It may have been largely ignored for more than a year, but work has finally begun on this utilitarian French classic
After a recent project reshuffle emptied the workshop, a small and forlorn face peered out of the darkest corner. Former editor Keith Adams’ mystery project, I’d taken it on at the same time as my Jaguar XJS, anticipating a need for a small warmup prior to tackling a V12 cylinder head. As it happened, the XJS was a much easier fix, and the Twingo just sat there, waiting, as other cars came and went.
It’s worth remembering that although this Twingo is a 2002 model, it was introduced a decade earlier. An economy that still supported basic-level cars (production of the Citroën 2CV6 had only ended two years prior, and the Renault 5 Campus was still a bestseller) meant that the little Renault was onpoint for stylish yet basic transport, and being left-hand drive only, feels exotic in the UK. A recent trip to France revealed that Paris is losing much of the automotive colour that once made it feel so different from the UK, yet a littering of Twingos provided a little bit of interest among the Audis, Kias and Škoda diesels clattering around Gare du Nord.
Glancing at the slim pillars and panoramic glass roof, it struck me that it would still be a cheap and economical little car, even if I had to pay someone to fix it. It had come in to the workshop with a misfire following cylinder head gasket failure between cylinders two and three, verified with a borescope and by the presence of a lot of oil.
That felt a bit defeatist, though; this car is about as basic as they come, so why couldn’t I do it? I set myself a target of doing one hour of work on the car, every day, until it was done.
As I stripped the engine bay, it became clear that there was more wrong with the car than I first thought; the radiator was gummed up with foul grey goo and there was oil all over the back of the engine. The history file shows that the required km/h to mph adaptor has been installed, meaning the 127,000 units displayed could largely be miles – it has spent a lot of time in the UK. Was it really worth all this effort?
A brand-new new-old-stock Renault engine from Renparts, a specialist breaker near Doncaster, provided the answer. At £475 with a 12-month warranty, compared to forking out £100 for gaskets, £100 for a timing belt, and fitting it all to a rusty, high-ish mileage block, it was a no-brainer. With a new clutch fitted at the same time, the little Twingo should be good for years to come. Meanwhile, I’m using those planned hours to remove and clean the old engine’s ancillaries and rustproof the inner wings.
Pausing to fold all the seats flat, and gaze up out of the huge glass roof, it seemed remarkable to me that people have been so quick to abandon cool cars like this for horrible closed-in miniature tanks like the Nissan Juke.
Basic interior has resisted 15 years of wear and tear very well.
That’s a lot of oil, most of it where it’s really not supposed to be, either.