Lucky Seven

Four into five equals seven. A brief look back at a uniquely Iberian Cinq. 

(c) stubs-auto.fr

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.

(c) lautomobileancienne

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.

(c) lautomobileancienne

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.

(c) stubs-auto.fr

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

33 thoughts on “Lucky Seven”

  1. Good morning Eóin. I must say I find the Siete strangely appealing. It’s a more successful reworking of a hatchback into a three-box saloon than many of its ilk. I hadn’t realised that the wheelbase had received a stretch in the process, but that explains its slightly ‘long and narrow’ look, exacerbated by the tall front end.

    The stretch in wheelbase is evident in the space between the trailing edge of the rear door and the rear wheel arch. The Siete’s doors, with their ‘proper’ door handles, were repurposed for the 1979 five-door 5, which shared it’s wheelbase with the three-door model. I wonder if consideration was given to using the Siete’s longer wheelbase for the five-door 5? Probably not, as it could have cannibalised sales of the 6.

    The tail is very neat, but it’s a slight shame they reverted to conventional chrome bumpers. Was it because they were considered to give it a more upmarket mien? That thought hadn’t occurred to me previously, but makes sense. I had assumed it was the difficulties of incorporating a plastic bumper into the elongated rear end.

  2. And a big good morning to Eoin: thanks for this. Like Daniel, I find the 7 rather appealing. I agree the details might have been nicer. However, small saloons are very likeabable creatures. My sister in law had a 1997 Polo saloon and it was brilliant in many ways barring the missing rear centre armrest. Seat for a long time a saloon Ibiza which I very much like. Product planners´ insights or a lack imagination stop any of these small limos ever reaching full brougham flowering however. If Ford could make a small saloon on the Fiesta platform and cram it with Vignale goodess I´d be delighted.
    Turning back to the Iberian peninsula, I have to say the appeal of that region rubs off on the 7 and 5; it´s a variant of Italian romanticism embodied by images of dusty Pandas zooming about. In the Spanish case it´s port, sherrry and tapas in quiet regional towns which are the images summoned up. I know Spain and Portugal were not happy places in the 1970s though so that qualifies the romance very much.
    Incidentally, for a feel of the Iberian peninsula in the aftermath of the 1970s please read Jose Saramago´s Driving To Portugal. Published in 1990 it records his drive through Portugal in 1979. It´s a magical book.

    1. Hi Richard. A Fiesta saloon? Here you go:

      That’s the saloon version of the previous Fiesta. I dont think there’s one in the current generation. It’s a shame there appears to be no market for these in Northern Europe at least.

    2. I´m really out of touch. The saloon version was news to me – or re-news as I had evidently forgotten it.
      It looks great from that angle. I´ll take a look at the other views …
      … and there´s the rub as it is not quite so felicitous from the side. The Ibiza worked well as hatch and saloon. I won´t fault Ford for their decision since hatches dominate the market and they could not be reasonably be expected to mess with the 5 door start point. Then we get to a vicious circle as the resultant saloon might be a bit off putting for some and so the small saloon death spiral continues.

      Presumably there isn´t a Vignale edition. Good work thinking of that.

    3. Yes, the Cordoba was a neat design:

      VW produced a very handsome version of the previous generation Polo:

      Admittedly, the starting point was the already very handsome Polo hatchback, so not a great leap. It has a nice mature ‘mini-Passat’ (US version) appearance.

  3. Hi Eóin. Just a remark: Portugal, for some reason, never shared the Mediterranean countries’ love for small sedans (Spain, Turkey, Greece…), so the 7 was never sold here. I remember them from my childhood vacationing in Spain, though; as a car-obsessed portuguese kid, the spanish car landscape fascinated me, with their Seats instead of Fiats, no japanese cars, the proliferation of Fiestas and small sedans like the 7 and the Polo…

    1. Hello Ricardo: I presume you are calling from Portugal. Without wanting to lump Portugal in with Spain in cultural terms, they do have a fair amount in common, at least they aren´t divided enough to explain why small saloons are less popular on the westerns side of the Peninsula. Then again, one might be inclined to lump the Irish in with the British but get stumped by the Irish regard for small saloons that the UK market didn´t go for (a bit the reverse of the Spain/Portugal case).
      I´m rather pleased with what I think is the unusual amount of Portuguese presence on this website. It´s a nice bridge across the Western side of the continent.

    2. Very true the total absence of japanese cars in Spain (Canary islands excluded, due to their insular tax privileges).

      Japanese cars entered in Spain with great fanfare in the mid eighties, circa 1985-86: Nissan Cherries and Bluebirds, horrendously expensive curiosities due to the punitive taxes. It was almost impossible to see one in the street.

      We had to wait until 1990 to start seeing Nissan Primeras in great numbers.

