The Renault 16 Is Fifty This Year. There Are None Left.

Our good friends at Renault UK’s press office have sent us a reminder that the Renault 16 is fifty years old this year.

1967 Renault 16 TX
1967 Renault 16 TX

Philippe Charbonneaux is credited with the design of this car which was in production from 1965 to 1980. Its main claim to fame is related to its innovative deployment of a hatchback in the middle-to-large sized car class. At that point there developed a marked fork in the road in car design. Some manufacturers followed this path, those makers most like Renault.

And another group resolutely insisted on using the classic format of four doors and rear drive, insisting that only this formula was acceptable for a “proper” car. Thus what had previously been a class distinction based on engine sizes and degrees of quality of fit and finish was further deepened by the decision of some to follow Renault and opt for hatchbacks along with front drive.

1965 Renault 16: the avant-garde.
1965 Renault 16: the avant-garde.

Some prestige manufacturers even made tentative moves down this path (the Rover SD1) and there was the short lived BMW 2002 Touring. By and to some degree large, hatchbacks became mandatory in the medium and small class of cars and the prestige manufacturers repeated they’d never touch them. Jaguar steered clear as did Audi, BMW and Mercedes. In the US, Cadillac and Buick also resisted the urge though at the flimsier end of the scale there was a Buick hatchback, the smallish Skyhawk which resembles an Opel Manta (which itself wasn’t a hatchback at that stage).

1975 Buick Skyhawk
1975 Buick Skyhawk

That fork in the road is what we are remembering here as well as the lovely forms of the 16. Fifty years on from Renault’s launch of the 16 the roads have crossed each other. Having grown to dominate their original sectors, BMW, Audi and Mercedes have extended downwards into the sector where hatchbacks from volume makers once ruled the roost:  Ford, Opel, Citroen, Renault.

1967 Renault 16
1967 Renault 16

First to die off were large hatchbacks. Rover’s SD1 was an experiment that lasted two model cycles (long ones owing to the firm’s ill health). The Citroen XM and Renault Vel Satis were the last of their kind. Opel never bothered with a large hatchback but Ford did and their Scorpio died first, as a saloon based on what was originally a hatch.

Attacking primarily as saloons, the prestige makers have winnowed down the middle-class, middle-size volume saloon and have embarked upon a pincer movement by copying the concept they rejected in the 60s: Audi, BMW and Mercedes all offer a front-drive, five door lower medium sized car. Renault in contrast doesn’t seem to be so visible in the class it created. The Laguna is an old stager; their large car is made in cooperation with Samsung and I am sure I see more 90s Megane’s and 19s around where I live than the more recent models.

Photo: Renault UK press.
Photo: Renault UK press.

I´ll turn directly to the Renault 16 itself to note that it’s still a thing of demonstrable beauty. The razor-edge creases that run over the cant rails and down the sides at the rear are superb details. I like the way the rear window is recessed with a hollow chamfer running around it. The grille is distinctive without being a copy of some trad bourge-mobile. The 16 has a superb package: all that space in that comparatively small body shows how front-drive and five doors really do offer a host of advantages. I’ve not driven one but those I have seen cantering around seem to have a lovely gait.

1965 Renault 16 range-2
Photo: Renault UK press.

I only wish Renault had made the cars of stronger stuff. There are none listed at or autoscout24 at the moment. None. If you want to find one you need to dig deep into the small ads end of the internet: Google Renault 16 zu verkaufen. By comparison there are 103 Ford Tauni on sale. This exemplifies Renault’s peculiarly consistent trait, that they just don’t make cars people want to or can hold on to. While a fair amount of their output has been mediocre, the 16 is a landmark but one that has been made out of Alka-Seltzer.

As a result of this, though I admire many of their cars, I would never seriously consider investing in one. Citroen, yes; Peugeot, yes but Renault, no. Think on that, Reg.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

37 thoughts on “The Renault 16 Is Fifty This Year. There Are None Left.”

  1. There were (apparently, though I haven’t seen them all) 62 Renault 16s taxed in the UK, against 74 ten years ago. Coincidentally, there were 62 Citroen SMs taxed last year too, against 51 ten years ago. I remember getting a lift in a 16 sometime in the 70s and it was a supremely comfortable car. It also looks, to my eyes, much better now than it did when new. Note the lack of roof gutters allowed by that roof design. The only downside in my eyes was that Renault produced an ad showing the large number of configurations available by fiddling with the seats but, since the rear seat back hinged at the top not the bottom (presumably to give stiffness to the hatchback) you couldn’t actually treat it like an estate car.

  2. Looking at the UK Renault 16 Forum, it seems a Renault 16 comes up for sale on average once a year. These mostly seem to be described as ‘not running for several years’. Perhaps it’s always the same one. To be more positive, I saw a very nice looking 16TX in Austria last year.

  3. How about the Skoda Superb?
    (a car that attracts and repells me at the same time, but it is a large hatchback, isn’t it?)

