My First Car: Renault 11

Other than a serious over-indulgence in sex, drugs and rock and roll, the one thing that probably contributed to my dismal A-level results more than anything was my desire to drive. To be honest, when I say sex, drugs and rock and roll, what I mean is wishful thinking, alcohol and being in a band with my mates, but at that age like most teenagers, I had big ideas...

I had my first driving lesson on my 17th Birthday, and after what was way too long to spend driving a Nissan Micra, I finally passed my test and set about my master plan of spending the two grand my parents had carefully saved to help get me started at university on the fastest thing I could buy. Unfortunately one thing stood between me and that Opel Manta - insurance. After spending hours trawling through Parkers and Autotrader, I concluded that the fastest car that I could buy AND insure was a Renault 11 1.7 TXE. I’m sure that was the first choice of every new driver at the time…

The two guys selling the car were perhaps the dodgiest-looking people I had ever seen and, thinking back, everything screamed ‘don’t buy this car you fool’ louder than someone shaving with a lawnmower. The fact that this fantastic piece of French automotive engineering was exactly the same as the taxi James Bond smashes in half in A View to a Kill, and also had double headlights that resembled a DeLorean had nothing to do with my scant regard of the bleedin’ obvious. The car wasn’t even registered to the Neanderthals selling it, but with blinkers well and truly on, and self-denial set to max, we had a test drive and I managed to convince myself that this was the one and that a non-working fuel gauge would not be a problem. My dad was not convinced, but being so fed up of being dragged half way around the world I think he decided to let me learn by my own mistakes, even if it was with my university fund. £700 for the car. £800 for the insurance. Ouch - but I had a Bond car!

The fun began rather quickly. Within days all the dash lights came on with the ignition, and stayed on, along with all the gauges rising to the top. Switching the headlights on created pretty patterns – but at least I knew that the fuel gauge wasn’t faulty. Obviously with the electrics going mental, my first priority was to go out and buy a new radio cassette from Tandy to replace the non-working original....

The next ‘issue’ I discovered was that only the left front brake was working. Unfortunately I discovered this whilst having a new driver moment - overtaking a moped in the streaming rain, a bus pulled out, and slamming on the brakes I found myself sliding along the tarmac. The only way to stop the car from mating with the bus was to swerve into the kerb. Luckily I managed to find a replacement wheel at the local scrappy for a fiver (I hadn’t checked there was a spare) – but replacing the leaking brake cylinders along with the worn pads and discs was considerably more expensive.

Once I had a car that could stop without divine intervention, I started to enjoy the great straight line performance, and living in the Pennines I soon discovered that the well used floppy French suspension made going around corners rather interesting; but hey I could beat an XR3 away from the lights, trashing through the low ratio sports box, and I had electric windows. Granted they didn’t always close, but at least when they were open it let out the fumes from the petrol canister I had to carry.

The fun didn’t last that long though – one summer evening as I maxed the car along a deserted back road, there was a crack, followed by a bang, followed by no power – obviously the correct course of action was to continue rolling down the hill, still at considerable speed, whilst trying to jump-start the car. Unfortunately this approach probably bent the rest of the valves that had initially survived the cam belt snapping. £700 lighter and it looked like student poverty was on the way, only to be confirmed a few weeks later when my Bond car developed a smoke screen Q would have been proud of. Unfortunately my dad wasn’t quite as proud and was not prepared to bail me out this time. Whilst I saved up for the new clutch, my uncle came to the rescue with his rusty old Fiat Panda 45 – a car that had its already pitiful performance reduced when it was converted to unleaded – but that’s another story.

By now, having to commute for 2 hours a day to uni, as I couldn’t afford accommodation, never mind a social life, I quietly dropped out of education and my first car finally ended my state funded life of sex, drugs and rock and roll.



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Comments (22) Join the discussion on the forum

  • chunkymonkey71 21 Apr 2008

    I had a similar experience with an XR2.


  • blowy84 21 Apr 2008

    well written, good article thank you.

  • morgrp 21 Apr 2008

    I had an 11 turbo as my second car - mainly because I couldn't afford a 5 turbo and it was almost the same! -

    Mine was a 1984 b-plater and had factory fitted Aircon! - just meant the engine overheated quicker with it switched on! - after fitting twin engine cooling fans and 2 anti percolation fans it finally cured the over heating by which time the car was as rotten as a pear and I decided to sell it for peanuts. When it was working it went like stink though.

    My favorite memories of it were its weird red striped symetrical alloys, its classy red pin-striped sports seats and tweaking the waste gate on the turbo and beating a BMW 325i over a long stretch of the A11! - What a car!

  • breadtruck1969 21 Apr 2008

    Congratulations Michael Penney,
    You have sucessfully made my lunch break enjoyable.. What a fantastic story.

    My first car was an Orange...(I think once upon a time it was red..) MK5 Cortina. It was originally a 1300, but this high revving, underpowered boat anchor gave up and ended up with a 1600 mated lovingly to the original gearbox. My parents had a MK5 Ghia that very nicely donated its internal organs when it went to the scrapyard in the sky, so it had real wood trim and luxurious velour interior with rear seats that were more comfortable than your grans sofa.

    This car made the obligatory first "Lads" holiday to Newquay mid summer and only overheated twice!!! It was good for a ton, and got there relatively well however being rwd and me being 17 (In my mind a great combination, not sure the passengers were so happy) it only seemed to drive sideways with the slightest hint of moisture. This wasnt to be the end for the Tango wagon though.... Oh no,

    It was a kerb that jumped out on me and a slight dissagreement with a telegraph pole that must have been chasing the kerb!! Poor orange car..smash The next weekend it was driven in anger at other similar fated vehicles in a grassy field with a number screwed to its roof. I then bought a monster! A red colour-coded Maestro, again a 1600 but front wheel drive so I had to learn a new way of cornering...

  • tgalvin 21 Apr 2008

    My first car was the special edition 1.7 Renault 11 TXE Electronique - Night Rider style LED digital dash and recorded voices for every warning from "Please fasten seatbelt" right through to "Alarm, drop in oil pressure. Pull over and switch off immediately. Do attempt to restart the vehicle"! It was a great car that lasted me about 5 years in the end. Fond memories....

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