1982 Renault Fuego

While the Encore was serving me perfectly well, I had some other life situations that caused me to alter my automotive situation. My old friend Monté was going to come to live with me. Since I lived a ways out in the country, he would need transportation of his own. At almost the same time, my old friend and fellow French car addict Brad had landed on my doorstep. I quickly put him to work searching out another car for me to drive so that Monté could inherit my Encore. Brad quickly found an old Fuego. I'd had an interest in Fuegos since I'd first met Brad. Brad approached the owner and established the fact that he was willing to part with it. One day we went out and took it for a test drive. It had a turbo, but we pretty much ignored that. While driving it about, we noticed that the engine had some serious power problems, but also noticed that the turbo boost gauge seemed to be responding in just the way that it should. We quickly concluded, to our mutual surprise, that the turbo unit appeared to be operating properly.

The car was somewhere between an immediate driver and a project car. While everything seemed to be in order, there was just something wrong with the engine power. Still, I decided it was worth buying. The guy said he'd "have to get $700 for it." I didn't try to talk him down. I handed him $700 and drove it away.

I soon took it down for my trusty Renault mechanic to look at. Just from the sound of it driving in he could tell that it needed a valve job. I bit the bullet and had him do the work. It cost about another $700, and a few weeks of waiting, but when I got it back, boy did it run!

This was my first ever experience with a turbo charged engine. I could see why it became such a fad in the 80's. It was the perfect supplement to the conventional internal combustion engine. Just when you needed a little boost, like going up an incline in the road, the turbo kicked in and gave just the right amount of oomph. The power curve was so entirely smooth I couldn't believe it. And when it came time to pass, I'd drop it down a gear, gun the accelerator, and the turbo would kick in big-time giving me oodles of power. Before I knew it I'd not only be past the car but a good 30 yards up the road.

While thing seemed to be working out well, the car was not without its problems. First of all, I always felt rather claustrophobic while driving it. It was rather short on head room, and the headliner had a tendency to droop down and exacerbate the problem. The 5-speed transmission was a little clunky. I found it better to double-clutch when down-shifting into 4th and 3rd. While that wasn't a major problem for my driving style (my MGB required double-clutching as a matter of course), it didn't bode well for the condition of the unit.

It also proved to be somewhat needy. As soon as I took it on a long road trip, it over-heated while I was in downtown Syracuse. I got back on the highway and everything was fine, but I had just departed on my trip. The whole rest of the way I had to make sure I didn't get caught in traffic. I was able to make due on my trip to Watertown, Clayton, and Potsdam, considering those are all low-traffic areas. But on my return trip I hit construction traffic going back through Syracuse. By the grace of God it was on a down-grade, and I was able to shut off the engine and coast through the worst of it. When I got it home it turned out to be merely a matter of cleaning up the contacts on the electric fan circuit, but that was indicative of the level of attention that it would require to keep running properly.

With regard to its place in my automotive repertoire, Monté wound up moving out after a relatively short stay, and I still had the Encore to keep as a daily driver. The Fuego was remanded to the status of occasional novelty drive, and ultimately it didn't get an awful lot of use.

That fall I decided to take it for a drive to buy dinner at the nearby McDonalds. Just as I pulled into the parking lot the left front brakes started making ugly noises. I went in and got my meal. When I went out I decided to try driving it home. Before I even got out of the parking lot I decided that this was not a good idea. Since I had a full-paid AAA membership, I decided to avail myself of their services. I ate my meal while waiting for the wrecker, and an hour or so later it was back home. I pulled the front time and took a quick peak at the brakes, but decided not to fuck with it. I parked it out back and let it sit.

It sat for a full Winter. When I fired it up the following Summer and pulled it from the back yard to the front, it sounded like the CV joints had gone bad. I didn't think that sitting would cause that kind of problem, but that was exactly the noise it was making. A friend confirmed my thoughts that CV joints don't go bad by sitting still. He recommended I take it out for a quick jaunt and see if things didn't smooth themselves out. I went home and did just that. As I drove up the road things quickly got progressively worse. After just a couple tenths of a mile if felt like the car was going to fall apart. At the first intersection I made a wide turn to head back home. It was at that time that the car broke.

The left front corner of the car was angled down towards the Earth. I got out and took a look. Suddenly everything made sense. The problem was that I hadn't properly tightened the lug bolts when I'd taken the wheel off the previous Fall. That explained exactly the noises I'd been hearing. I cursed myself for not having been able to diagnose it properly in the first place. Three of the four bolts were missing, and when I made the wide sweeping turn the last one ripped out of its socket. The wheel was jammed at about a 45 degree angle into the wheel well. The worst thing was I was sitting disabled right smack in the middle of an intersection. Fortunately this was on rarely traveled rural roads, but that almost made it worse. People had a tendency to fly on these roads assuming that there would be no other traffic or other obstructions. Fortunately a family in a pickup truck happened by, and offered help. I jumped in the bed and they drove me back to my house.

I threw my floor jack in my other car and flew back at top speed. A yuppie couple on bicycles, who just happened to decide to ride on this road that day, stopped and waved down the few passing cars that came by. I tried to jam the jack underneath, but there was just no space. The guy offered to pick up the front of the car. His wife cautioned him not to hurt himself, and I said that there was no way he'd be able to pick it up anyway, but by some miracle he actually managed to lift the corner of the car up enough for me to cram the jack underneath. I got the car jacked up and worked the one remaining bolt out of the mangled socket in which it sat. But there was no getting it back in, and even if I did I couldn't drive it even the couple 10ths of a mile back to my house in that condition. I jogged down the road, and miraculously managed to find the other 3 bolts sitting in the road. I spun them back in, thanked the yuppie couple, and drive back home on 3 lug bolts.

In the following weeks I managed to replace the front brake pads. The mangled bolt socket remained an unanswered question that I was content to allow to remain unanswered for the time being.

Later in the Summer I took it for a fateful Labor Day drive when it just died on me. Once again I called AAA. Coincidentally the same guy who picked me up at McDonalds the year before came to get me again this time. We hauled it back to my house.

It sat there for quite a while. Like more than a year later I finally dragged it to my Renault mechanic to get it going again. He had been able to get the engine running without too much work, but the time sitting in the yard had taken its toll on the body shell. The unibody underneath had about as much structural rigidity as paper machete. Driving it home was actually a rather frightening experience, with occasional and persistent vibrations and thumping sounds. After having gone to the trouble to get it running again, now I didn't really want to drive it. But like the next time I went to move it to mow around it or something, it wouldn't start anymore anyway. I pulled the plates, parked it under the old willow tree and added it to my lawn art collection.

Then one labor day weekend, a freak tornado blew through my upstate New York small town and sent that old willow tree down. The Fuego was parked right at the base of it, and got totally squashed. So much for that.

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