In 1976, Renault launched a car which set the template for the mid-sized hatchback which became the default choice of households, if not the world over, at least in Europe…
The ill-advised press campaign that soon followed, however, made a fool of their customers – and of the rest of the motor industry. Building on the success of the R4 and R16, and just like the R5 a few years before it, the R14 offered maximum interior space for passengers and their luggage in a compact footprint, draped in modern, unostentatious bodywork.
Renault’s executive must have felt reasonably confident about the potential of their latest model, and they first shared the good news in the form of a campaign that revolved around two key ideas: the fiscal classification of the car (‘7CV’) and happiness (‘bonheur’), which were illustrated with weirdly twee depictions of families on pastoral outings. Like Socialist Realism – with ponies!
The caption (above) reads something like this: “Happiness in a car is forgetting that you’re driving. At the wheel, happiness comes from an accumulation of details: if the seat belt reels in and out like a joy, it’s a good start. If all the suitcases fit in the boot effortlessly, happiness is within reach. And if windscreen and windows are wide, happiness is also visual perception”.
It is highly unlikely however that the campaign captured the imagination of the working and middle-classes it sought to seduce. Soon after, ‘la Régie’, as it was then known, approved a more radical approach to get its message across.
Unavoidably, the motoring press (and in fairness, the public at large – but what would they know?) saw it merely as a clumsy attempt to compare the car with a fruit (in this case a pear, narrow at one end, plump and wide at the other), and whatever positive connotations it may carry – ‘A pear is comfortable’ proclaimed Renault at its most puzzling.
Today this could be seen as a barely disguised tribute to Surrealist manifesto and the works of René Magritte, albeit in a slightly confused attempt at ‘overthrowing the oppressive rationalism of bourgeois society’. Or maybe Jean-Paul Sartre, perched on an oil barrel outside the factory only a few years prior, would have given the campaign his existentialist seal of approval…
But for the man on the street, no doubt aided by a reactionary press still reeling from the outcome of the events of 1968, the owner of a R14 was nothing but a ‘gullible fool’, or ‘poire‘ in the common French vernacular.
Photo credits: delcampe.net, 1418.net and many more