UK’s rarest cars: 1984 Renault 11 TXE Electronic, one of only three left

1984 Renault 11 TXE Electronic
When Richard Birchenough went to buy a used 11 TXE in 2004, he realised his rare find used to belong to his father - Richard Birchenough

In January 1983, certain parties at British Leyland were decidedly peeved. Their new Maestro, due for launch in March, was supposed to be the first mass-produced car with a voice synthesiser, only for the Renault 11 to steal its thunder. Today, Richard Birchenough’s 1984 TXE Electronic is one of just three on the road, and it even still issues verbal instructions.

The 11 was the hatchback version of the 1981 Renault 9 saloon. As compared with many previous Renaults, the styling by Robert Opron was deliberately understated to appeal to conservative-minded drivers. British sales began in June 1983, and this commercial aimed the 11 at hair-gelled buyers on the cusp of Sloane Ranger and Yuppie.

Renault GB hoped the 11 would capture five per cent of the Austin Maestro/Ford Escort/Vauxhall Astra market sector. This very newspaper praised the excellent ride, positive steering and transmission, but found the rear seats too cramped.

It was 1984 that saw the talkative Electronic finally become available in the UK. For £7,300, the buyer gained a sunroof, remote control central locking, electric front windows, a trip computer, and a Phillips Hi-Fi set. Most importantly, the Electronic featured an LCD dashboard with a voice synthesizer.

1984: the talkative Electronic finally become available in the UK
1984: the talkative Electronic finally become available in the UK - Richard Birchenough

What Car? mentioned the “slurred male reminders about open doors and lights left on” but preferred the Renault to the Alfa Romeo 33 Gold Cloverleaf. In their view, “the R11 isn’t exactly a car that sets the pulses racing but it scores in all the routine areas in which the Alfa falls down.”

French production of the 11 ended in 1989 after 803,588 units, although a Turkish-built version remained available until 2000. According to Birchenough, “one problem Renault had with the 11 is that it was a little too compact for its intended market – an issue they rectified with the replacement 19.” As for B198 BCA, Birchenough’s father bought it shortly after the family visited the Renault stand at the 1984 Motor Show.

1984 Renault 11 TXE Electronic
The 11 was built in France until 1989 before production moved to Turkey - Richard Birchenough

Birchenough recalls, ‘At that time, we had an 18 American, but Dad fell in love with the 11 at the NEC, and shortly afterwards he placed an order at the local Willows Garage. I got to choose the Lagoon Green colour out of the three available paint finishes, and I remember several people saying to Dad that our 11 was the French equivalent of Kit from Knight Rider.”

However, the Electronic remained in the family for only a year. Birchenough explains, “Dad had MS, and it did not have enough room to accommodate his wheelchair. He exchanged the TXE for one of the last 18 Estates, but in 2004 I had the urge to buy one of my own. The owners’ club magazine listed just two for sale, and the first vendor told me their 11 had a ‘Willow’s Garage’ decal in the windows.”

It was, indeed, the very car that Birchenough’s father had owned, and so he immediately borrowed a car transporter and headed for London.

1984 Renault 11 TXE Electronic
'The 11’s lightweight body and light engine make it a delight to drive' says Birchenough - Richard Birchenough

“Bodily, she was in excellent condition, but the engine didn’t run and the dashboard was non-functioning.” After years of work, the 11 is one of his fleet of rare Renaults, including a 9, a 12 and an 18TL.

Just three TXE Electronics are listed as roadworthy, and Birchenough thinks his example is the only early Phase 1 in use. “The 11’s lightweight body and light engine make it a delight to drive, but too many have been sacrificed for conversion into very inauthentic ‘007 Cars’,” he says, in reference to the Renault 11’s starring role in James Bond - View to a Kill.

Today, Birchenough finds that “it sometimes confuses motor enthusiasts who believe the Maestro was the first car with a talking dashboard.” But that honour goes to the 11 Electronic – even if it sounds less dulcet than the Maestro’s Ms Nicolette McKenzie.

With thanks To: Richard Birchenough

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