IT is amazing how a familiar sight on our roads only a few years ago is now an utter rarity.
Such is the case of the neat little Renault R6 which was launched in 1968 and enjoyed a long production run until 1979 with not far off two million being manufactured.
But now an estimated seven remain on UK roads with a few others off road. Rust, scrappage and problems with items such as suspension mountings failing MOT tests have consigned a vast number of poor old R6s to the crusher which is a great shame because in their day these little cars were the forerunner of the modern city hatches of today.
Born in the year of Renault's 70th birthday, the R6 was the company's answer to the Citroen Dyane and Ami – compact, cheap to run and pleasant to drive.
It was a larger and more-upmarket Renault 4 using the same basic mechanics including the 845cc four-cylinder engine and dashboard-mounted gearlever with over-the-engine linkage.
Four doors and an opening hatch-back endowed great versatility for the day but the 845cc scored a could-have-done-better mark in the UK which was used to more lively engines. But things changed when the R6 was given a power boost in 1970 by the addition of a 1,100cc unit.
I was able to drive a few of them in their heyday and they were a surprisingly pleasant drive. Even the strange French dashboard gear lever was relatively easy to use. Honest handling, good brakes and steering that would do justice to a much more expensive car were plus points.
Renault at the time looked at the front-wheel-drive R6 as a possible replacement for the rear-engined R8 but there was still a lot of demand for the R8 and the two were sold side by side for a time.
Early versions were criticised by the press for lack of power but on reviewing the later 1,100cc version Motor magazine conceded that the performance increase was 'very useful.'
In 1974 the R6 was revamped with square headlights, new rear lights, a black plastic grille and new bumpers. The front indicator lights also moved from between the bumper and the headlights to the bumper itself.
As with many cars of the time the R6 puddled along in its own time warp on distant shores after production and sales in France and most of Europe ended in 1980. In Argentina and Spain it was made until 1986 and in Colombia it was discontinued in 1984 when the Renault 9 took the lead.
Happily the remaining R6s are in the hands of enthusiasts who, although small in number are big on enthusiasm for what was, in its day, one of Europe's top bread and butter cars.