Some Romanians will miss the Renault 12-based Dacia after production stops in favour of the new ‘cheap’ Logan later this year.

A Reuters report said the landmark car, a symbol of the dark and painful communist era, handled well on the Balkan country’s notoriously pot-holed roads and proved easy to repair by amateur mechanics. In September, Renault’s local plant will stop making the boxy Dacia 1300 and 1310 – largely unchanged for 30 years – to make way for the new low-cost Logan model.

“The Dacia was more than a car, it was a way of life,” car analyst Paul Borta told the news agency. “Everybody learned how to fix it on the street corner.”

Under the headline “Elegy for the Dacia 1300”, the major daily Evenimentul Zilei reportedly said the sturdy car had “all the faults and charms of Romanians during communism”, running on makeshift spare parts and adjusting to virtually any modification.

“Under communism it was Romania’s dream and torture, a car of miraculous repairs, the simple and friendly Dacia 1300…I will be sorry to see it go,” the newspaper’s editor, Cornel Nistorescu, wrote, according to Reuters.

The news agency said Romania was the last country in the world to still produce a version of the Renault 12. The Dacia was launched in the early 1970s and has changed very little since then.

Many among the 22 million population are torn between feelings of regret for the end of the faithful, cheap Dacia and the thrill of expectation for the Logan, which Renault says is the perfect car for developing countries, Reuters noted.

The Dacia plant in the southeastern village of Mioveni, which was founded in 1968 and bought by Renault in 1999, reportedly has produced around 1.9 million cars from the Renault 12 series, sold in Romania under different names.

Variants of the car were also made in France, Spain, Turkey, Argentina and Brazil [and Australia and New Zealand] but production there has long stopped, Reuters said, adding that, in the 1980s, the darkest decade of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist rule, people had to wait five years to buy a new Dacia, which then cost about $US3,500.

Stopping production this year means a whole culture around it will have to change, analysts told the news agency – with Romania hoping to join the European Union in 2007 and struggling to modernise, a car that anyone fixes on the roadside is obsolete.

“These repairs have no guarantee, if there is an accident nobody is responsible,” Andrei Taflan of Automedia magazine told Reuters. “The Logan is a leap forward in quality.”

Renault hopes to offer developing countries a new popular low-cost car, the news agency said. With a starting price of €5,000 ($US5,980) [in some countries], it will be sold in eastern Europe, Turkey, the Middle East, Latin America, Russia, China and possibly India.

“The Logan is the first car on which we don’t use the hammer for fine-tuning, like we do for other models,” Dacia manufacturing director Stelian Serban told Reuters, proudly pointing to automatic stamping machines churning out doors and bumpers.

The report said Renault spent some €390 million turning the once grim-looking Mioveni factory, where workers in dirty overalls used to work in near darkness, into a shiny modern plant with brightly coloured workshops and new equipment.

“We used to work a bit haphazardly, this is why one car was good, another was bad. Now, they are all good,” Serban reportedly said.

The 12,800 workers at Dacia, half the number in 1999 but still too many by Western standards, hope the Logan will help raise their €150 monthly wage – roughly the national average, Reuters said.

The no-frills car will also be produced in Russia, Morocco, Columbia, Iran and probably China – Renault hopes to sell around 700,000 vehicles a year by 2010, the report noted.

However, Reuters said, many Romanians, who can get a 10-year-old Dacia for a few hundred dollars, say the Logan is still beyond their means and they prefer their old, faithful cars.

“The Logan is a car for the poor but at a price for the rich,” 27-year-old Mircea Aldea, owner of a 1991 Dacia, told Reuters.