Going Pear-Shaped

The Renault 14 had the potential to be a great success, but it did not turn out that way. DTW investigates.

(c) auto-forever

The 1976 Renault 14 was the end-product of an unusual and protracted development process. It began with a memorandum of understanding signed in April 1966 between Renault and Peugeot for the joint purchase of materials and co-development of mechanical parts that would be shared between the two manufacturers, to reduce costs for each.

Another more controversial aspect of the agreement was, allegedly, an understanding that each manufacturer would design models that did not directly compete with the other. The agreement was driven by the ambition of Pierre Dreyfus, CEO of Renault since 1955, to create a French automotive powerhouse to rival foreign competitors on equal terms.

The first joint-venture project initiated under this agreement went by the code name M121 and emerged as the 1972 Peugeot 104. This was a transverse-engined front-wheel-drive B-segment car, in today’s terms an archetypal supermini in all respects but one. At launch, despite its two-box shape, it had four doors and a conventional boot. This would be replaced by a hatchback in 1976.

The non-compete understanding in the 1966 agreement (surely unrealistic for two mainstream manufacturers?) was put under considerable strain by the launch of the Renault 5, also in 1972. Although the latter would not be produced in five-door form until 1979 and had nothing in common with the 104, it was pretty much a direct competitor. The agreement was formally terminated by Peugeot in June 1974 when the company agreed to take over control of Citröen from Michelin, much to Dreyfus’s dismay.

Meanwhile, Renault was continuing development of its own M121 based car. Early prototypes of what would become the 14 had an angular body with a high tail that was remarkably similar in appearance to the 104. Had it been launched in that form, Renault would certainly have been accused of plagiarism.

A new design for the 14 was developed. The sharp creases of the early prototype were replaced by much more rounded organic forms. The new body appeared to grow noticeably larger and more voluminous towards the rear, something that would have unfortunate consequences after the car was launched. The 14 featured impact-absorbing plastic bumpers like those on the 5, but these seem to have been quite a late addition: there are photographs of a near-production 14 with slim chromed steel bumpers front and rear.

One interesting innovation was the treatment of the DLO. The bonnet line was quite high, a consequence of storing the spare wheel above the inclined engine, but the side windows were deep. Rather than try and force a union with the windscreen at the base of the A-pillar, the designers simply continued the waistline forward as a pronounced groove pressed into the front wing. The door mirror sail panel neatly bridged the gap to the base of the A-pillar. Another neat bit of lateral thinking concerned the ‘upside-down’ exterior door handles, which looked a little odd, but were highly ergonomic when one became accustomed to them.

The 14 was launched in 1976 in L and better equipped TL versions to a generally positive reception from the motoring press. It was a spacious and comfortable car, softly sprung with the usual Renault virtue of plush and deeply upholstered seats. The distinctive shape had the benefit of providing a large boot space, although the loading lip was high.

The 14 was the first transverse-engined FWD Renault. It was powered by the so-called ‘Douvrin’ 1,218cc 57bhp four-cylinder engine co-developed with Peugeot and used in the 104. Like the Issigonis FWD designs for BMC, the four-speed gearbox was contained in the sump and shared the same oil as the engine. Unfortunately, the drivetrain proved to be one of the weak points of the new model: the gearbox produced an intrusive whine audible in the cabin.

The 14 was initially rather lamely promoted* as “La 7CV Du Bonheur”, in English, “The Happy Seven Horsepower Car”. The car buying public were rather equivocal about its unusual appearance and early sales numbers, while respectable in France and Spain, were weak elsewhere. Frustrated by this, Renault consulted another advertising agency, who spotted the car’s resemblance to a pear and devised a new campaign on that basis. Unfortunately, such was the inadequacy of the 14’s anti-corrosion measures that early cars soon began to rust and the 14 acquired the unfortunate nickname of the ‘Rotten Pear’.

The 14 was given a larger 1,360cc engine, achieved simply by lengthening the stroke from 69 to 77mm. Together with a new twin-choke carburettor, this increased the power output to 70bhp. The range was extended upwards with better equipped GTL and TS versions in 1979. The car received a minor facelift in 1980 which saw the front indicators repositioned from the bumper to outboard of the headlamps, in an attempt to make the car look wider when viewed from the front and mitigate its ‘pear-shaped’ appearance. The colour of the plastic bumpers was changed from an indistinct grey colour to black.

