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ClassicLine’s resident road tripper, Ben Coombs, road tests a newly adopted Renault Twingo. But was it a masterpiece move or just another ‘must have’ car ticked off the list?

As with many things, in the world of motoring, if you can’t have something you’ll probably want it all the more. And we’re not just talking about unobtainable Koeniggseggs here. The same goes for many more mundane machines. Kei cars, for instance; those Japanese city-cars which were never sold over here. Or mass-produced American muscle, such as Camaros and Mustangs, which for years neglected to cross the Atlantic.

But look closer to home, and there’s another machine which failed to cross the channel. The humble Mk1 Renault Twingo. Made between 1992 and 2007, and seemingly styled on the designer’s family pet, this little hatchback is a ubiquitous sight around Europe, particularly in France, where it’s as much a part of the landscape as boulangeries and berets, wearing its parking dents and lacquer peal with pride.

But they never sold this modern classic car in the UK.

As the Twingo was only ever made with the steering wheel on the left, it never reached these shores in any numbers, and to date there are barely more than 200 of the cute little things on UK roads, meaning that to the average Brit, the Twingo isn’t associated with cost-effective motoring, as it is on the continent. No, instead it’s redolent of the good times – holidays by the Med, road trips through the French countryside, memorable weekends away from Paris to Provence. It’s a rolling reminder of good times, and with its daft little smile, it can’t help but make you smile, too.

As a result, I’d always fancied heading over to Europe, adopting one, and bringing it back to the UK. In March, that’s exactly what I did.

Buying and registering a Renault Twingo

We found our Twingo near Munich, a top-spec ‘Initiale Paris’, sporting such unlikely luxuries as leather, aircon, full-length sunshine roof and remote locking. And even more amazingly, barely any dents or lacquer peal. A deal was done, and after a morning spent at the local government offices sorting the paperwork, export plates and insurance, we hit the road to the UK. But not before we’d taken a detour to Salzburg, where the Twingo acquired its name – Mozart.

It was a fairly full-on, two-day drive back to Britain, via an overnight stop in Luxembourg, and soon our Twingo was tucked away in a Devon garage, awaiting the real fun to start – re-registering it in the UK. The first step was an MOT, and to pass this, a few things were necessary. Switching the fog light to the off-side, for instance, and adjusting the headlight beam. But fundamentally, Mozart is a good car, and with these changes made, it flew through the test with flying colours.

Next up, there was the import duty to pay. This goes to HMRC and is a percentage of a purchase cost of the car, and its shipping cost to the UK. Recent rule changes mean an import agent has to be used to process the payment, which added further to the cost, but luckily, the low cost of buying a Twingo in Europe meant the costs here weren’t too painful. And then, with a UK insurance policy in place, it was time to pull together all the paperwork, fill out some forms, and hope the DVLA are in a good mood.

They were thankfully. In May, our little Twingo received a V5, and we could make up its license plates and hit the road.

Adventure road tripping in a Renault Twingo

It’s been on two trips so far. Firstly, a camping trip in the Forest of Dean, where it completed a 300 mile round trip, and flew under the radar of almost everyone else on the road, as unless you’re a car person with an interest in the obscure, the sight of an early Twingo in the UK is likely to pass unnoticed. And on its second trip, it was even more anonymous, for in early June, Mozart boarded the ferry to Spain as part of Pub2Pub’s ‘Mountains and Machines’ tour, carrying a boot full of tools and all set for 12 days of chasing some rather impressive machinery.

During its 1,400 mile trip through Spain, Andorra and France, it became just another Twingo again, but in many ways, it proved a very good car for the job. The steering wheel was on the correct side for the continent. The sliding rear seat makes for a surprisingly large boot. The 1.2 litre, 16 valve engine barely sips fuel, and the seats are comfortable enough even for full days on the road. In short, it’s just what you’d expect from a Gaelic hatchback designed at a time when France was at the absolute peak of its small-car game.

So, what does the future hold for this latest purchase? Time will tell, as much of the appeal of the purchase was in the challenge of sourcing and buying it, then road-tripping it back to the UK and completing the import. But one thing is for certain, with over 3,000 miles notched up so far, we’re definitely Twingo converts now. While the appeal originally stemmed from seeing Twingos while on holiday in France, that appeal has survived the transition to spending hours behind the wheel of one surprisingly well. Like a decent bottle of champagne, it works just as well on either side of the channel, and can’t help to put a smile on your face. For that alone, it was well worth the effort in bringing it over here.

Looking for your own European motoring adventure this summer? Check out Pub2Pub’s latest road trip announcement. If you have a Citroen 2CV, Austin Maestro, pre-80s TVR, classic Fiat Panda, Rover P6, Triumph Spitfire, VW Squareback or anything else along those lines, this trip’s for you. Renault Twingo’s welcome too! European road trip announcement you’ll want to know about