There was a time when French cars competed for sales in the US with the best small cars that Europe had to offer, particularly Germany’s VW and England’s BMC. The main French competitor was Renault, which has a storied history going back to 1889, but they never found long term success in North America. The sportiest Renault available here from 1959 to 1968 was the Caravelle, but few remain now. This 1961 Caravelle may be one of the last unrestored field finds left. Find it here on eBay in Costa Mesa, California with bidding at $611 and only one day left.
The seller says this Caravelle is one of a number of cars that was found in a field in Eastern Washington. Although the first photo shows a car in very poor condition, it cleaned up surprisingly well and looks like it might be a straight forward restoration. Rust was always a serious problem with Renaults, and this Caravelle has badly rusted floors and likely other problem areas. To be fair, the seller describes the Caravelle as a parts car and has not tried to sugar coat the potential problems.
The Caravelle was based on the Dauphine sedan platform, and these two models were intended to compete with the VW Beetle and other small foreign cars that were available in the US during the 1950s and 60s. The Caravelle had sporting intentions, but the body shape, especially at the front, probably held it back when it came to competing against the more shapely Karmann-Ghia and the British sports cars.
The Caravelle’s interior was plain, with limited instrumentation, and a radio as the only luxury. The interior on this car appears to retain its main components, but they have suffered from sitting out in the elements. The floor mounted stick indicates that this Caravelle used the Dauphine’s manual transmission. An electromagnetically operated clutch was available for the Dauphine, but we have never seen a Caravelle equipped with the automatic clutch.
Early Caravelles like this one received the Dauphine’s 845 cc four cylinder engine, which limited the performance available, and despite increases in displacement to 958 cc and then 1108 cc during the 1960s the Caravelle was never really seen as a performance competitor for the small sports cars of the day. The engine in this car has been cleaned up and looks complete, but the seller makes it clear that this Caravelle will be sold as a non-runner. Perhaps their suggestion of using the car in the 24 Hours of Lemons isn’t such a bad idea after all?
That same Washington field yielded at least one other vintage French car, a 1959 Citroen 2CV, which was found resting near the Caravelle. It is also listed for sale here on eBay, with bidding currently at $762 and about a day remaining. Makes you wonder what else was lurking out there…
The Citroen cleaned up fairly well too. Not our favorite car, but there is no denying that it is unique. The body looks solid and if there is no cancer, we would be tempted to leave the sun faded paint as is. Looks like there was some lettering along the side that just add to flavor to this already quirky runabout. So, is there anyone here brave enough to take on a couple of Frenchies?