    1. The Skoda is a great package and for that I salute its odd shape. I´ve sat in one too. The rear compartment is huge with fabulous legroom. It is a large hatchback but it isn´t from a “prestige” maker. Skoda have cleverly spotted that some people do want a large hatchback and are there mopping up sales with their five-door format and the legroom as sales propositions. I´d guess to steal their customers someone from Renault or who exactly would have to offer an even larger boot, even more legroom or somehow match those numbers with a better looking, better made and cheaper car. Clever old Skoda. That special niche is why VAG lets them offer so much for the money. They know the design snobs will hate the looks (ruling out Audi) and badge snobs will be forced into a Passat. This VAG sales are not cannibalised but I bet those who buy this excellent car would once have bought a large Peugeot, Renault, Citroen, Ford or Opel. Maybe even a few forlorn Saab 9000 owners are accepting that Skoda is offering a modern version of what they loved about the 9000 all those years ago. Still, good example as it tests the rule!

    2. “Skoda have cleverly spotted that some people do want a large hatchback and are there mopping up sales with their five-door format and the legroom as sales propositions.”

      I very much doubt the hatch is what clinches sales in the case of the Skoda. Just like with the first generation (a stretched Passat i.e. a saloon), it’s the amount of car for the money that’s the real USP. In fact VAG must have concluded that it will sell just as many if not more without the hatch as they are getting rid of it for the 3rd gen.

    1. Good news. While earlier reports led me to believe* that Skoda was going to abandon the hatch on the 3rd generation Superb, they have actually kept it – albeit without the two-stage opening of the current model.

      Now why anyone could possibly want a hatch on a three-box saloon is still beyond me. I’m not even sure I can say it’s a nice touch on the new model.

      *or maybe I just misread; either way, sorry for the confusion.

  4. What you said about Skoda above is very true, Richard. However, what Sam says above, as well as the rather ordinary facelift to the Yeti recently, suggests that Skoda are losing those little quirky touches that make them attractive to buyers.

    1. Skoda’s styling really has suffered since Thomas Ingenlath’s departure. Whereas the Czechs used to stand for a family-orientated, non-aggressive product (a unique selling proposition in this day and age), the Skodas unveiled since Jozef Kaban took the reigns have reverted to a more conventional image of sharpness and what is thought to be dynamism. As Seat is doing that kind of thing much more satisfactorily – or at least the current Leon, which I find surprisingly pleasing – I wonder what exactly Skoda is aiming for.

  5. I think it isn’t only about styling (if I use “styling” as representing looks) but more about packaging. The Fabia estate actually has less passenger and luggage space than its predecessor.
    On the other hand, it reminded me of 80s and 90s Audi. Neat, “dynamic” yet unaggressive, slender… Maybe that’s a niche Audi’s left for good and Skoda is trying to conquer now.

    1. That´s a real step backwards, isn´t it? Can´t someone make a practical car without feeling shame. For all the criticisms of Volvo´s sensible cars they made money and the owners loved them. I don´t think anyone loves Volvo now. And I like Skoda a little bit less as a result of their attempts to become attractive.

  6. Just bought a barnfind 16TS as a retirement project and so far it owes me about $5k AUD – someone told me recently that there is a ‘nice’ one for sale in Sydney for $7.5k, which leads me to believe I am on the right track here (considering mine is already better than ‘nice’).
    Haven’t seen one on the road for decades so am looking forward to constantly improving my very rare 16TS, and as the current custodian I expect to pass it on to another 16 devotee at some time in the future.

  7. Enjoy your 16, Dave. If you have photos we’d happily post them here.
    When I think of the competition: Ford Cortinas, Vauxhall Victors and so on, the 16 is the one I’d want to drive.
    Have you read our slightly unreliable R16 review by Archie Vicar?

    1. Hi Dave: posting photos is a real chore. I’ve no idea how to do it despite clear instructions from clever commenters here. I will ask Simon Kearne to advise. Thanks for your patience.
      Did you find the Archie Vicar article?

    2. My dear Dave. If the image is off the Web, you can cut and paste the link into your comment. If it is your own image, you can mail it to me and I will add it to your comment (I shall be as quick as I can, but the DTW pay is such that I am having to moonlight).

  8. My brother bought a new 16TS in Australia in 1972 and had it for about 10 years. In recent years I have lusted after one; a TX would be nice but they were never sold in Australia. I remember it as the most comfortable thing on four wheels and light years ahead of the local Holden, Ford or Chrysler offerings of the time. To me it is a thing of beauty, though I acknowledge it`s a bit like the love of your life; not to everyone`s taste but you adore it anyway.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Andrew. The 16 might well have been the best car Renault ever made. Apart from the R5, it’s debatable they did anything as clever again.

    2. PS: I forgot to mention I had an R10 at university. Loved that car as well; it ate the 1,100km trip from Sydney to my hometown in the outback.

