1986 Renault R11 (Encore)
With the Quantum nearing the very end of its life-cycle, I put out feelers with all my automotive friends for any bargains they might know of. One guy told me about a Renault Encore. Having driven the Alliance years earlier, I knew them to be good cars. I went to talk to my French car mechanic to get his advice. I told him that I was under the impression that once they get much past 60K, that they start to fall apart and are more trouble than they're worth. He told me that was dead wrong. He'd seen them go well beyond 200K. Structural rust was unheard of, parts were cheap and readily accessible, and by all accounts they were the most cost-effective cars available.
Fortunately for me, this was the best kept secret in the automotive world. The Renault Alliance/Encore line had the reputation for being the worst used cars there were. I decided to use this to my advantage if I decided to put an offer on the car.
I went to look at it and found that it was in pretty good condition. It was black with a red interior, which is a preferred color scheme for me. There were some dings in the body, and the grille was pretty messed up, but all in all it didn't look bad. I took it for a drive, and it seemed solid. The only problem was that it would always pop out of first gear, occasionally pop out of third gear, and was completely unable to engage fifth gear. Surprisingly, this did not sway me. I had been warned that there were problems with the transmission in this car, and my mechanic assured me that he had one he could swap inexpensively, and do it in an afternoon. Beyond that, the heater controls were not original. The temperature control had clearly been cobbed up in the past. The cable that was supposed to be attached to the sliding temperature control emerged from the dashboard with a little T handle taped to it. Instead of sliding the control back and forth, it was necessary to push the T control in and out. It looked kind of cheesy, but it worked fine, and the heater put out plenty of heat.
The owner said she wouldn't take anything less than $375 for it. I said I wouldn't pay anything more than $375, so we had a deal. It was mine.
I took to the car very quickly. It was solid, powerful, and handled like a dream. After rumbling around in that Quantum wagon for all those years, it was great to have a nimble car again with a short wheelbase. This isn't to say that it wasn't without it's problems, however. There were no major problems, but I did have it in to my mechanic a couple of times for some minor stuff.
Then one day it wouldn't start. I poked around a little bit, and saw that when the ignition was on, there was a small but bright orange flame coming from one of the electrical contacts on the starter. This was not good. It meant, among other things, that I couldn't just push-start it and drop it off with my mechanic 15 miles away in Ithaca. I wound up doing something very foolish. Rather than pay the bucks to have it towed to a known and trusted specialist, I used my free AAA short-range tow to take it to an unknown and untrusted shop nearby. They actually got me a pretty good deal on a rebuilt starter, and I figured that I'd make out okay. But when I went to pick up the car, I was met with a surprise. When it comes to automotive repair, I *hate* surprises. The cobbed-up heater control was yanked out and dangling in the driver seat. I immediately went back in the shop and asked what the fuck was going on. The guy who ran the place, a nice, rural guy with the brains of a stump, thought it was the hood release. Granted, this was a French car, but it's beyond me how anyone could think that a clearly cobbed-up, slender cable in the *middle* of the dashboard, could be the hood release. The kicker was that the owners' manual was sitting in the passenger door map pocket the whole time. What was even worse was that it was left broken as if I just wouldn't notice. I brought the car back in the following morning and forced them to fix it for me while I waited. After about an hour it was ready. The only problem was that no matter what position I put it in, nothing but freezing cold air poured out of the vents. Then, as I tried to leave the office for lunch, the starter died again. Now beyond furious, I called them and ordered them to tow my car back to their shop, fix the starter right, and fix the heater control right. When I picked it up that evening everything seemed to be okay, except that my heater control, while basically functional, was an ugly mess. And it was all unnecessary because the damage was due to butt-head negligence on the part of the people with whom I'd entrusted the care and wellbeing of my vehicle. The moral of this story was go to any lengths and expense to get your car to someone you trust.
A couple days later I was at the mall having lunch with friends. When I came out I started the car up and pulled away. The only problem was that it would not go into any gear except first. This was a problem. I was pretty pissed at this point, and had just about had it with this car. Fortunately my mechanic was mostly downhill from the mall. I had someone follow me, and drove all the way there in first gear. Since I figured that this was pretty much the end of the car, or at least my experience with it, I didn't car that I was totally over-revving it. It turned out that the fifth speed gear had fallen right off the spindle, and was lying in the transmission pan blocking the other gears from being able to engage. He just pulled it out, put things back together, and only charged me about twenty bucks. I figured I'd give the car another chance.
Much to my surprise, the car started to perform beautifully again. There have been some minor repairs needed since, but nothing nearly as ridiculous. Truth be told, that has added up to be probably the most cost-effective transportation I've ever had. It remains a pleasure to drive, and my affection for it has grown tremendously. I expect to be in a French car phase for some time to come.