Motoring Memories: AMC Renault Alliance, 1983 1987 motoring memories
1983 Renault Alliance. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

American Motors Corporation was formed through the merger of the respected, but failing, Hudson and Nash companies in 1954. It carried on the Nash and Hudson nameplates for a few years, but didn’t really gain success until it adopted the Rambler name exclusively after 1957. AMC had a few good years during the 1960s, and with the purchase of Kaiser-Jeep in 1970, brought the famous Jeep name into the fold.

But life was tough for the last surviving non-Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) automaker. As the 1970s unfolded the relentless competition from the Big Three found AMC so weak that in 1979 it was rescued by the French Renault company.

Renault had been importing cars to North America since the late 1940s when it started sending its tiny, rear-engined 4CV to our shores. The 4CV was too small to be practical here, but when the lovely Dauphine arrived in 1956 it was popular enough to challenge the Volkswagen Beetle for a while.

In spite of being one of Europe’s top automakers, Renault never really flourished in North America. Like all French cars, there seemed to be a few too many idiosyncrasies for the market. Renault persisted, but finally decided that to invigorate its attack it would purchase a North American company with its marketing expertise and an established dealer network: thus its take-over of AMC.

By this time, AMC’s offerings were down to the subcompact Spirit, compact Concord and four-wheel drive Concord-based Eagle, and best of all, the Jeep sport utility vehicle. While the Eagle was in a class of one as a four-wheel drive American car, the Spirit and Concord were getting well past their best-before dates and would disappear in 1984.

Renault marketed such cars as its small Le Car, 18 sedan and the sporty Fuego coupe, but since their market penetration was less than satisfactory, AMC-R decided that an all-new car was needed. The result was the AMC Renault Alliance.

The Alliance was based on the Renault R9, voted the 1982 European Car of the Year. It quickly became France’s most popular car and Renault’s best selling model ever, so it already had a well established track record. It was Americanized for the North American market, and built (except the French-built engine and transaxle) in a retooled assembly plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The R9/Alliance was introduced as a 1983 model, a sturdy, “three-box,” four door sedan (a two-door would soon follow) with somewhat bland styling. It was a sensible car for a post-oil crisis period in which good fuel economy was highly prized. It was small at 4,160 mm (163.8 in.) long, but had a generous 2,469 mm (97.2 in.) wheelbase. There was good interior space for four or occasionally five people, in part due to a cleverly engineered front seat.

Each individual front seat was mounted pedestal fashion on a 229-mm (9 in.) wide central frame that allowed rear passengers to slide their feet under the front seat. In addition to the usual recline and fore-and-aft movements, upscale models got a curved track that allowed the seat to be adjusted in a “rocking” motion to find the most comfortable position.

Power from the transversely mounted, 1.4-litre, overhead valve, inline four went to the front wheels through either a four-or five-speed manual, or three-speed automatic transaxle. The engine had throttle-body fuel injection (except in California where emissions standards required port injection), and came from the Renault Le Car.

Its 64 horsepower propelled the 921 kg (2,030 lb) Alliance to 96 km/h (60 mph) in a leisurely 14.3 seconds, and to a top speed of 143 km/h (89 mph) (Car and Driver 9/82). While it was a bit slow off the line, its Transport Canada city/highway fuel consumption ratings for the five-speed were an excellent 7.3/4.6 L/100 km (38/61 mpg), although it was a rare motorist who would actually get that in real world driving.

Suspension was fully independent via MacPherson struts in front, and a compact and quite ingenious system of transverse torsion bars and trailing arms at the rear. Steering was rack-and-pinion. An optional and very useful “Systems Sentry” monitored the fluid levels of engine oil, coolant, windshield washer, brakes, transmission and power steering, and signalled the driver of low fluids.

The Alliance had a very successful 1983 model year. Then for 1984 a hatchback version called the Encore was added. It was the same mechanically but had a wraparound rear window and folding rear seat. In 1985 AMC-Renault rounded out the Alliance line with an image-enhancing convertible, AMC’s first soft top since 1968. It came with the new, optional single overhead cam 1.7-litre, 78-horsepower engine.

There were detail changes only for 1985, then for 1986 the Encore name was discontinued. By 1987 it was all over for the Alliance. When the Chrysler Corp. purchased AMC-Renault in 1987 and turned it into its Jeep-Eagle Division, the Alliance was dropped: thus ended a short but eventful Franco-American alliance.