Four into five equals seven. A brief look back at a uniquely Iberian Cinq.
A mainstay of the European motoring scene from its inception in 1962, Renault’s rear-engined R8 saloon was also (it’s stated) assembled in the former Eastern bloc, North Africa, Laos, South America, Australia and New Zealand. The French state-run carbuilder ceased production at the Flins plant, outside Paris in 1973. Renault never directly replaced the 8 – well actually, that’s not entirely true.
The early 1970s witnessed a period of profound change and consolidation for many carmakers, who were keen not only to divest themselves of what had become a proliferation of often confusing and confused model offerings, but also to adjust to changing customer tastes and aspirations. Europe was becoming more affluent and carbuyers were (for a time at least) reflecting this shift.
The 1969 Renault 12 was developed to chime with changing demographics, but as a larger, more upmarket offering, there was a growing gap where the now rather elderly and somewhat old fashioned R8 sat. Once Renault ceased domestic production, they more or less ceded this section of the market across Northern Europe, reasoning perhaps that the R5, introduced in the Spring of 1972, alongside the R6 would prove sufficient substitutes – which in a manner of speaking, they did.
However, in parts of Southern Europe, matters were slightly less clear-cut. Firstly countries like Spain, Greece and Turkey were (at the time) less affluent, and moreover, those markets tended to favour three volume saloons to hatchback formats. Both the Renault 8 and the later 12 were sales successes for the Spanish subsidiary, FASA (Fabricación de Automóviles Sociedad Anónima) – both assembled at their site in Villadolid – the R8 until 1976.
However, with the latter model fading and requiring replacement, and the 12 remaining outside the budget of many on the Iberian peninsula, the Spanish turned once more to Billancourt. It’s not entirely clear whether Michel Boué’s original proposal for the Renault 5 was solely for a three door design – given the fact that he initially superimposed it upon a side elevation of a Renault 4 does suggest otherwise. Certainly, a five-door version was mocked up, even if such a model didn’t actually enter production until 1979.
It remains a matter of conjecture as to whether a three volume saloon was considered, at least conceptually, but FASA’s request, Billancourt, under the direction of engineer, Maurice Holleville and with assistance of carrossier, Chausson realised a vehicle while outwardly resembling the 5, was in effect, quite a different proposition from B-pillar aft.
The three volume design, brought to market as the Siete (Spanish for 7) featured a longer wheelbase (by 10 cm), in addition to additional length behind the rear wheels (a further 30 cm) to accommodate the segregated boot compartment. Mechanically identical, the only significant change within the engine bay was an enlarged version of the Cinq’s 956 cc engine to 1037 cc.
As hatch to saloon conversions go, the treatment and relationships of the relevant volumes were both coherent and broadly harmonious. However, the abandonment of the R5’s, at the time, unique and distinctive integral plastic bumpers for more traditional metal units, while clearly a nod to its more upmarket leanings, lent the car a slightly retrograde mien. Additionally, the indicator/ sidelamp units, which were by necessity re-sited to the lower section of the grille, furthered a vague sense of visual discordance. Tail styling on the other hand was neat, if somewhat on the unimaginative side, with large square-shaped lamp units flanking a central number plate.
Introduced into the Spanish market in October 1974, the Siete was intended to carry the baton from the fading R8, which it did with some success. Sales were particularly strong between 1976 and 1978, bolstering FASA-Renault’s share of the Spanish market, which allegedly reached a position just behind that of domestic car brand, Seat.
1979 saw the car receive its only significant facelift, which as these things go was fairly modest. The most obvious change was at the rear, where broader tail lamp units were fitted, the bumpers (still chromed metal units) were modified and inside, the dashboard was altered. It also received a name change – the number 7 replacing its Spanish alter-ego.
Battling falling sales, the familiar larger-capacity 1108 cc Cleon unit was substituted in 1981, aiding flexibility and economy, which also saw a number of detail improvements to specification and comfort levels. But the sales slide continued, and the the 7 was discontinued in 1984, replaced by the Renault 9 – itself a derivation of that year’s Super Cinq. Approximately 162,500 were said to have been built over a ten year production run.
It has been suggested that the number 7 is the world’s favourite. Viewed in many cultures as being lucky, or at the very least charmed, it is also a number frequently invoked within popular culture, religion and superstition.
Am I suggesting that Renault’s Siete was lucky or charmed? Not quite, it being strictly minority fare in the overall scheme of things – given that around 5 million Cinq’s left Flins and Douai alone – yet it was a modest success within a relatively small and somewhat rarefied market. Today’s Iberian Renault offerings on the other hand are resolutely pan-European and increasingly crossover in nature – conformity being the latterday currency, it seems, lucky or otherwise.