1981 Renault 14, one of only six left on British roads

Britain’s rarest cars: 1981 Renault 14,

In theory, the Renault 14 should have become the French manufacturer’s alternative to the Volkswagen Golf. In practice, it suffered from an unconventional look and a well-founded reputation for corrosion. Only six of each type remain in service, and only one of those is a flagship TS version like this one, which Kenneth Campbell’s father acquired new on March 25, 1981.

Renault developed the Project 121 to bridge the gap between the compact 5 and 16 family car by combining a new five-door body with the floorpan of the 12. It was also his first transversely engined car, powered by the alloy 1.2-litre “Douvrin” single overhead camshaft unit co-developed with Peugeot.

The 14 was unveiled in January 1976, but financial problems and labor disputes delayed its public launch until May 25. To celebrate, Renault arranged for a fleet of 500 of them to be driven 120 miles from its Douai plant in northern France to Paris.

Britain's rarest cars: 1981 Renault 14

Britain’s rarest cars: 1981 Renault 14

Sales in the UK began in early 1977, accompanied by an extensive advertising campaign. Here was a hatchback designed “to comfortably handle a family of five continental foodies and a greedy dog” while parking was “as convenient as parking your butt.” As well as Keep it up doctor seemed to influence the print sales campaign, the 14’s TV/cinema ads resembled a Brian Rix farce.

To further ensure that every Brit is aware of the 14, Renault supported Bruce Forsyth’s stage shows at Wembley Stadium, Bristol and Liverpool, where viewers had a chance to win the latest model. By the end of the decade, the 14 was the company’s most popular model in the UK, after the 5, while being seen in reasonable numbers in its home French market.

But the 14 did not meet Renault’s sales forecasts. One problem was service departments unfamiliar with transverse engines. another was a fondness for rust. A 1977 French advertising campaign, “La Poire”, led to the nickname “the lazy pear”.

To improve the 14’s image, the limited edition 1978 Safrane had an aluminum plaque for the owner’s initials. According to Renault, this was “for the aristocratic personal touch”.

The following year the range was revised and included the introduction of the 1,360 cc TS flagship model. engine considered it suitable for “those who value comfort over roadholding and handling in a spacious, refined and very well sprung car”. In addition, equipment with electric front windows and central locking should “appeal to savory customers”.

The bright orange interior of Campbell's 1981 Renault 14

The bright orange interior of Campbell’s 1981 Renault 14

A five-speed transmission became available for the 1982 model year and when car car As he sampled the latest TS, he thought a lack of stability marred “an otherwise excellent car”. However, the report also praised the Renault’s performance, economy, driveability and equipment, while at £5,049 it cost nearly £900 less than a top-of-the-line Ford Escort Mk3 Ghia. But too many drivers preferred the Ford or the Vauxhall Astra. A peppy alternative was the Alfasud 1.3 hatchback – as prone to corrosion as the 14 but almost £500 cheaper.

Renault originally planned to build 2.5 million 14s, but when the 11 replaced it in 1983 total sales came to just 993,193.

Almost 40 years later, Campbell owns one of the most exclusive vehicles to wear the diamond badge and it looks like it belongs in the 1982 Renault brochure.

Campbell's 1981 Renault 14

Campbell’s 1981 Renault 14

Campbell really enjoys driving the 14 TS and says: “It can keep up with modern cars, although the engine will work harder. Steering would be classified as heavy today, with traditional French suspension meaning body roll in corners. The seats are very comfortable and the compromise for the plush suspension is comfort on today’s potholed roads.”

He notes that very few people today recognize his TS and that the 14 is something of a forgotten Renault compared to the 4, 5 or 12. It certainly wasn’t the French brand’s only rust-prone product from the 1970s, but that reputation hurt the 14’s chances in a very competitive market segment. Its chunky exterior also didn’t match the brand’s image in the late 1970s.

Despite all of this, Campbell’s car is a reminder of the 14’s potential, with that sporty black stripe a sure sign of the promised ‘performance and luxury’.

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