    1. Strictly speaking Richard, given its gestation, I think it’s debatable whether to call the original Espace a Renault.

  9. I’d nominate the R4. It started the line of modern Renault passenger cars, albeit with strong influence from a mid-’30s Citroën, and an eye to how things were being done in Bremen.

    The R16 is, in essence, a bigger, more powerful, rather overstyled R4. It’s very much a Mini/BMC 1800 relationship. In both cases the bigger car shared nothing but rigorously applied engineering principles with their smaller range-mates.

    I wouldn’t presume to judge which was the better car. Since the Renault outsold the 1800/2200 by a factor of five to one, I’ll happily abide by the judgement and conscience of the paying public, in this case at least.

  10. Andrew B: thanks for stopping by. I wasn’t aware the R10 made it to Australia. How were these cars viewed? They are so very different compared to my idea of the Australian norm.
    Eoin: Renault at least made the car. How about the Scenic?

  11. Bob: I have little doubt that Renault engineers had plans for more powerful engines, after all, engineers are always several steps ahead of those holding the purse strings. However it’s telling that it wasn’t until the advent of the so-called Douvrin 2.0 litre unit in the latter-’70s that we saw a production Renault with anything larger than the 16 TX’s 1647cc unit – namely the R20 TS. (I’m excluding the 30 here as it was a more upmarket car).

    If Renault had been serious about exporting to the US, things might have been different, but it does appear their ambitions with the R16 were somewhat half-hearted. Not that the 16 would have appealed to US tastes much anyway, I’d suggest.

    It’s also worth thinking about the stratification within the French market during the ’60s. The 16 fitted into a sector where neither of its rivals directly competed. Peugeot’s 404 was a similar size and (possibly) price, but appealed to a more conservative customer. Citroen’s DS was available in the cheaper and less powerful ID specification, but this again, appealed to a the more adventurous and I imagine sat in a higher tax bracket.

    The latter factor is perhaps the pivot point here. That and any gentleman’s agreement that may have existed between the three protagonists to avoid directly stepping on one another’s toes.

    Perhaps others can cast further light…

    1. Renault didn´t have any interest in real performance models and nor did Citroen or Peugeot until, maybe the 70s. I don´t have the bhp figures for the 16; I´d guess that the output of the 1.6 covered the demands of that size and weight of car sufficiently. Larger engines in smaller cars could be said to be the province of people like BMW, Lancia and Alfa Romeo.

    2. Was not thinking of making the Renault 16 into a performance model (otherwise would have easily suggested the early turbocharged versions of the 1.6-litre A-Type engine later used in the Renault 18 and Fuego), rather was thinking in terms of larger engined models selling well outside of France without the tax penalties based on engine size as well as the torque benefits of the Renault 16 having a larger engine.

      Not sure whether the 2-litre Douvrin engine would have fitted though it is worth mentioning that both Renault and Peugeot were allegedly said to be interested in collaborating / merging as early as the mid/late-60s (possibly via the French government), while it is difficult to know how much further the A-Type engine was capable of being stretched upwards. Such as engine with the same 84 mm bore / stroke comes to 1862cc, yet a 1774cc unit with a 82 mm bore / 84 mm stroke might have possibly been more feasible unless there was indeed more stretch available to make the 2-litre Douvrin redundant.

      Fascinating that Renault also looked at Renault 16-based 4-door 3-box saloon along with 2-door coupe / cabriolet bodystyles.

    3. Interestingly it seems Renault had plans to develop a 6-cylinder version of the 1.6-litre A-Type for the Renault 114 Project that was intended to replace the Frégate (and predated the Renault 16), to be equipped with a 2.2 6-cylinder and hydropneumatic suspension (also assuming it was RWD though not 100% sure). Found out about the 114 Project here. –

      Based on the history of the A-Type 4-cylinder, it seems the 6-cylinder engine could have potentially displaced around 2205-2470cc, with potential for further enlargement to 2661-2793cc (via the hypothetical 1774-1862 A-Type 4-cylinder engines) and even turbocharged variants.

      Slightly off topic though possibility related to the A-Type engine is the discovery that a (albeit racing spec) 1470cc version of the engine may have found its way into the the Renault 8 Gordini, leading to the question of whether a road spec 1.5-1.6 A-Type engine could have easily fitted into say a Renault 10 (notwithstanding the Renault 16)?

  12. Interestingly five door hatchbacks are making a come back in the high end spectrum. Audi has their A5 hatchback version of their A4 sedan, and the A7 is a hatchback made out of both A6 and A8 parts. Over at BMW they have a five door hatchack of their 3-series sedan, called the 4-series gran coupe. And they had to put it in the 4-series amongst the rest of the coupes because by god, someone could think it was a hatchback. And over at Aston Martin they have a five door hatchback in their Rapide. It seems hatchbacks are really ok as long as they are premium offerings.

    1. Isn’t that richly ironic? After five decades sneering at front wheel drive and hatchback, BMW gives us the 2-series Active Blob. And Mercedes are selling lots of A-class hatchbacks too. Renault on the other hand struggle to sell a saloon of any type.

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