July 6, 2022

The MotorTrend Automobile of the 12 months award stretches again some 70 years, and we’ve taken flak for a number of winners, such because the 1974 Ford Mustang II (which we nonetheless say was the precise automobile for its time) and the 1991 Chevrolet Caprice (Chevy despatched us an LTZ with the police suspension, so it aced the ride-and-handling route). Nonetheless, few of our winners have drawn as a lot scorn as our 1983 Automobile of the 12 months, the Renault-AMC Alliance.

Truthfully, we will’t assist however wince when folks convey up the Alliance, as one auto exec did just lately. Nonetheless, going again and reviewing the historical past, we predict our early-’80s forebears made the precise selection. Step into the MT time machine, and let’s take a dive into the circumstances behind the Alliance’s 1983 COTY win.

The Occasions, They Had been A-Changin’

Let’s begin with a fast overview of what was occurring in late ’82 after we did our 1983 Automobile of the 12 months testing. First, gas financial system was of outsized significance. Fuel costs had doubled because the 1979 gas disaster, which had triggered rationing and blocks-long traces at fuel stations. Second, popular culture beloved something European, and notably something French.

And third, and most essential, the Alliance’s competitors was fairly dire.

In 1983, MotorTrend nonetheless had separate Automobile of the 12 months awards for home and imported automobiles, and the Alliance—inbuilt American Motors’ Kenosha, Wisconsin, plant with 72 % U.S. elements content material—certified as a home. The business hadn’t but crawled out of the Malaise Period, and the Alliance confronted one of many weakest COTY fields within the award’s historical past. It was competing towards simply six different vehicles, and with one doable exception, none was notably sensible.

The Contenders for 1983 Automobile of the 12 months

Common Motors fielded two vehicles, the Buick Skyhawk in “Euro-style” T-Sort kind and the Oldsmobile Firenza GT. (These have been badge-engineered variations of the Chevrolet Cavalier, which had competed for COTY in 1982 and completed seventh out of 11 in a surprisingly robust discipline.) Chrysler despatched its new E-Class and Dodge 600 ES, stretched variations of the 1981-COTY-winning Ok-cars. They marked the start of the Ok-body proliferation, which we very quickly grew sick and uninterested in.

Ford had a moderately fascinating entrant: the 1983 Thunderbird, that includes rounded aerodynamic styling that we referred to as “probably the most radically restyled our bodies to return out of Detroit within the final 25 years.” Sadly for Ford (and, maybe, happily for AMC and Renault), on the time we carried out our Automobile of the 12 months testing, the T-Fowl was solely obtainable with a 114-hp 3.8-liter V-6 engine and an computerized transmission. The V-8, turbo-four, and five-speed handbook that might fulfill the Thunderbird’s potential have been nonetheless a number of months away. FoMoCo additionally despatched the Mercury Marquis Brougham, newly downsized to the Fox platform and an actual snoozer.

AMC-Renault’s Naturalized Home

Towards these opponents, the Renault-AMC Alliance was an intriguing proposition. AMC partnered with Renault within the late Seventies; Renault needed entry to a U.S. vendor community, and AMC wanted the money. Their first joint product was the Alliance, a model of the European-market Renault 9 reworked and restyled to fulfill U.S. security requirements. In step with the innate Nineteen Eighties coolness of all issues French, the automobile was labeled as a Renault, with the AMC brand banished to a small sticker within the rear window.

Though it was thought-about a home, the Alliance was very European: Its 1.4-liter engine produced simply 55 horsepower, nevertheless it was gas injected (Chrysler and Ford’s COTY contenders have been carbureted) and promised stellar fuel mileage. The Alliance was additionally a discount, with a $6,020 base value (about $17K in 2022 {dollars}) that put it halfway between subcompacts just like the Chevy Chevette and Ford Escort and compacts just like the Cavalier and Tempo. As an alternative of sending a top-of-the-line mannequin for Automobile of the 12 months, AMC despatched a midrange Alliance DL with a five-speed handbook transmission. Priced at $6,905 (about $20,000 in 2022), it was the discount of the COTY contenders.

Renault Alliance Cleans Up in Testing

In our instrumented testing, the Alliance rose towards the highest, no shock contemplating it was the lightest car within the group (the one automobile lower than a ton, the truth is) and had the one absolutely unbiased suspension. It had the very best skidpad grip (0.75 g), the shortest cease from 60 mph (144 ft), and the very best time via our 600-foot slalom (6.73 seconds). In our gas financial system loop, it achieved 37.09 mpg, second solely to the Skyhawk’s 38.56.

The one place the place the Renault had its trunklid handed to it was in our acceleration testing, the place it crawled to 60 in an agonizing 14.6 seconds and ambled via the quarter mile in 19.58 seconds at 68.4 mph. Keep in mind that the quickest automobile within the COTY group was the Dodge 600 ES—94-hp 2.2-liter four-cylinder, five-speed handbook—which posted a 12.1-second 0-60 time and an 18.0-second quarter-mile cross.

French Roll

The Alliance did (comparatively) effectively in our subjective testing. From a visible perspective, we preferred how AMC styling chief Dick Teague and his group had built-in federally mandated 5-mph bumpers with out ruining the Renault 9’s look. In contrast to its over-chromed opponents, the Alliance was authentically Euro-chic.

