find them…would make the restoration easier!

    Thanks,

    Daniel

  28. Brian Says:

    still looking for the side louvers and a fresh set of tombstone seats.

    • Tara Says:

      I should end up with a spare set of louvers when I’m done, and though I do have seats in the parts car, none of them are very good as-is. They will need to be re-covered which is something I’m going to try to tackle myself.

  29. Chris Keen Says:

    Have you tried Retromobile or any French vendors? Seats might be hard to ship, but louvers would work.

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