Our good friends at Renault UK’s press office have sent us a reminder that the Renault 16 is fifty years old this year.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
I only wish Renault had made the cars of stronger stuff. There are none listed at mobile.de 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.