      The 4 door conversion was very common in the impoverished and car-hungry Francoist Spain. So great was our national appetite for cheap four door cars that we even created a hard to believe 4 door versions of Fiat 600 and 800:

      SEAT 800, 4 door version of the Fiat 600.

      Believe or not, these spanish four door 600 served as…Taxis!

      SEAT 850 4p, ditto 850:

      Uhm, how do you insert pictures…this period picture is so nice…

    3. Hello Spanish Reader and thank you for your comments. I have converted your links to embedded photographs. If you click on the ‘Driven to Explain’ button above and scroll down to the bottom of the page, you will find instructions for embedding images in your comments that are specific to the device you are using to view the site. You will need to open an account with Imgur, a photo hosting app, to do so.

    4. Thanks for the clarification Ricardo, and my apologies for any misrepresentation on my part. I will amend the text of the article accordingly. I must have read this somewhere and it became embedded in my mind, which is a lesson in itself.

    5. Fiat certainly missed a trick in not developing a 4-door Fiat 850 like its counterpart at SEAT as an option.

  4. Viewing the Renault 7 as more of a direct successor to the Renault 8 does make sense, rather unfortunate it was only available in Spain, never featured integral plastic bumpers nor carried over the 1289-1397cc engines from the Renault 5.

    Someone did attempt to use the Renault 5’s bumpers on a Renault 7 in their efforts to create a Renault 7 Turbo, yet obviously had no luck sorting out how to create integrated bumpers for the rear (if not a photoshop).
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D9F5RWFWkAA80os?format=jpg&name=900×900

    Here is a photoshop of a 2-door Renault 7.
    Renault 5 TX 2 door

    On the subject of the Renault 9 being a replacement for the Renault 7, would argue the 9 was more of a rival to the Jetta than the Derby and that there was scope for a Supercinq-based “Supersept” (or Supercinq saloon). As the photoshops below demonstrate.

    Renault 5 gt turbo coupé
    Renault 5 gt turbo sedan

    The Renault 7 also indirectly brings up the question of whether Volkswagen ever looked at a 5-door hatchback / 4-door saloon version of the mk1-mk2 Polo/Derby?

    Since the Bobcat / Fiesta articles on here a while back did uncover 2/4-door saloon prototypes for what became the mk1 Ford Fiesta, not to mention 4-door three-box saloon prototypes of the Peugeot 104, Citroen Visa and Austin Metro, while the Fiat 127 did form the basis of the Brazilian built 2-door Fiat Oggi though confused by its dimensions relative to the larger Fiat 128.

    1. I really like the four-door Supersiete, which is very neat and tidy. Great Photoshopping! Thanks for sharing, Bob.

    2. Interesting point, Bob. You´d think that a booted 5 would have been cheap to do for each iteration and also to sell it all across Europe. Opel had booted Corsas. A long time ago Mazda sold the 121 as a booted saloon. You still see them about the place – I liked them and as a corollary almost nobody else did. The problem, as ever was….. ?

    3. The saloon SuperFive is very credible – it really works. That´s a nice tidy car. If someone said, ta-da! – it´s not Photoshop I´d believe it.

    4. I think you are forgetting how small the R9 actually was; it was about the same size as your Supercinq saloon really. The R18 was more Jetta sized actually – though I’m sure Renault didn’t necessarily see things that way. The 9 and 18 were both slightly in-between sized, rather like Rover a decade or so later with its 200 and 400 hatches (that they pitched against the wrong class of rival altogether of course).

    5. …..but I forgot to say that I do very much like your Supercinq saloons, rather more charisma than the 9, don’t you think?

    6. Credit goes to Arnoud Besseling whose Flickr page has photoshop albums for a number of marques.

      Agree that the Supercinq saloon really goes work well compared to the rather bland Renault 9. Also quite like the 2-door Renault 7 saloon photoshop with integrated bumpers.

      It is admittingly difficult to establish how the Renault 11 and Renault 9 differ from each other in terms of dimensions as well as how it would compare to a hypothetical Supercinq saloon, from the data avaliable so far it seems both share roughly similar wheelbase and length (give or take some mm).

      To my mind the fact both the Renault 9 and Renault 11 appear to be variations of the same model would suggest both cars have more of an mk3/mk4 Escort and Orion relationship than the Renault 9 actually being a segment down compared to the Renault 11.

      However can understand why it is possible a Supercinq saloon would likely be of similar size to the Renault 9, short of the latter gaining additional increase in wheelbase / length to approximately midway to around 2/3rds-3/4ths between the Renault 11 and Renault 18 (in anticipation of the Renault 11 becoming the Renault 19/Chamade and the Renault 18 into the Renault 21).

    7. Meant to say:

      ” (in anticipation of the Renault 11/9 becoming the Renault 19/Chamade and the Renault 18 into the Renault 21).”

  5. Whilst I get the criticisms of the Siete design details, looking at the profile in particular, this must indeed be one of the most successful conversions of a compact hatch to a saloon. A delightful little thing, of which I was entirely unaware until I read this article.

