By Stuart Grant
If you’d bought a Renault 5 in South Africa in 1979, you could’ve claimed to have the best example in the world. This was no made up intoxicated pub-talk bragging – it was fact, direct from Renault of France, and judged on specification, quality of build and lack of warranty issues.
The mid- to late 1960s saw Renault riding a popularity crest in the South African market, with the nippy R8/10 family saloons firm favourites. At the core of this success was the fact that Renault had a good, cost-effective and reliable product, as well as dealership back-up and support. Oh yes, and there were the giant-killing race and rally results with the likes of Geoff Mortimer, Scamp Porter, Jody Scheckter and others at the wheel that helped the brand building.
But this wasn’t enough to keep Renault at the sharp end of the sales figures through the early 1970s, and although the 12 and 17 were not bad cars, sales couldn’t keep up with the competition due in a large part to pricing. In 1972, a 1289cc Renault 12 would have set you back R2 277, while a Ford Escort 1300L cost R1 883. That year, 1 456 of the Renaults sold versus 2 170 of the 1297cc Escorts. Add in another 820 1098cc Escort 1100s and you’d see 2 990 Ford Escorts. A betting man would have ignored these two though and opted for something from the Land of the Rising Sun – maybe a more powerful 1600 Datsun which, although R208 more than the French offering, delivered double the punch (4 075 buyers agreed).