Charbo Sbarro Renault

Philippe Charbonneaux is known for this work on the Renault 8, the Renault 21 and the Renault 16. In 1984 he teamed up with Franco Sbarro to produce a proposal for a Renault 25-based limousine.

1984 Charbonneaux R25 limousine: source

Charbonneaux showed the car at the 1984 Paris automobile salon. Sbarro fabricated the showcar while Charbo (hereafter) conceived the theme – an antimodern limousine. If the actual Renault 25 is a study in French design rationalism, the limousine version seems to be a study in undoing most of that concept.

In revising the R25, Charbo sought to make a car that would appeal to well-shod customers who would prefer a classical three-box shape and more conservative details. At that point the competition came from Hueillez who made a Peugeot 604-based stretch limousine and, perhaps, the Citroen CX Prestige. Charbo did away with the R25’s impressive glass hatch and replaced it with a thick C-pillar, a long boot and the kind of rear screen one might have seen on a contemporary Oldsmobile or Buick (the glass actually is from a Buick). Aft of the b-pillar the vehicle has a rather American vibe, with a chrome strip and two-tone paint. At the front, Renault’s simple horizontally slatted grille disappeared, to

1984 Charbonneaux Renault: source

be replaced by a rather conventional arrangement of vertical bars (a bit too widely spaced) mounted in a projecting housing as one might find on a Mercedes or Lincoln. Only the off-centre badge nods to the original car. The wheelbase gained 26 cm and the boot much more (I don’t have figures: 50 cm?). The rear lamps are framed in chrome, with a lot of small horizontal feature lines to emphasise width. They had some trouble resolving the lamp/bumper/brightwork (see below). All in all, the limousine took the R25 back to 1977 and over to North America.

A PRV V6 with an automatic box (a GM Strasbourg unit) served as the power train. It would have struggled with the car’s mass. Despite interest from a few potential customers, Renault stymied the project by refusing to guarantee the mechanicals if Charbo series-produced the car.

1984 Charbonneaux Renault: source

The concept car is a demonstration of that phenomenon of how once leading stylists go a bit adrift when left to their own devices. Enrico Fumia’s later work and that of Gandini show the same reduction in the

Official R25 limousine: source

quality and, as importantly, the plausibility of their work. It seems to be a questiom of the environment supporting the designer. In isolation, designers go wild and lose their judgement. An honourable exception is Ercole Spada whose later cars are still worthwhile efforts (the OSCA is the one I am thinking of). This Renault-Charbo-Sbarro concept car is also an example of how cars conceived as hatchbacks don’t much enjoy being turned into a saloon (Eagle Premier, Citroen XM Phase 3 concept)

Timeless – the 1985 Renault V6 Turbo: source

Renault launched their own rather good but short-lived R25 limousine which is why they probabably baulked at the request to support a potential competitor. The official stretch R25 is simply the basic car with a bit more in the middle, plus some specially made interior trim to fill the gaps (and a little place to store an attache case behind the rear seats).

Given the unusual styling of the Charbo limousine and the price difference compared to the Renault offering, it is hard to see Renault really being justified in their refusal to co-operate with Charbo; the two cars would have had quite different customers. Charbo’s car would have been bought by eccentrics while the official limousine looked serious enough for the corporate and diplomatic market.

1987 Renault 25 convertible: source
Renault 25 coupe by Heuilez: undated
Renault 25 Sportwagon: source

The only Charbonneaux prototype is on view at the Reims-Champagne car museum if you want to make a pilgrimage to see it.

[I found a few R25 oddities: a one-off convertible commissioned by Renault, a Sportwagon, and a rendering of a coupé, all from Pinterest.  The Heuliez coupe is intriguing. They made a better fist of the c-pillar than Charbo but it would have been best to keep the glass liftgate, I feel.]


Author: richard herriott

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

10 thoughts on “Charbo Sbarro Renault”

  1. There must be something wrong with the claimed wheelbase addition of 26 cm. The rear door / wheel arrangement for me looks exactly the same as on the original car. Compare to this Renault’s limousine which, according to Wikipedia, has 22.5 cm more wheelbase than the standard 25 – its rear door looks much longer than that of the Charbonneaux.

    I don’t even think that the R25 is totally unsuited to be converted into a saloon – take away the bubbly glass and the shape is almost there. The problem lies in the execution: the C-pillar looks thinner at the base than at the top, and its angular shape doesn’t match the rounded boot and rear lights. The grille is just horrible, looks like handcrafted by a wannabe tuner in his shed.

    1. Simon: I thought the same thing about the c-pillar but I bet the forward and rear edges are parallel. They don’t look parallel as you say. It’s an interesting optical effect. To make them look parallel or at least to avoid the effect of it widening at the top the base probably needs 1-3% extra.

  2. today I saw a well-preserved Renault 25 in the old quarter of Lyon, with a woman behind the wheel. since the 25 was never sold in Brazil and is a car I’m not accustomed to, it was a delightful sight. now I just found the 25 was a classy act and had some interesting variations (especially the official limo and the sketched coupe). thanks for the post, Richard, and I hope the large French cars recover some of their lost flamboyance – wasn’t the DS brand supposed to do it?

    1. The last time I saw an R25 I nearly fell over. It’s a really rare care despite its many good characteristics. It’s perplexing so few people admired the shape – it is very distinctive without being wierd yet contemporary Audis get the kudos. Is the low rate of survival only about build quality or was something else at play? Does the lack of continuity work against older cars so not having a successor to car A makes A slightly less desirable?

    2. Richard suggests the proposed Heuliez coupe should have retained the saloon’s rear hatch. But then surely you’d simply have had a slightly larger Fuego? As for that estate proposal – was it the work of FLM Panelcraft by any chance? It puts me in mind of their Rover P6 conversions.

  3. Eóin – these P6 wagons don’t please me, but they were prescient in anticipating the current generation of rather useless “lifestyle estates”.

    Charbonneaux and Sbarro were a couple of decades too late. Hopeless Harriman, he of the Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R, would have lapped up their ideas, made them in ten times the number the market could take, and thrown in a expensive, badly-developed small-volume engine for good measure.

    Has Franco Sbarro done anything of worth? The oafs’ toys on show every year on his stand in Geneva are downright disspiriting. I can only think of the BMW 328 replicas from the days when he saw himself as a Helvetic Bob Jankel.

    1. Sbarro doesn’t strike me as a designer in the traditional sense, he’s more of what we Americans would consider a ‘show car builder’, but perhaps his Swiss provenance allows him to portray his work in higher esteem. Very little of his work would have ever made sense in series production, nor would it have been visually gratifying to see out on public roads, yet you can’t deny that his crazier inventions verge on being categorized as ‘car art’. Luigi Colani was much the same way, wasn’t he?

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