1979 Renaul 14 (c) press.renault.co.uk

The 1980 facelift had little effect on sales. Unfortunately for Renault, it coincided with the launch of two fresh and strong competitors in the 1979 Opel Kadett D and 1980 Ford Escort Mk3, both entirely contemporary FWD hatchbacks replacing dated RWD saloons. For those who preferred their C-segment hatchback to have a Gallic flavour, Citroen had finally given the 1970 GS a fifth door and a new name, GSA, in 1979.

The 14 never came anywhere close to achieving Renault’s sales projections, and it was discontinued in 1983. It was replaced by the 11, a hatchback version of the 9 saloon, launched in 1981. Over seven years on the market, the 14 racked up sales of just under one million units. It sold well enough in the first couple of years, but quickly fell out of favour thereafter.

My now brother-in-law’s brother, a veterinarian and high-mileage driver who changed his car annually, bought a 14 new in 1977. When he went to trade it in a year later, such was the 14’s unpopularity in Ireland that only Renault would take it in part-exchange. It was replaced with a 12, which was a pleasant car but felt like a retrograde step after the modern 14. I had the experience of travelling in the 14 from Dublin to Galway on a few occasions and it was a capable and comfortable car which coped admirably with Ireland’s then notoriously poor roads.

It is difficult to escape the impression that, given its joint parentage, the 14 became something of an unloved and neglected child within Renault after the company’s abandonment by Peugeot, but it was too far advanced to be cancelled. It was also the only Renault to use the Douvrin engine. The 9 and 11 reverted to Renault’s venerable Cléon Fonte unit, albeit installed transversely for the first time.

Perhaps cowed by the adverse reaction to the 14, Renault took no risks with the styling and engineering of the 9 and 11**. Consequently, both were rather bland devices, even if the 11 was enlivened somewhat by its panoramic glass hatchback and slightly chintzy front end, with its quad ‘US standard’ small rectangular headlamps.

I think the styling of the 14 has aged rather better than its twin successors. It was a bold and interesting design that deserved a better drivetrain, protection against corrosion that was at least adequate, and more commitment from its maker. Had this been the case, then it might have been more influential in Renault’s subsequent designs. As it was, the 14 was quickly forgotten, not least by its maker. A real shame.

* More about the misconceived advertising campaigns for the Renault 14 can be found here.

** In fairness to Renault, the 9 and 11 were also designed to be built and sold in North America, hence their comparatively more conservative styling.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

45 thoughts on “Going Pear-Shaped”

  1. Maybe I’m a pervert but I always liked the 14 while it was available. It looked modern and different without being offensive to the eye (mine at least) and it had a distinct Gallic flavour. Problems were its initial lack of power and the peculiarities of its engine like whining primary gear and its tendency to leak oil.

  2. Good morning gentlemen. You can add my vote in too. It’s hard to do something different, distinctive and appealing with a two-box, four-light hatchback design, but that’s exactly what Renault achieved with the 14. The way the bodyside combines convex vertical and concave horizontal curvatures between the wheelarches is just lovely. Even the handling of the lower bodyside crease, the way it turns down to need the wheelarches, is very deftly executed. The whole design hangs together beautifully:

    Regarding the facelift. I know what they were trying to achieve by visually widening the front end, but I think I prefer the purity of the original:

  3. The Peugeot 304 and Renault 12, both launched in 1969, were direct competitors, weren’t they? Perhaps development of both models had proceeded so far that the 1966 agreement was deemed not to apply to them.

  4. It´s funny how one´s perceptions change. When the 14 was new I perceived a real banana shape to it. As I see it now it looks quite unremarkable. I agree it´s nice and tidy though. My English teacher had one and it was a thing to behold with its rampant rust. The mirror and A-pillar are goofy, I have to say.

    1. Lorender: the feature is a result of moving the bonnet´s edge to the side of the wing. Renault decided to make something of it and I suppose the Fuego carried that on. The Renault 18 had it as did the much-admired R25. I haven´t done a survey so I am not sure when I say that it might be one of Renault´s few design traditions. Can any name another company who did this from time to time? And still do!

    2. Good morning Richard. Would the 14’s front end have been more coherent and ‘honest’ if it had a proper clamshell bonnet that met the wing where the groove was drawn, as on the lovely 25, where this detail was beautifully resolved?

      I cannot immediately think of any other manufacturer that handled the bonnet/wing/A-pillar junction in this manner.

