The Renault 12 was never meant to be an unusual or special car – the original brief was to build a car that had plenty of space, a small engine, and was inexpensive. But, because it was French, it still had style in the way a cheap American or Japanese econo-sedan would not. You could definitely call it ugly style, but it was still style. In spite of the looks, Renault must have got it right, because not only did the 12 survive 11 years of production as a regular Renault, but it went on to be built for another 26 years in South America, Turkey, Romania and elsewhere. While the rest of the world got the 60hp Cléon engine, the American 12 was fitted with the alloy 1.6 from the 16, good for 65hp and likely more torque. Check out this 1971 Renault 12 TL for sale for $1800 in Black Creek, WI.
Being a TL, you could luxuriate in separate reclining seats and door armrests. That dark glovebox and trunk were no longer scary since each was lit, the rear window was heated, and the dash was bathed in the warming glow of additional warning lights. For a midwestern car, this 12 is very clean, though there are no close-up pictures of the sills. Notice the partial vinyl roof, and because they’re French, they put the vinyl on the front half of the roof, leaving the rear in paint – just the opposite of most American luxury coupes. It actually looks pretty good, accenting the odd details of the design.
Bumper overriders were not unique to North American cars, though the license plate lights and dual backup lights were. The rear fuel filler harks back to a different time – is there any car that still has this feature? Since when did we become more concerned about avoiding fireballs than not worrying what side the filler was on? The trunk lid seems misaligned here, so you’ll want to check the structure for rust and accident damage, though it wouldn’t be surprising if it came this way from the factory. The rear bumper also looks a little bent up.
The interior looks like new – would that we all looked this good at 44 years of age. Tan seats look a bit more upmarket than the usual drab black vinyl in this beige-colored automatic car, and contrast well with the black dash and carpets. There’s lots of space to put stuff, including the tray above the shifter and shin-breaker trays below the entire dash. The car is said to turn over, and all electrical features work, so from that you can assume it’s been stored for a long period of time and needs resuscitation. The car was owned by the seller’s great grandfather, so to remain in this shape it must have been stored well.
Since we’re on the weird angle, let’s take a closer look at this dash. The exterior is kind of odd, though well-disguised by the beigeness, but the interior weirdness is on full display. Gauges are in 3 pods, the lower dash face has an odd pleated surface, vents go all across the dash top, the glovebox is also in the top of the dash, and the radio (in the center, above the shifter) looks like something out of a 1950s or 1960s GM product. The cigarette lighter is front and center because stereotypes need to be fulfilled. So what would you do with a car like this? It’s a fun, cheap survivor – run it for a little while until you’re tired of it and pass it along to the next connoisseur de voitures Francaises?