That Isn’t What We Think You Really Want, Des.

We have had 23 years to come to terms with the Mk1 Renault Megane. That much is easy to state. What’s harder to express is why this design’s strangeness didn’t come across until recently. 

When I say strange, I don’t mean bad strange. I mean good strange, the oddness of the original and the idiosyncratic. The q-word doesn’t apply here though because this is not like an Ami or Multipla. It doesn’t jump out at you so much as whispers.

The start point of this little rumination is what happens when you look for a prolonged period of time at the image above. All of the lines are in some form of process of change of state. That the car’s development ended around, say, 1992, makes the curves and curve quality all the more impressive. If anyone knows whether this vehicle’s geometry passed through a CAD programme, I’d be interested to hear. My expectation is that the car’s form evolved in clay and pretty much only in clay. It is very organic in a way that I think would have defeated the CAD systems of the early 90s.

The successor, the Megane Mk2 looks to me like a more CAD-friendly design:

2003 Renault Megane structure: source

The 2003 Citroen C4 had something of the same vibe:

2004 Citroen C4: source

Those main forms in the Megane II (above) can be hung or developed from planes anchored on the car’s X, Y and Z axes. The Megane Mk1 doesn’t have that underlying stucture. The Megane 1, in contrast, is a about apparent forces and non-linear forms, it being among the later expressions of an organic form-language applied to a quite rational package.

1995 Renault Megane estate in moody black and white.

The estate is even more dramatic, isn’t it?  The only feature that might be geometrically simple is the feature line running down the side.

Toyota had a go with organic shapes around the same time and failed to give the forms enough structure. The resultant cars are a bit on the flaccid and bland side. I think the difference might lie in the consistency of the radii and the underlying strength of the forces bending those curves from the engineering minimum.

Local colour: a Toyota in Erfurt, Germany.

You won’t find much to detain you on the Toyota. The Megane on the other hand can be defined but much like a symphony it is a complex score. Perhaps only our old friend the Astra F attains the same level of refinement.

1991-1997 Opel Astra F in Goslar, Germany

The Escort and Golf are not in the same football park at all.

And Peugeot’s 306 is playing another game, something like classicism.

Peugeot 306: source

At the time, the Megane looked a lot like other cars of the same type. These days I think one can see the individual personalities of the 1990s cars emerging more clearly. The question for today might be, which of the present crop of mid-sizers will step forward in the the way Megane 1 has after two decades?

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Author: richard herriott

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

21 thoughts on “That Isn’t What We Think You Really Want, Des.”

  1. I’ve always liked that the Megane looked French. It couldn’t possibly have come from another country. The first one impressed me with its diverse range of body styles. My father had the five door hatchback and it was a nice car. Was it a Le Quément era design?

    1. Yes, the Mégane is very much a le Quément car. It was this generation of Renaults, and in particular the success of the Scénic (which saved Renault) that cemented his status within the company.

  2. I’ve never really paid much attention to the Megane Mk1, regarding it as “automotive white goods” in the same vein as the Citroen Xzara. However, looking at the first photo above, I’m struck by the neat relationship between the rear door and clamshell tailgate shut lines, and particularly the way the latter sweeps around the rear light cluster and across the rear. The straight waistline crease, incorporating the door handles, adds length and tension to the design, stopping it appearing too “blobby”. Only the black bumpers strike a jarring note. Not an awesome design, but better than I had thought.

    1. The lift-gate and lights are well organised, yes. There is a nice little chamfer running under the lights that catches the light. The simpe door aperture outlines is also a bit sweet. The black bumpers are a base-model thing. There are, of course, ones with body-coloured bumpers. I am on the look out for a better side view. These are lacking on the interweb. The Xsara is a different ball of wax. There isn´t much holding that together – it´s quite bland contemporary “vernacular” design.

    2. Yes, this was really a time when we Citroën fans looked at Renault with envy. They developed very much a style of their own – stronlgy French, as you mention – while we got highlights like Xsara and Saxo. And while they were miles ahead of PSA when introducing the Espace, they also were quicker to introduce the Scénic as the first small van.

