French Royalty at The Orphanage: 1961 Renault Dauphine

YUMA, COLO – The word Dauphine is defined as the female form of the French feudal title of Dauphin, heir apparent to the French royal crown. High aspiration for the little 1961 Renault Dauphine on loan from Denver’s Forney Museum of Transportation.
A pioneer of the European economy car, this rear engine/rear wheel drive, four-door saloon, manufactured in one body style only, was the successor to the successful Renault 4CV. Several years of secret R&D and thorough testing went into the Dauphine which was introduced in March 1956. More than two million units were manufactured during its 1956-1967 production run.
At 155.0 inches in length and weighing 1430 lb., the Dauphine uses an 845 cc, water cooled, in line four cylinder engine. The engine is rated at 32 hp, with a top speed of 70 mph, 0-60 in 32 seconds. The transmission is a three-speed manual (a four-speed was added later in the production run). Beginning in 1957, an electromagnetically operated clutch with no clutch pedal was offered, much like Volkswagen’s Autostick.
Steering is rack-and-pinion and front suspension is coil spring/twin wishbone layout with an anti-roll bar. Rear suspension is swing axle with coil spring/telescopic dampers sitting atop the swing tubes. More than half of the car’s weight is carried by the rear wheels. This, in combination with the suspension and over-inflated front tires could lead to oversteer characteristics much like the Chevrolet Corvair.
Sheet metal styling assistance was provided by Luigi Segre of Carrozzeria Ghia, an automotive design and coach building firm in Turin, Italy. Segre’s studio also designed the curvaceous VW Karmann-Ghia.
The Dauphine has a front hinged trunk lid with integral headlights. The spare tire is located horizontally, under the front of the car, behind a panel below the bumper. The passenger compartment has bucket seats up front and a rear bench seat, a heater, painted dash (matching the exterior color) with twin open bins on the dashboard, in lieu of gloveboxes, sliding rear windows and twin horns, one for town and one for the country. In addition, rear door safety locks, stainless steel trim moldings and hold-open catches on the door stays were standard.
Award winning Parisian textile artist, Paule Marrot, suggested to Renault’s chairman that she could help find “fresh vibrant colors” to replace the drab automotive colors of postwar Paris. Morrot became a member of the Dauphine team and went on to propose vibrant pastels and complimentary fabrics for seats and door panels.
Although the Renault Dauphine was a popular machine around the world, it suffered from many problems including poor reliability and assembly, mechanical problems, and severe rust problems. The Dauphine has been proclaimed the “9th Worst Car of the Millennium” and “truly unencumbered by the engineering process” and yet, the Dauphine was America’s best-selling import car of 1959.
The Orphanage is in downtown Yuma, at 300 South Main Street. For more information about future exhibits, please contact Richard Birnie at (970) 630-3360, or visit the Orphanage website at Hours at the gallery are 10am-4pm, Tuesday through Saturday and 1pm-4pm, Sundays. The Orphanage is closed on Mondays. Visit the Forney Museum of Transportation at 4303 Brighton Blvd., Denver.