    3. Daniel: it´s heartening to hear the R25 described as lovely. It really is a fine design and the detail you point out is excellent. Is it really fair that the Audi 100 gets all the plaudits and the R25 gets pretty much none? To be clear the 100 is brilliant – but the R25 has all the same qualities though handled differently.
      The a-pillar is similar to a few from another manufacturer I can think of. The R25s is exemplary though.

    4. Interesting observation and question re the window line / bonnet junction / groove.

      Volvo’s 700 series had that sort of arrangement, but without the clamshell bonnet.

      The Scimitar SS1 had the full set.

      On the R14, a friend’s mother had a metallic brown GTL, pre-facelift. Very nice and roomy. I don’t really recall the gear whine, though. Interesting how Peugeot didn’t shout about their gearbox-in-sump drivetrain.

    5. Well remembered about the Scimitar SS1, Charles. The A-pillar to bonnet union was very deftly handled. As for the rest of it, though:

      Yikes!

      The Volvo 740 is actually closest to the 14 in having a step (rather than the 14’s groove or 25’s shut line) carrying the waistline forward along the front wing, and indeed backwards along the rear wing in the case of the saloon:

    6. Thanks, Daniel. Another one – Land-Rover still do this, every so often (e.g. latest Discovery).

    7. Another good example, Charles. However, the Discovery Sport is, IMHO, more tidily executed in this regard than the full-fat model. Compare:

      On the latter, the non-movable piece on which the mirror is mounted (not really a sail panel) is painted black like the A-pillar, but seems to be more part of the door and, therefore, should be painted body-colour instead? As it stands, the bottom of the pillar looks ‘broken’, from the angle in the photo at least.

    8. I was stuck in traffic this afternoon next to a 2013-ish Mercedes C-class coupé which seems to do the same quite nicely too.

    9. Yes, Adrian, that’s another one. It’s a shame that the bonnet to wing shut line is so wide:

      The ‘step’ on the Renault 25 disguises the same shutline somewhat.

    10. Yes Daniel – it was a white car and the width of the wing-bonnet shut line was what actually drew my attention to it. Then I remembered what my favourite least influential motoring website was discussing before I had left home!

    11. …. and the Ford Sierra, of course.

      It features on many good designs, it seems.

  5. The Renault 14 has aged better despite being anonymous in styling terms, yet it is better than the Renault 15/17.

    It has been mentioned in the past the X-Type engine could not be enlarged beyond 1360cc even though competition versions of the Citroen Visa and Peugeot 104 for example reached 1434cc (there has been mention of 1450cc though it may be referring to the 1434cc), prior to the X-Type later forming the basis of the PSA TU engine that was capable of reaching 1587cc (even 1813cc with the closely related EC engines or more specifically the EC8 unit used in Chinese, North African and Latin American markets).

    There was also the 105 hp Peugeot 104 ZS2 Arvor prototype that was later sold as a kit, yet if the Peugeot 305 (at least until the facelifted Series 2) featured a similar drivetrain as the 104 for the 1290–1472cc XL/XR engines then surely a way could have been found for the Renault 14 to feature a larger engine regardless of whether the existing drivetrain was used or replaced with a universal layout.

    In retrospect however the Renault 14 being derived from the M121-based Peugeot 104 should have really been a Peugeot to slot above the 104 and below the 305 rather than a Renault, yet have no clue how Renault could have developed a viable in-house alternative of its own in place of the 14 (whether through an enlarged 5 platform to replace the related yet aging 6 or a shortened 12 platform).

    There were other rather interesting Renault 14-based cars (no clue on if any additional 14-based concepts / prototypes / etc exist):

    Renault 14 Coupe Ligier (that looks like it could have been a Volvo 480 precursor in place of the Volvo 300 Series with some Volvo Tundra touches)

    LWB Renault 14 5-door (that sits within the same overall length)

    Renault 14 Cabriolet by Heuliez

    Alleged Renault 14 4-door and 3/5-door estate prototypes (possibly photoshops)

    The following features 4-door saloon and 3-door hatchback Renault 14 sketches

    1. The 305 had a drivetrain derived from that of the 204/304 before it got the XU engines after the facelift.
      The 205 inherited its X/suitcase drivetrain from the 104 before it got the TU.

    2. Know the 305’s drivetrain was derived from the 204/304, which had some similarities with the more developed version found in the 104. At the same time Peugeot’s original plan for what became the 305 via the 1971-1974 Programme J is rather fascinating and suggests they had a different drivetrain in mind.

    3. I’m surprised that no one has pointed out the way
      that the 14’s continuation of the waistline along the
      side of the front wing says, “Fuego, Fuego…”
      most obvious in the shot of the bronze 14 above in
      the wealth of images Bob has unearthed.

