It's not every day you see a Renault Dauphine - especially one on a custom chassis with Volkswagen MK4 Golf GTI parts, including a mid-mounted VR6 engine.
It won’t be a shock if you’ve never even heard of the Renault Dauphine, like this one owned by Justin Cashmore of Simi Valley, California. It was built to be the successor of the Renault 4CV, and was sold from 1956 to 1966. When it was initially introduced to us in 1957, the rear-engine sedan was touted as the “prettiest little four-seater in the world" by The Motor.
Before long, though, its flaws began to show ranging from its lackluster engine, its skittish handling thanks to the swing axle, and poor performance in salty areas as it was prone to severe rusting. It’s now seen as one of the 50 worst cars to be sold here in the US. So, it stands to say there is room for improvement.
Though, before we can talk about what Justin has done, we had to ask, “Why?” “I have always been a fan of small European cars from the 1950s and 1960s,” he stated, “and French cars are even more unique and appealing.” It wasn’t its French birth alone that interested him in the Dauphine, “The Dauphine is right in that sweet spot: tiny, kinda weird, but also has killer body lines and styling. So, when I found this one on Facebook Marketplace in November of 2017, I purchased it!”
Owned by a “little old lady,” the car had been sitting for over 40 years in the California desert sun. This was good news, in a way, since it meant it wasn’t going to see as much rust as these cars typically come with. The cancer was there, though. Even so, restoration wasn’t in Justin’s mind, but he didn’t have a surefire plan, either. “I never really had a ‘plan,’” he admitted, “I started with an idea and let the car develop kind of on its own organically. This cars ‘idea’ was ‘canyons.’” Since not many were still around here in the West Coast, Justin said, “I had never really seen inside, much less cut up a Dauphine. So, planning was harnessed to short term goals.”
From the side, you can see why this car was loved when it first came here to the US. Unlike the very quirky design of the 2CV, the Dauphine used lines we’re not only more familiar with but ones that mimic what we loved about old Detroit coupes and sedans. It is a beautiful car to look at, even before Justin made it into his own take on the Renault.
The fenders, however, are drastically changed from the original Dauphine. Their openings have been cut, and a set of 120mm universal fender flares allow for much larger and aggressively sized tires as well as its very low stance. The rear fender has seen the biggest modification as it used to be a squared top rather than the round made courtesy of that universal flare.
Here, more radical deviations have been made to the original Dauphine. The first is the conversion from left-hand drive to right-hand drive. This also meant that the original, 1950s aesthetic dashboard has been replaced with a sheet of custom-made aluminum done by Justin.
In fact, everything done to this car has been performed by him inside his garage, including the custom made shifter and hydraulic e-brake, which Justin installed so that he could have fun drifting with his monster Renault.
The only portion he didn’t handle was the engine harness for his standalone motorsports ECU. That was done by TDC SHOP while he did the custom body harness for everything else. Also, yes, that is a Samsung tablet being used for his dashboard gauges.
Those front seats came from the rear of a MK4 Golf if you were wondering why they looked familiar. Justin installed a custom 12-point cage and those custom but matching hydro e-brake and shifter handles.
You’ll also notice the lack of rear seats, despite being a four-door car. “It was always going to be mid-engine, full cage, wide-body and outside the box,” said Justin, “Everything else was an evolution to make it work.” So, out went the rear sheet metal to allow for this fundamental mid-engine placement. We’ll explain how this was done in a moment, but we must stress this was all done by Justin in his own garage.
The wheels under those flares are 17x8.5 with a +30 offset all around while wrapped in Hankook Ventus Z221 Soft tires. Under both axles are a set of MK4 Golf front brake calipers with Stoptech pads, and the front axle uses the GTI version while the rear comes from a standard Golf. The front axle rotors are Stoptech 312mm diameter discs for the MK4 Golf GTI, and the rear are MK4 Golf 280mm front rotors on the rear axle.
While the body retains its patina, there are other touches that Justin did to his Dauphine. The front splitter is custom-made from aluminum just under the original front bumper.
However, it’s everything underneath this Dauphine that will make you stagger back with amazement. It sure did with us. The entire frame is custom made by Justin. Its what has allowed him to make this all work with the mid-engine placement and the MK4 Golf pieces you see around the chassis.
It uses a pushrod-style front suspension system with a pair of R1 coilovers attached to them and dual A-arms. Underneath the coilovers are the Wilwood master cylinders for the front and rear brakes, along with the clutch. There's another Wilwood master cylinder mounted underneath the driver seat that connects to the hydraulic e-brake.
The battery sits between the upper shock mounts while a Buggy-style fuel tank sits where the original fuel tank sat. A Schroeder sway bar allows for the use of NASCAR sway bar inserts to be used both front and rear.
Your eyes are also not deceiving you with the engine. This is a 24V VR6 BDF with a custom intake manifold with “Dauphine” scripted on a custom plate. It’s also running on a United Motorsports custom tune to match the lack of emissions equipment and to get just a touch more power out of it. It’s still using the same six-speed transmission with a South Bend Stage 2 Clutch.
A Fluidyne aluminum radiator is mounted to a handmade radiator support. The assembly sits underneath a custom shroud, wrapped with gold heat reflection material. Even with all this custom work, the engine mounts to original Volkswagen engine mounts.
However, it all sits on a custom subframe that can be removed as a whole, rolling unit if you can get the body high enough out of the way. This custom subframe also uses a set of custom A-arms with a cantilever suspension system attaching to a set of R1 coilovers.
Out back, a custom aluminum diffuser helps shield some of the exhaust gasses from the straight and short exhaust system with an upswept DTM-esque tip.
For some people, this would be enough. They would stop here and be happy or at least satisfied with the result. Not Justin. He’s already eyeing a forced induction setup, a different set of wheels, and an even bigger set of brakes to match those wheels and power. For now, he’s carving canyons and enjoying the drive he has.
If there is a piece of advice that Justin has, he says, “Never build your car based of other people’s expectations; make it the way you want it, and it will mean so much more to you.”
When you have a car that is considered one of the worst ever sold in the United States, you can only go up from there when you start to change it. That car had hit its lowest point before you even took possession of it, you can’t make it worse. The evolution from Renault to what Justin Cashmore has created is incredible, to say the least. If he can do this to the foulest automobile ever sold in the US, imagine what he could do with something even better than that.
Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you like this VR6 swapped Renault, you can find additional Volkswagen content at volkswagen.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS