From The Driving Seat header car on road
Renault Avantime at Brill Windmill



Impulse buy by Peter Osborne

I no longer have a garage since the Westfield went (I've turned the garage into a photo darkroom), so the classic British sports car would have to sit on the drive in all weathers. Hmm — visions of it (rapidly) turning into ferric oxide made the idea seem less attractive.

So, what to have? Trolling through eBay one day I came upon a Renault Avantime. Why not? I like the looks (OK, it's a Marmite car isn't it? You either love it or hate it), and it's plastic so the dreaded metal body rot shouldn't be a problem.

The auction on this one, a 2003 registered 2-litre turbo, had only a few hours to run, and it had less than 50,000 miles on the clock. The latest bid was a good price, so I put in a bid for slightly more, thinking it's bound to go for more than that.  Next day, I got an email telling me that I'd won the auction. Ah — not even seen the car, let alone driven it and it's in Southampton. What if it's no good? How am I going to pick it up?

Couple of weeks later and it's the Monday after the Silverstone Classic weekend, which JW and I attended. JW gives me a lift to Southampton on his way home —and there it is. It looks in really good condition and drives well, apart from a slight pull to the left (just the tracking out, I reckon), and the aircon doesn't seem to work too well (re-gas, I say.) Oh, and the central storage drawer in the dash doesn't seem to open. I hand over the money and drive the Avantime home.

That was just over a year ago. So, how has that year been with the Gallic oddity? Actually pretty good. It's a really comfortable drive that encourages a more relaxed approach; but with a surprising turn of speed when needed. The looks certainly attract attention from other motorists and pedestrians, especially when you're driving in "plein air" mode, with that huge sunroof open and all four (pillarless) windows down. That's when you can here small boys shout "Wow! Look at that car!" I even had someone come up to me in a car park and say: "It's good to see a work of art on the road". A man of taste and distinction, obviously.

With 63,000 miles coming up on the clock, the Avantime has obviously not been hard used over the last year, but they've been 13,000 totally reliable miles, including two trips to France. The car hasn't missed a beat and not let me down. And I simply love driving it.

Downsides? The aircon turned out to be more than just a simple re-gas job. Two pipes have been rubbing against each other and need to be replaced. Local garage quoted me £350 for these two pipes; but said they couldn't quote for the labour as the Avantime didn't show up on their system. I said: "Thanks, but no thanks, I'll just open the sunroof." A subsequent trip to La Rochelle in plus 30 degree C temperatures and I wished I'd said yes.

I also asked the garage to adjust the tracking when they were investigating the aircon. "We've adjusted it as much as we can." they said. "It's now on spec." Still pulls though! I learned to live with that — in France it doesn't seem to pull at all.

That storage drawer turns out to have been stuck shut as the retaining clip had broken (fairly common apparently). Replacement clip from Renault costs £24; but the excellent Avantime owners group ( had them available for £9 — I bought two, just in case! Fitting was fairly simple, apart from removing the horrendous mess of blu-tack that a previous owner had used to stick the drawer shut!

A recurring problem has been the front passenger seat not locking on its rails after tilting it forward to allow access to the rear seats. Strangely, passengers seem not to like sliding backwards and forwards every time I accelerate or brake.... I decided to take the seat out to sort the problem  — big mistake! The seat weighs a ton, what with built-in airbags, seatbelts etc. and struggling on my own to remove it from the car did my back in and left me hobbling around for a week.

I did find the cause of the problem however — a sticking catch in one of the runners. A little work with a 'Birmingham screwdriver' freed it, and the seat locked in place. It's happened again since however, and I've not been able to discover just what makes that catch stick; but I've devised a method of freeing the catch without removing the seat from the car. Not too much of a problem as I don't often carry rear-seat passengers, and when I do they gain access from the driver's side.

Still not had the aircon fixed but  record-breaking temperatures in the summer made me think I'll have to bite the bullet and get that done.

Recently went in for MOT, which it passed with no problem - although with an advisory about corroded discs (had the same advisory for the last three MOTs; but I had new discs fitted anyway) and the tracking was adjusted again (different garage). OS Front OK; NS Front OK; OS rear OK; NS rear out to the left by 1.5mm. No adjustment available on the rear so looks like something might possibly be bent? Hmmm!

Here is a breakdown of expenses, including fuel, over the period 07/09/12 (50,528 miles) to 06/12/13 (62,882 miles) taken from the excellent Car Logbook app on my iPhone. The Avantime has cost me £4089 over those 15 months (12,354 miles). That works out at 33p per mile — not bad I reckon, especially as it includes the cost of fitting four new brake discs.

Peter Osborne

I'd sold my previous vehicle, so now we were a one-car family. Not too much of a problem as I work from home and electronic communications mean I don't have to visit clients as often as I used to. Still, I was sort of missing having my own car and I'd been thinking about buying a classic British sports car, maybe a Triumph Spitfire might suit? Looked at a few at not too much money; but then reality hit.

All photos @ Peter Osborne