New Sasol GTC cars set for thrills

The iconic Grand Prix Circuit will present a new challenge to the GTC drivers as they tackle the country’s fastest racetrack on June 16.

Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

Suzuki kicks off its new model assault with an all new Swift hatchback and standalone sedan called the Dzire.

Chic French: the Princely Dauphine

2014-02-25 08:30


REGAL DOES: The rear-engined Renault Dauphine proved an easy car to work on maintenance-wise, but 'tinworm' (rust) took hold of them in the UK at an alarming rate. Image: Dave Fall

While responding recently to a Wheels24 reader who wanted to know if I'd ever come across a small Renault called a Dauphine* I learned he'd had one waiting for a rebuild.

Not only was I familiar with the car but I had a soft spot for them having owned and driven one of these chic French models.

You know how it is when you are young. Apart from the fact you know everything, money always burned a hole in your pocket – it certainly did mine!


Being apprenticed in the printing trade in the UK in the 1960’s meant having to live on very little money after the landlady (mom) had been paid and whatever vehicle you owned had been fixed from whatever problem had popped up that week.

Checking out the classified column of my local paper one time back then I came across someone selling a Dauphine. I think the Renault Dauphine had appealed to me because of a TV ad at the time showing the car belting down a flight of concrete steps, presumably alongside the River Seine in gay Paris.

Anybody recall the ad on British TV?


Showing my dad the advert, he nodded his approval (he loved weird and wacky cars), especially as the ad claimed: “Genuine reason for sale, owner emigrating, £35 (R70 in 1967).”

Two bus rides later the gleaming white Renault was sat-in, revved-up and driven to and fro on the bloke’s driveway. It seemed fine and six weeks' wages was exchanged for the car of my dreams.

The paperwork for the car had revealed two month’s MOT (roadworthy certificate) left and the road tax was also valid – yippee – but insurance (compulsory in the UK, even back then) had still to be worked out.

With dad’s help, our friendly co-operative society tallyman was roped in to supply the necessary cover note. “You ought to watch out for those French cars, they rust like buggery,” he confided in my dad. Didn’t he know so did Opel, Ford and even Jaguar of the era, I muttered quietly to myself.

Well, after a couple of weeks of sublime motoring, I picked up a puncture – does anyone remember brilliant tyres called Michelin-X?  They seemed to never give trouble – except for going flat now and again. The jack and wheel brace were eventually traced up front under the bonnet (the engine was at the back) but every time I tried to jack up the car to change wheels all I heard was the anguished cries of tinworm (rust) being disturbed beneath the little Dauphine.

The car was absolutely rotten. I'd bought a dud. I’d spent all of my disposable income on the pretty little car. What was I to do? Of course, back to the classified ads in the local newspaper to see what I could salvage (sorry about the pun) from the situation.

Lo and behold somebody was parting with an engine-less but sporty left-hand drive, full import, posh version of the Dauphine called an ‘Ondine’. For £20 (R40) I could tow the car away – but the deal wasn’t concluded until I’d taken a sharp screwdriver to the underside and prodded the monocoque chassis everywhere to make sure it really was rust-free!


Things were decidedly improving on the motoring front for me … it only took a Saturday morning to remove the perfectly good engine from my rust bucket and transfer it to the Ondine. After getting it to run sweetly all that remained was to swop the twin carbs and linkages from the donor car and I then had a rather quick little motor to play with.

Mastering the left-hand drive steering proved the toughest call. To see if the road ahead was clear when overtaking all that was required was to look into my girlfriend’s eyes sitting in the right-hand side front seat. If they were the size of dinner plates I wouldn’t try the manoeuvre!

I can’t remember who I sold the car to or for how much when it was my turn to emigrate but the first vehicle I bought on our arrival in Johannesburg in December 1969 was… another Dauphine.

Happy days, no rust in this one thanks to it having lived on the Reef for most of its life. It was to prove ultra-reliable and especially economical and I well remember travelling down to Durban with it, using R3.50 petrol to get there. Those definitely were the good old days.

Today I still yearn for a left-hooker – one with lots of grunt under the bonnet, of course. Nothing much has changed in the wacky world of being a motoring enthusiast – or has it?

*Dauphine, in French, means 'wife of the prince'.
Read more on:    renault  |  cape town

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.