  3. Megane 1 was indeed a clay project. The conductor of the orchestra, so to speak, was Michel Jardin. Even though he was management by this time, Michel was one of the best guys to have following and directing a model. He had a good eye for a fluid curve.
    PLQ gave so many of us an opportunity to shine. He also had a habit of turning the spotlight off in a brutal manner if one got ideas above ones station. Like independant thought.
    X64, Megane 1, is becoming an infrequent sight in rich neighbourhoods here in France, but in Provence they endure.
    They are reliable beasties, not given to too many corrosion woes.
    Will we notice when they have all gone?

    1. When you say it was a clay project, do you mean it received little finessing in CAD? And can you say which CAD package was involved for the surfacing?
      There are still quite a few around here in rust-inducing Denmark. They are far from unusual. That is something of a first for a Renault as they are not cars which provoke loyalty in their owners.

  4. I’m always reminded of the R16 when I see the Mk1 Megane, particularly from the angle of your lead photo. Looking at pictures I can’t even put my finger on why exactly, but I just can’t shake it. Something about the proportions, the long wheelbase; does anyone else see it?

    1. I can see the similarities. I think the long wheelbase and the proportion of glasshouse to metal are to do with it.

  5. Like many, we had a Scenic version of this car when the two of us became three. It was a fantastic family car and much more pleasing on many levels (especially the design – both inside and out) than the Xsara Picasso which replaced it.

    Overall, though, I think the Mk1 Megane and Scenics were eclipsed by the Mk2, which still draw my eye every time I see them. Thinking about them now, the overall sense I have of them is that they belong in the same bracket as Bangle’s E60 5-series for the very singular way in which the design concept seems to have made its way into the end product.

  6. The 90’s Mégane always struck me as a car that didn’t express any self esteem and looked cheap. Many of them were basic spec, with owners that didn’t care about missing a wheel cap or having different coloured mirrors. This article makes me appreciate that in essence, the design was well resolved. I must say I start to miss those non-shouty designs of twenty five years ago.

    I think this generation of C-segment cars is more interchangeble than ever before in history.

    1. That wasn´t really the fault of the Megane, though. It might also be a local market thing. The Megane to me never looked any less or more self-esteemy than its peers.
      And yes, the C-segment with one or two exceptions (guess!) is a disappointment. I think Renault now have the most striking offering, off the top of my head. Is it nice to drive? Prolly not. Is it easy to see out of? No. How about the Alfa Romeo Giulietta?

    2. You might be right. It is a personal and subjective feeling about this particular Renault.

      The current Mégane and the Giulietta are amongst the most likeable. In fact, I think the Giulietta might have influenced some models that appear on the market right now and therefore it looks more ordinary in 2018 than in 2012. I’m even starting to like it’s “sporty” facelift.

      I’d include the FIAT Tipo, as it has that slightly weird market position with pricing just below the mainstream models. And the Skoda Octavia, for refusing a hatchback version.

  7. Sorry for the delay in responding to your question Richard.
    Clay was the way at the time chez La Régie. The dash of the Megane 1 was the first CAD project in the then new department within the DDI. we milled slices of styrofoam, each one 20 mm thick, glued them together like a big blue gyros and sanded the whole to shape manually. Then we did it properly in clay.
    How times change.
    The interior designer was Louis Morasse, Anthony Grade running the show. The add on slice that made the transition of the dash front Megane to Scenic was the brainwave of Ibrahima « Bibi » Seck.
    We used Euclid at the time as far as I recall..

  8. An odd car. Even to this day. I was never really a fan although I really tried. There is something very turtle-like about it that doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I much preferred its 3 door “Coupé” version.
    I remember that, at the time, its designers and Renault were constantly refering to the word -Ellipse- when talking about its design and how ‘Ellipses’ were a big inspiration or something. I remember also how proud they were about the -S-form created by the inside of the rear-light with the bootlid shutline which I had a hard time to see.

    1. Funny, for me it’s the opposite. The coupe looks terrible in my eyes – it just gives the impression of an afterthought. The proportions are off, as if they took the front half of the 5-door car and added the back of something much smaller. And those rear light clusters – oh my god…

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