  6. Very interesting – thank you.

    There do appear to be 5-door models and drawings, by Boué (apologies for the cack-handed links).

    https://motorgiga.com/historia/modelos-de-coches/renault-clio-historia-y-antecedentes-2-8-renault-siete-7/gmx-niv23-con1100.htm

    He also seems to have considered an estate.

    https://www.picuki.com/media/1524578048304715564

    I’d love to get to the bottom of why some markets prefer saloons and others hatchbacks. I wonder if it has something to do with attitudes to other body styles, such as estates.

    1. Apologies – it should be ‘4-door models and drawings’. There are 5-door models, too.

    2. Nice analysis, Bob. It would seem as there was not much of dimensional difference between the 9 and a putative 5 saloon. Maybe a 5 saloon would have been seen to be a class down from the approximate class of the 9 which I felt was akin to the Escort/Kadett class. Of course they could have marketed them differently and Hoovered up cheapskates who wanted a bigger 5 and also snobs who would want a seemingly larger car and pay a nice bit more. M-B is a master now of this kind of salami slicing of the market.
      The 5 estate is a missed opportunity. French plumbers and small farmers would have adored it and it would have been akin to a 4 in a way -the 4 is a bit van-like while the 5 is a shade less utilitarian. All we need is to find the convertible 5 and we have the whole set of would-have-beens.

    3. Richard

      By necessity for a Renault Supercinq saloon to have been possible, the Renault 9 would have needed to have received an additional increase in wheelbase and length (or approximately a shade larger than the 9-based Renault Alliance 4-door that possibly comes from an increased wheelbase) instead of being roughly the same size as the Renault 11.

      The 5 estate (in both 3/5-door forms) does bring to mind the Renault 4, perhaps a production version would have butterflied away the need for the Renault Neutral project?

  7. Hi Eoin and thé rest of you,

    First let me apologise, im using a phone for my internet almost for thé first time and I have no idea how To turn thé french autocorrect off so iam going To make this quick since i have to type every single words twice as i go along writing.

    1. Imagine thé shock and awe i felt thé first time i sax thé siete for thé 1st time: you are about 12 y/o, you really like cars and the renault 5 is already an icon in your psyche. You are in spain for thé first time and you see thé siete in all its 3 volume glory, stock and awe as i Said.

  8. The Siete can be a curious and exotic little car for non-spanish readers but the love for small saloons in my country always seemed a bit sad to me. Spanish economy wasn´t great in the ´70s and ´80s (current situation: the less said, the better) and people didn´t have a lot of money to spend on a car; but it was still a big amount of hard earned savings, or a very costly bank loan. So when Spaniards spent the money, we wanted to show that, although we bought a small car, it was something to be proud of, remotely similar to an executive car, and a small saloon was “más coche”. This is why we bought more Ford Orions than Escorts, Opel Kadett 4 door than 5 door, VW Polo Classics than 3 door, Renault 19 Chamade than 5 door, etc. the same with Sierra Saphires, Vectra saloons, R-21 saloons and so on.
    Since the Noughties things have changed and in the family car segment hatchbacks sell a lot more than saloons.

    1. b234r: The vista you describe is quite similar to that of the Republic of Ireland during the same period. Economically impoverished, heavily taxed, the Irish motorist cleaved to the compact, the economical, and predominantly, the three volume format – probably for similar reasons. It took some considerable time for the Irish motorist to come to terms with the virtues of the hatchback, which was viewed with considerable suspicion for some time, I seem to recall. Just as today a crossover is the default automotive template, the three volume saloon was once the sine qua non of aspirational motoring. My (not so recent) visits to Spain certainly suggest that there like everywhere else, the saloon is in morbid decline. It definitely is here.

  9. “Additionally, the indicator/ sidelamp units, which were by necessity re-sited to the lower section of the grille, …”

    Was this due to the Spanish road rules regarding the location of indicators?

    1. Hi Graham and thanks for your comment. No, I don’t believe the relocation of the indicators was anything to do with Spanish regulations as the regular 5 hatchback with its plastic bumpers was sold unaltered by FASA Renault, the Spanish subsidiary.

  10. The R5 program could have been much more than it was. In addition to the Siete and the eventual five door, coupé and estate versions were sketched. The coupé got to model stage for sure..
    The Supercinq was based on the R9/11 platform. The tricorps Supercinq off the same platform would have been another R9 in essence, and would probably have likely been a niche too far even if the finances had permitted it.

    1. You learn something most days – I didn´t know the Super5 was a relative of the 9. And yes, it would have been silly to have a saloon built off a supermini built off a small family saloon, but the original 5 was from 1972, long before the 9 entered this world; so there was almost a decade when it would have made sense to have a 5 saloon and then the 9 could have taken over.

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