The first French car to sell two million has all but disappeared. We hunt one down
Few classics are quite as charming as the little rear-engined Dauphine. Its cute looks and practicality endeared it to the masses, and a production line was even set up in Acton, London. It didn’t stop there, with the little Dauphine being produced in many other factories worldwide. It was even sold in America as a rival to the Volkswagen Beetle, thanks in part to its generous seating and economical running.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The rear wheelarches can rot sufficiently to require the entire wing being replaced, at a likely cost of £500. Check also the lower edge of the rear window surround and around the tail lights, where chrome embellishments can trap water and harbour rust. Corrosion also builds behind the headlight rings, upper and lower bodyside trims, grille surround and front and rear bumpers. Get under the car and make sure that the underseal that should have been applied upon arrival in the UK is present and correct; budget £400 for fresh application.
The 845cc, four-cylinder engine may only have a three-bearing crankshaft, but it was used to power Renault 5s in the 1980s. There is no oil filter, so regular changes are absolutely essential – every 1500 miles. A good anti-freeze should be used too. Regular Dauphines had 30-31bhp, upped to 38/40 for the Gordini, which uses a different cylinder head.
Most Dauphines have a three-speed gearbox, though four-speeds were later optional and standard on the Gordini. They’re pretty tough, but failing synchromesh and/or worn linkages can make crunch-free gearchanges very difficult. Driveshafts rarely give trouble unless the engine has been significantly tuned. Brakes are usually all-drum, but an all-disc set-up became available on Gordinis from 1964 and was briefly optional on Dauphines before production ended. Note that the front tyre pressures are exceptionally low – just 15psi – so don’t be surprised if they look squishy. Tyres can be expensive – around £100 each.
Finding trim is tricky as there was a surprising range of interior colours. The rubber edging on the doors can degrade but can be replaced by plastic or cloth. Electrics were initially 6v, later 12v. There’s nothing wrong with the 6v electrics, but it’s imperative that everything is in good order. Dirty connectors or dynamo brushes can cause issues, but are usually easily sorted.
The Dauphine has a reputation as an ill-handling death trap, which really is a bit unfair. Like a Porsche 911, you do need to treat it with respect but unlike a 911, there’s not really enough power to get yourself into a real mess. Few are likely to use a Dauphine to push the limits today and with consideration for the physics, you can drive one quite briskly with no drama. Prices have been rising, thanks to a low survival rate and serious charm.