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.
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
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.
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
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)
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.
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.]