Normally one must track a 16 down at a car show or find one for sale if you want to view an example. Seeing such a car by chance is an event and one I didn’t have much time to savour, alas. These photos (above) got into my iPhone in under three minutes, something of a pity as the car merits careful examination – three minutes is just not enough.
The Renault 16 did a lot of new things, all packaged in a body that I have to say is as remarkable as the DS. Is it a coincidence that both Philippe Charbonneaux and Flaminio Bertoni had careers and back-grounds from beyond car design? Of today’s crop of sketchers I can only suggest Marc Newson and Simon Cox as non-car-design car designers, of some type.
Newson only gets a credit on the basis of his charming 021C concept car for Ford. Mr Cox has had considerably more success but this is relative. His career seems always to be on the margins: Isuzu, concept car work and not so very much in production (that I know of)***.
That in no way reflects either chap’s talents – rather the narrow-minded outlook of many of the decision-makers inside the car industry. It’d be very interesting to have more people like Newson and Cox on production teams, acting in a way analogous to Mr Brian Eno in the world of popular song, with his oblique strategies.
Turning back to the car, I have prepared some annotations the better to draw the attention of our readership to the most salient details. The bastion of automotive scholasticism, Curbside Classics, has done a few nice items on the 16: this, (the photos are gorgeous but uncredited) and this and this (which should be in print) so I won’t go into the engineering side of things.
The side view first folks:
The front image shows the clever graphics of the lamps and grille – this concept could have been adapted to a huge range of proportions much like the BMW twin lozenges but was never used again, barring a faint nod on the Laguna II.
The rear is the least satisfactory – and that’s true of so many cars of the era. Lamps, registration plate recesses, bumpers and the rest don’t seem to gel. Look above the waistline though and it’s a triumph to gaze upon.
More clearly pur, the rear seen from this view shows something important:
One, the inset surface the rear window is placed on echoes the topological arrangement of the side glass. See the red sections. That relation depends for its clarity on point two: the area inside the green line (B) is one smooth surface. This has been achieved by the clever placement of the roof weld at that crest running down the side of the roof panel.
Take another look at the front where the red line is a section deviating from the transverse line in yellow.
If one walks around the car these relationships become apparent and I think that what Charbo did was to suggest novel formal design concepts and Gaston Jachot made them possible through his knowledge of engineering/design feasibility.
The R16 has a remarkably strong sculptural theme which is the sweep from D-pillar down along the bodyside to the nose. That expresses the hatchback packaging principle. Then Charbo’s magic involves the three-dimensionality of the concept. A lesser designer could have been happy with less plan-curvature or could have done without the roof-ridges.
A lesser designer might not have used the same conceit on the rear screen as the side glass recess: without that treatment the flowing main surface would not have been apparent.
I hadn’t intended to do much more than show the Mulhouse photos for this post. Further scrutiny has reminded me of the deep, integrated ingenuity of the R16 – and that’s without saying anything of its fabulous ride and clever interior execution.
Renault have had a very considerable number of cars with strong themes and smart execution: one puzzle is why they were so careless about retaining some of the ideas. BMW built an empire on the Hofmeister kink and the twin-bean grille. The Golf is a D-pillar in evolution. Citroen re-used signature details for years. Mercedes had that massive grille.
Renault did themselves no favours discarding those elements of the 16 which could have been re-proportioned: the bodyside sweep, the grille/lamp graphics and the roof ridges and built some consistency into their marque values. Did I tell you I saw my second Talisman today?
** Aussie Frogs didn’t really like my article on the R16’s fiftieth birthday. I think there was a misinterpretation, probably down to my casual tone.
*** that is, not so much that is well-publicised. I gather from his CV that he has made contributions to many studios down the years. I suspect his genius is of the subtle kind, like the gifted session musician whose input makes an album into a great one. While examples of his work are welcome, please don’t write grouchily to tell me he has designed 667 cars.
The point is that in comparison with many other named designers he is not so well known and must trail people like Gandini, Le Quement, Schnell, McGovern, Wagener and Smith for completed projects. And as I say, not because he lacks talent.
[Further footnote: Gaston Juchet assisted Charbo on the Renault 16 in the capacity as head of design. I imagine he applied a lot of wisdom garnered from his experience in order to turn Charbo’s concept into something that could work. To my shame this is the first time I have heard the name. His successor/antecedent Robert Opron is better known.]