In the late 1950s, Renault was locked in a battle with Volkswagen for superiority in the burgeoning import car market in America. Affordable foreign cars were just starting to find their footing among U.S. buyers, who still clung loyally to their large and luxurious barges from the big three, but even in the 1950s, fuel efficiency was becoming an increasingly important issue, as was maneuverability in urban environments, where these compact and lightweight cars were at their best. Renault had been playing second fiddle to Volkswagen was looking to up their game in this competitive and fast-growing new market. On paper, the Renault Dauphine actually shared many characteristics with the Beetle, namely the rear engine layout, basic construction, and styling that leaned toward the quirky and cute. The Dauphine offered perhaps greater practicality with its four-door body, but Volkswagen seemed to have a stranglehold on the market thanks to strong marketing and an ever-growing cult-following.
While at a business meeting in Florida, Renault bosses Pierre Dreyfus and Fernand Picard were inspired to enhance Renault’s image with a sporty little coupe based on the humble Dauphine. Mimicking VW’s own Karmann-Ghia, the new car was based on a bog-standard Dauphine platform but dressed in a pretty new two-door coupe and cabriolet body. And just like their German rivals, Renault turned to Carrozzeria Ghia to design the new car, which would be called the Floride in Europe and Caravelle in the US. The actual design was drawn by the young Ghia employee, Pietro Frua, who did a masterful job of camouflaging the Caravelle’s humble roots. Upon its debut in Geneva, over 8,000 orders poured in and, when the car was shown in the United States for the first time, a further 13,000 orders would follow. When the Dauphine was replaced by the R8 at the end of 1963, the Caravelle continued with subtly reworked styling by the now-independent Pietro Frua and powered by a new five main-bearing 956 cc inline four cylinder engine. For 1965, the Caravelle S was offered with an enlarged 1108 cc version of the R8 engine producing 55 horsepower and with four-wheel Bosch disc brakes, putting the Caravelle in line with other compact sports cars like the Triumph Spitfire and Austin Healey Sprite. Ultimately, the competition from Britain and Germany proved too much for Renault, and the Caravelle quietly disappeared from the lineup after 1967.
We have long been fans of these pretty little Renaults, and this 1967 Caravelle S is by far one of the finest, best restored examples we have had the pleasure to offer. Quirky, fun and charming, this Caravelle S cabriolet is beautifully presented in metallic lilac over a black interior. It has been restored to a standard that is virtually unseen on these cars, and is surely one of the finest of its kind available. The attractive light metallic lilac paintwork is applied to an outstanding body, with crisp and straight panels. The brightwork has been similarly well-restored and car sits proud on the road on factory-correct three-lug wheels with tiny 135 x 380 Michelin whitewall tires.
Inside, the outstanding presentation continues with fully restored upholstery using high quality materials and patterns that are true to original. Floors are lined with gray square weave carpet, and details such as the Renault seatbelt buckles and polished “Caravelle” script door sills show the level of care that went into this restoration. Front and rear seats are in excellent order, as is the black canvas soft top and the boot cover. Even the trunk has been fully detailed with the original tool roll still in place on the bulkhead. As a whole, the interior shows little use since the restoration was completed and has been maintained in excellent condition.
Lifting the rear engine lid reveals the finely detailed 1108 c.c. four cylinder engine. The paint work and detailing is excellent, and many of the correct original tags and labels have been restored. It runs well, appears to have been used only on occasion, and it has been maintained in top condition as part of a large and eclectic private collection of cars.
Despite the humble economy car underpinnings and modest output, this outstanding Renault is an absolute joy to drive, loaded with character and proof that horsepower isn’t always a necessary part of the Fun Factor. Much like the Karmann Ghia that inspired it, the cheeky and cheerful Renault Caravelle packs abundant style into a tiny package and we are very pleased to offer this exquisite example for the next owner to enjoy.