    4. Good morning Lorender. The 14 preceded the Fuego by four years, so I think it said “14” in its waistline treatment, rather than the other way round. I actually prefer the 14’s more subtle treatment and thought the Fuego’s ribbed black plastic was a bit contrived. The ‘fade out’ decal on the bronze 14 above is quite clever.

  6. Thank you for putting the 14 in the spotlight Daniel. The mother of my sister’s best friend bought one new in 1978, and although it was a pleasant car to drive, true to form after just two years the first evidence of rust-through started to appear. She replaced it with a Ford Escort which although also a neat enough design was never as comfortable as the 14. Nowadays I appreciate the tidy roundness of the 14 much more than when it was current; together with the Porsche 928 it was among the very first cars to move away from the squarish norm of the day.

    1. Thanks for this article. I don’t remember this Renault 14 ever having made it to North America, which is somewhat strange considering the reasonable popularity of the 5. My brother and his wife bought a new 5 in the late 1970s — it easily eclipsed the Mazda GLC and Toyota Corolla in a test drive, no contest whatsoever. They then spent inordinate amounts of money over the next six years keeping rust at bay because they liked it so much. The drivetrain never gave a moment’s trouble and was hiccup-free, a rarity in the days of early emission controls and carburettors.

      The linked article by Laurent aka Sam from 2014 , “Them:Advertising”, seems to sum up the car and its introduction and subsequent sales very well, and the comment by Richard as to its place in the hatchback constellation brilliant. The 14 seems to have been a bit of a bust all around, nasty engine, bad rust, gear whine — itself pretty inexcusable.

      So looking with “fresh” eyes and having made many trips to Europe during its heyday and not having the least remembrance of seeing this 14 on the road, I have to say it looks a bit anonymous. It was a very plain thing bordering on the tinny utilitarian with not a hint of ruggedness or flair, hardly aspirational to behold, and fun obviously wasn’t on the menu either with those skinny wheels and tyres. It’s a bit of a brown paper bag. So presumably that’s why the advertising went overboard: “No, you’re not seeing what you think you’re seeing, think of it this way! it’s a horse carrier!” A Renault 5’s chic it had not.

  7. The images posted by Bob above, although in need of refinement, shows that the 14’s style had the potential to be usefully extended to a Range of models. The saloon and five-door estate are very plausible.

    1. The – mainly imaginary – images make me me think of what might have happened if the 14 tooling had found a new life in Latin America or China.

      There could have been life beyond the XA engine too, after all Spanish Peugeot 205s used locally made Simca Poissy engines for many years. The Palencia-built 14s got away with imported XA powertrains, probably a reward for substantial investment as Common Market entry and importación iibre approached.

  8. I particularly liked the curious headlining, and remember thinking as we whizzed along in a 14TS at 70 mph/4,000 rpm, that another 2,000 revs would see this car touch 100.

  9. Lovely cars deserve more recognition for sure.
    I remember when the Peugeot 306 first came out and rubbing my chin thinking ‘hmm – looks familiar’.

    1. Hi Huw. That had never occurred to me, but I see exactly what you mean in the way the wings flare out from the narrower centre section of the body. Well spotted!

    2. The world is divided into lumpers and splitters. In geology I am a lumper. When it comes to cars, I am a splitter and I find it hard to see why the R14 and 306 have anything distinctively in common. The 306 has so much parallellism . The wheel arch flaring is masterful. It seems to me very different in principle. Also, the A-pillar and mirror are more neatly handled.

    3. Hi Richard. The details are certainly quite different, but I’m probably taking a holistic view of the subtle concave curvature in the lower bodysides between the wheel arches on both the 14 and 306. I also see similarity in the ways the wings flare out to form the wheelarches. The 14 is more pronounced, the 306 more subtle. Does that make me a ‘lumper’ in respect of this example at least? I think that I’m usually a splitter, given my tendency to obsess over details.

      The 306 is a super-neat and exceptionally well resolved design and I do like it, but the 14 is more intriguing to me.