We deemed the dealing with to be very French. Physique lean was so excessive we thought the door handles would possibly scrape the pavement, however the Alliance had enough grip and poise, and its steering was exact, although energy help (pointless, in our opinion) sapped its really feel. The trip was surprisingly snug, and in a pre-COTY evaluate, we wrote, “The Alliance feels all of the world like an early Peugeot 504 or—dare we are saying it?—like a Citroën SM. With out the porpoising.”

Alliance Takes an Early Lead

Once we totaled up the scores—we used a convoluted factors system again in these days—the Renault was on high. It ranked first within the subjective classes of Styling and Design, Consolation and Comfort, Trip and Drive, Worth, and—imagine it or not—High quality Management, and it got here in second place within the Dealing with and Gas Financial system classes, behind the Thunderbird and Skyhawk, respectively.

All six judges ranked the Alliance tops on this modest group, and government editor Jim McCraw summarized what set the automobile other than its budget-priced rivals: “It took Chevy virtually eight years to get the Chevette someplace shut sufficient to proper, and Ford three years to straighten out the Escort. However the Alliance is as near good as any first-year automobile I’ve ever encountered.” Stated senior editor Kevin Smith: “Everybody in Detroit is speaking ‘European-style’ in kind, end, and really feel. AMC and Renault have proven the precise approach to get it.” Senior editor Bob Nagy famous that whereas the Thunderbird was the actual head-turner, “When it got here all the way down to ranking this discipline from the standpoint of total worth, I discovered the Alliance’s mixture of favor, consolation, and efficiency merely unbeatable.”

How Did the Different Vehicles Do?

How did the opposite COTY hopefuls stack up? The Buick Skyhawk T-Sort took second place. Its best-in-the-group gas financial system gave it a slim scoring benefit over the futuristic Ford Thunderbird, a great-handling automobile dragged down by an unimpressive engine. Subsequent in line was the Dodge 600 ES, which did effectively in instrumented testing and construct high quality however fell down on consolation, comfort, and styling.

The Dodge narrowly beat the Oldsmobile Firenza GT, which suffered from odd inside décor and worst-of-the-group construct high quality. The Mercury Marquis Brougham took sixth place, a sufferer of its poor gas financial system and tedious dealing with. “Understeer aficionados will discover this one a pleasure,” we wrote. The Marquis barely beat out the last-place Chrysler E-Class, which was judged worst for worth and had a voice warning system that irritated every one of many judges.

It Wasn’t Simply Us…

You may make a convincing argument the Renault-AMC Alliance gained our 1983 Automobile of the 12 months award as a result of it was the very best of a foul lot. It’s value noting we weren’t the one publication to heap reward on the Alliance—the oldsters at Automobile and Driver put it on their 1983 10Best checklist, citing its “mixing of compact dimensions, shocking creature consolation, glorious gas financial system, beauty, and really pleasing over-the-road habits that must have the varied Japanese importers speaking to themselves. If we have been another journal, this may be our automobile of the yr.”

So, How Did the Alliance Finish Up Being Remembered Amongst Historical past’s Worst Vehicles?

A part of the issue was timing: We cited the Alliance’s gradual acceleration as considered one of its largest flaws, and that was with the five-speed handbook transmission. Computerized Alliances had solely three speeds and have been even slower: We timed one to 60 in 17.3 seconds, with a 40-60 passing time of 9.1 seconds. We may cope with gradual acceleration when gas financial system was paramount, however fuel costs dropped steadily within the early ’80s, and by 1986—the yr earlier than Chrysler purchased AMC and killed off the Alliance—they have been, as soon as adjusted for inflation, at pre-1973-OPEC-embargo ranges. No shock, then, that after a powerful begin in 1983 and ’84, the yr the Encore hatchback model arrived, gross sales of the Renault-AMCs started a gentle decline.

A extra highly effective 1.7-liter engine arrived for 1985, however by then larger flaws have been rising: High quality and sturdiness have been nowhere close to nearly as good as we had thought. In truth, they have been dreadful. For what it’s value, we put our COTY take a look at automobile in our long-term fleet, including 11,000 miles with no vital points, however we all know automakers don’t pluck random vehicles off the road for MT COTY—we’re certain our Alliance, like its opponents, was rigorously prepped and checked. In late ’82, nonetheless, we may solely decide what was earlier than us. AMC’s home vehicles have been pretty sturdy, and we couldn’t know simply how dangerous the Renault-AMCs would transform.

It Might Have All Ended Very In another way

What if the Renault-AMC Alliance had competed not as a home automobile however as an import? Our 1983 Import Automobile of the 12 months title went to the Mazda 626, which one decide referred to as “the best Japanese automobile I’ve ever pushed.” The 626 was a well-engineered car with excellent ergonomics, stable gas financial system, and nice driving traits—and construct high quality an order of magnitude higher than any of our 1983 home contenders. Different high finishers included the Porsche 944, Volvo 760, Mitsubishi Starion, and Toyota Tercel.

This might have been a a lot more durable group to beat than the home sadmobiles the Renault-AMC Alliance competed towards. In truth, there was a Renault within the import competitors: the Fuego, a sport coupe based mostly on the previous Renault 18 platform. It completed eighth within the 11-car discipline.

Had the Renault-AMC Alliance competed as an import, it in all probability wouldn’t have been the highest finisher—however meaning the Buick Skyhawk T-Sort would have been our 1983 Automobile of the 12 months. We’re fairly certain we wouldn’t have been in a position to dwell that one down, both.

Manufacturing unit picture credit score: Michael L. Abramson/Getty Photographs

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