My Favorite Renault
By Roger Boylan
The old highway from Geneva to Annecy, the N201, is locally known for three things: the fine views of the Alps from the heights of its up-and-down trajectory; the Pont de la Caille, a turreted 19th-century suspension bridge, much beloved of suicides, that spans a gorge about 300 feet deep; and spectacular car wrecks, especially in the snow and dense fog typical of Alpine autumns and winters. Annecy is one of my favorite towns; it’s like a smaller and cheaper version of Geneva, so I used to travel the N201 quite often. On my trips down there in the ‘60s it became routine for me–traveling sedately aboard, say, a Simca 1000 (see previous article)–to be passed at an insane clip by some fool at the wheel of his bolide (pocket rocket) on his way to the demolition derby capital of the region, the unlovely town of Cruseilles, whose main drag, the Grand’Rue, was in my day (and probably still is) irresistible to the local speed demons. The bolide of choice in these antics was a works-tuned Renault Dauphine known as the “1093” after the engine’s cubic capacity (up from 845 in the standard Dauphine).
The boy racers–and they were all boys; the girls only watched, or had better things to do–loved to gun their 1093s down the Grand’Rue in Cruseilles of an evening and hit 100 km/h before doing some fancy downshifting and hitting the brakes at the first and only traffic light, then–God willing–after a sharp right and a tight U-turn, surviving long enough to repeat the process and go on to fame and glory, or at least adulthood. Cruseilles, of course, was hardly unique; this foolish ritual was and is as common in all the small towns of France as it is, with different machinery, across the US, and always will be, as long as there are young men and cars. (But Cruseilles, at least, may be slightly safer now. A new autoroute, the A41, has been built to divert traffic away from the old N201, returning the hinterland to its ancient slumber.)
The 1093 was an understated racer, a bit of a wolf (or maybe a Standard Poodle) in sheep’s clothing, hard to distinguish from the base Dauphine except for the elegant blue body-length stripes and larger headlights. It boasted a peppy 55 hp under the little rear hood (20 or so more than the base model), and could manage a true top speed of 90 mph (145 km/h). Only 2041 were made. I loved ‘em. There’s a shiny 1093 in the car collection of my dreams, ready to be driven down all the tree-lined Memory Lanes of the past.
The 1093 wasn’t just a contender in small-town derbies. It was a major player on the international racing scene, winning famous road rallies such as the Tour de Corse and the Rallye des Fleurs, and it was becoming serious competition for the Mini Coopers and Fiat Abarths of the day when Renault pulled the plug.