    4. You get the day´s lumper medal, of course. What is thought-stirring is the way the R14 throws into sharp relief the sheer amount of detail on a car like the the 306 (we could pick any 90s car, note). There are a significant number of extra returns and small lineaments on the 306. The R14 is delightfully simple – more like a Ritmo, would you say?
      Renault didn´t crack the C-class market for ages, now I think about it. The 14, the 9/11, the 19: none of them set the world aflame. PSA got there first and even Citroen´s dismal ZX was a competitive vehicle.
      I like 70s product design drawings (Bob has posted a montage of them) which by coincidence coincides with me finding old drawings of mine from the 00s. I still draw the same way and it makes me wonder about how car designers ossify. Could a designer in his late 60s, say, draw a car which would be accepted as contemporary a) in the studio as a sketch and b) when converted to a 3D, full-size form? Generally, I think no but Ercole Spada had a good run. Gandini fossilised by the end of the 80s. Ditto Giugiario. I presume I have fosslised – if I was asked to design a car for 2024 I´d be stuffed because my drawings are so very 1998.

  10. Hi we had a 1977 example in our family. I drive it in a private road. It was certainly light years ahead of our other car a simca 1501 estate. Wasn’t the 14 the car with unequal wheel bases, if that’s what it is called. Anyway I like them a lot. I never see any here in the south of France.

    1. All FWD Renaults (4,5,6,16,14) from that era had different wheelbases left and right to accomodate the transverse torsion bars of the rear suspension.

  11. During our frequent holidays to France in the 70’s I was a great admirer of the non-conformist shape of the 14, especially in that cheerful orange. It seemed a little bigger than we needed so the trusty R4 was replaced by a Peugeot 104SL. Now the 104 was sprightly, comfortable and surprisingly roomy but oh that engine and gearbox. The engine was noisy and almost impossible to work on and the gearbox was noisy and obstructive, certainly a lot less pleasant to use than the slick push-pull gear change of the R4. I doubt if it helped the R14’s sales.

  12. A classic case of distance lending enchantment I think. The 14 was a truly dreadful car which did Renault’s reputation no good at all (in the UK at any rate). The speed at which it rotted away was a merciful release.
    A friend who bought only Renaults, having discovered the R4 in about 1962, progressed to a 14 from a 6. It lasted less than 6 months and nearly put him off for lief. He chopped it in for an R12 estate and stayed loyal for life, ending up with a Kangoo.
    Looking at it now, the 14 looks almost cuddly…..

    1. Lief? Life…. I’ve been underneath a Vitesse all day – finger fatigue.

  13. Renault gave up on the 14 because the dealers didn’t want it. It had nothing in common with the other models, most parts were not interchangeable. They rather sold the 12, that was easier to work on. It was quite pricey too, and not very well equipped. However it’s a brilliant little car. A friend owns one: it’s super roomy and extremely comfortable. It’s quite hard to keep it running though – you can’t use any Renault parts and Visa/104 parts appear to be different too. Luckily he managed to get it back on the road recently!

  14. I guess the design of the was strongly driven by the decisions taken around packaging – it’s hard to see how they could have made the bonnet line any higher, except perhaps by fitting a DOHC head! If they were determined to free up space in the boot by putting the spare in the engine bay, wouldn’t a Zodiac style arrangement, with the wheel dropping in ahead of the engine, have been better?
    I suspect the flanks were made bulbous for the same reason that the groove from the winsdscreen to the nose was added: to counterbalance the high bonnet line. This, coupled with the relatively high stance for long travel suspension, led to it looking slightly over-inflated, something it shared with the contemprary Volvo 343.
    All that said, in pre-facelift form especially it’s so much more nicely resolved and detailed than the Volvo, or even the Ritmo that Richard mentioned above. Post facelift, it actually does start to look a little like a 343 from the front three-quarter view!

  15. Not all FWD Renaults of the era had the different wheelbase each side – the 12 15 17 18 didn’t – they didn’t have full width transverse torsion bar rear suspension. I know someone above (and Wikipedia) says the 14 has the unequal wheelbase each side but my memory is that although it had transverse torsion bars, they weren’t full width and met in the middle – so wheelbase was the same. Can anyone confirm this?

  16. What a difference six years make – the R9’s suspension was far cleverer, with passive rear-wheel steer as an added bonus:

    1. When did a car magazine last do this kind of explanation? I wish they´d label them better though.

  17. Totally agree with you Richard that old car mags were much more interesting with all the technical details and drawings provided. I much prefer trawling through my collection of oldies than reading the current crop that just seem obsessed with 0-60 times and ICE. In those days too, an issue containing new car launches was the first time you read about the vehicle (except for the excellent CAR scoops), rather than the stage managed teasing of details by manufacturers. It seems current car buying/PCP/leasing public aren’t as interested in the oily bits of their new vehicle – shame.

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