Images are from the brochure collection of Hemmings Motor News, courtesy of Bruce Zahor.
The Renault Alliance is one of those cars that many recall but, it seems, few remember with much fondness. Funny that, considering how well it initially sold, and how important it was at the time for its struggling domestic parent company, AMC. While it seems forever linked to the mid-1980s, its roots stretch back to the late 1970s.
According to Hemmings Classic Car columnist Pat Foster’s excellent book, American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker, American Motors announced in the spring of 1978 that it was negotiating with France’s Renault to establish a sales and manufacturing tie-up between the two companies. “This was [AMC CEO] Gerry Meyers’s plan; he wanted to become the importer of Renault cars to sell through the AMC network, which would help keep dealers profitable while giving AMC extra income. But longer term he wanted to be able to tap Renault’s small-car expertise and components so that he could bring out a line of completely redesigned AMC cars with high fuel efficiency and front-wheel drive.”
When the aptly named Alliance—a Renault-designed, Kenosha-built subcompact car based on the 1982 European Car of the Year award-winning Renault 9—debuted for 1983, it was an immediate sensation, earning the Motor Trend Car of the Year award. When the 1984 model year rolled around, this quietly attractive two- or four-door sedan was joined by a three- or five-door hatchback variant: based on Europe’s Renault 11, to Americans, this was the Renault Encore.
While the Alliance was promoted on its accessible European design, the 1984 Encore was marketed on its sporty, practical, and economical nature.
The Encore shared its thrifty 1.4-liter, fuel-injected SOHC four-cylinder engine, four- or five-speed manual transmission, or three-speed automatic transmission with the notchback Alliance; the fully independent suspension and front disc/rear brakes behind 13-inch wheels were also common parts.
While the Alliance had represented a real bargain upon introduction, its costs had risen for its sophomore appearance in the market; the least expensive two-door model cost $5,959, while the loaded Limited commanded $8,027; those figures were roughly equivalent to $14,725-$19,835 in today’s dollars. The new Encore was a bit more accessible with a price range of $5,755-$7,770 (circa $14,220-$19,200). The 1983 Alliance accounted for nearly 125,000 sales -100,000 Alliances had sold by July of 1983- and the 1984 model did nearly as well, selling more than 105,000; the new Encore added just over 72,000 units to that total. Also available that year were the sleek Fuego sports coupe and roomy Sportwagon, née 18i.
These Franco-American siblings continued into 1985 with minor changes including a new, larger-displacement SOHC four-cylinder; a dashing Alliance convertible was added to the lineup. The sporty, Alliance-based GTA would be a 1987-only delicacy, and these models would disappear entirely after that.
We’ll posit that the concept of an Americanized, European-designed car that’s built in North America resurfaced a couple of decades later with the original Nissan Versa – that modern-day stand-in for the Alliance/Encore combined quirky French style (again, Renault) with production in Mexico. Can you think of any other examples of this international collaboration?
Click to enlarge the brochure images below.