Anti-Cyclone Hartmut*

From Russia with Renault.

Image: caradisiac

Best get this beast out the room, sharpish. A mere four years ago, Renault’s international plans were expectantly grand. A car was co-developed, launched and expected to sell in large quantities within the French car maker’s then second largest market, Russia. As part of the Renault Drive the Future plan, Arkana was all set to bolster figures in that region alone by some half a million units. Plants in both the capital and at Togliatti geared up for a 2019 Russian release, with the rest of the world to follow soon after.

Engines specific to the CIS region along with a drivetrain robust enough for typical local road surfaces were prominent Moscow car show features. Let’s Continue reading “Anti-Cyclone Hartmut*”

Missing the Marque: Renault Safrane

Renault replaces French style with Euro-blandness, with wholly predictable results.

Going incognito. Safrane Biturbo. Image: razaoautomovel.com

The 1965 Renault 16 was highly unusual for a large European car. Firstly, it was a hatchback when all of its contemporaries were three-box saloons. Secondly, it was front-wheel-drive when large saloons were mainly driven by their rear wheels. Thirdly, its styling was highly distinctive and didn’t observe any of the norms expected in such models. Ask me to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Renault Safrane”

Show and Tell (Part Six)

Blowing the dust off another set of rediscovered envelopes and their contents, rekindling some memories.

Image: the author

Paris 1990

Project 2758, as the Mercedes-Benz 500E was known internally at Porsche AG, who partly built the car, was a ‘Q-car’ in the vein of the BMW M5 but, this being Stuttgart, the 500E presented itself in an even more discreet way than Munich’s autobahnstormer.

The 5-litre, 32-valve M119 V8 propelled the 500E to an electronically limited maximum speed of 250km/h (155mph) although, without the limiter, its terminal velocity was known to have been quite a bit higher. The 500E was strictly a four-seater, which was not entirely by choice: the differential needed was so large that there was no room left for any suspension or even padding in the middle of the rear seat area. Continue reading “Show and Tell (Part Six)”

A Niche Too Far?

Sometimes it pays to be brave. Sometimes. 

Image: motoimg

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was first published on 6 January 2014.

As the new Millennium approached, motor manufacturers, having established that engineering integrity would only take them so far in the quest for market leadership, would increasingly rely upon the spreadsheets and focus groups of their product planning departments. The key differentiator would henceforth be defined by one word: Segmentation. Departments sprang up in demographically significant hotspots such as Miami, London and Southern California, all tasked with seeking the elusive new market niche that enable them to Continue reading “A Niche Too Far?”

Unforgotten: the Renault Mégane II

Twenty years on, DTW recalls the shock factor of the mundanely named but highly distinctive Renault Mégane II.

Mégane II three-door, rear 3/4 view, giving full view of the DLO cutting into the rear pillar. Image: Drive Mag

I have had in mind to write something about the Mégane II for a while now, but other distractions have prevented me from doing so. Then, in starting to do some research on the subject, I came across ‘The Surge’ series on Christopher Butt’s irresistible ‘Design Field Trip’. As a result, I nearly didn’t bother writing this piece, because Christopher and Patrick le Quément (no less!) have put together the definitive articles on the boldest C-segment hatchback design since the Golf. However, I decided to carry on so that, if nothing else, this piece can act as a signpost to that series of articles.

The Mégane II went on sale in October 2002, replacing the successful original range of cars of that name. For a car required to sell in high volumes at relatively modest margins to Continue reading “Unforgotten: the Renault Mégane II”

Nicer Than a Pint of Plain at the Widows Pub

The first Renault Kangoo (1997) is now old enough to be a bit of vintage street furniture.

1997 Renault Kangoo in east Cologne, Germany.

You can tell this is series 1 Kangoo because of the fun and slightly incongruent indicator lamps. Renault once had a bit of a habit of putting in one design feature that caused you to Continue reading “Nicer Than a Pint of Plain at the Widows Pub”

History in Cars – Rituals and Symbols

The editor recalls his early forays into motoring.

Image: FIAT Publicity via the author.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 29 September 2018. Owing to the poor quality of the originals, stock photos have been used.

The starting procedure: insert key into ignition slot. Twist key. Lift floor-mounted enrichment (choke) lever fully[1]. Engage clutch. Lift spring-loaded, floor-mounted starter lever. Hold until engine fires. Ignore the intense vibration of the little twin-cylinder engine on its mountings as it settles into life. On no account Continue reading “History in Cars – Rituals and Symbols”

Simplify, Then Add Lightness

Trying to understand the Lotus Eletre.

Front elevation. Can you guess what it is yet? Image: Lotus Cars Media

Even I have come to accept that sports car marques can barely survive, and certainly not thrive, without having an SUV or crossover in their portfolio. Indeed, it seems that even developing a saloon car is not worth the R&D these days, given the news that Mazda will not be replacing the Mazda6, although its new FR platform, RWD, straight-sixes and all, looks tailor made for that job.

Not that I am trying to Continue reading “Simplify, Then Add Lightness”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]

The everycar.

Image: Publicis Conseil – author’s collection

It may not have been the most commercially successful car of the 1970s, nor even the most technically significant. It did not win accolades for its ultimate handling capabilities or jaw dropping styling. Car of the decade may have been a title which eluded it, but none of the above should detract from the significance of the Renault 5 amid the automotive pantheon, nor Renault’s sound judgement in taking the car into production in such unadulterated form.

As an archetype of the art of product design, the Five was almost perfectly realised, certainly by the standards of its time. The practicality and robustness of its basic shape, the unmatched versatility offered by its hinging rear tailgate, combined with the subtle richness yet stark modernism of its detail design ensured its place as the first genuine hatchback supermini and the archetype for the modern B-segment motorcar. Such was its design integrity that Renault not only found themselves incapable, but unwilling to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]”

Renault 5 GTL Review

This looks very much like an authentic period review of the 1976 Renault 5 GTL by revered motoring writer Archie Vicar.

1976 Renault 5 GTL: source

The text first appeared under the headline “Another New Renault” in The Amman Valley Chronicle and East Carmarthen News, June 5, 1976. The original photographs were by Douglas Land-Windermere. Due to the effects of xylophagic fungi, the original images could not be used.

This article was initially published on DTW in October 2018.

Renault, Renault, Renault. This firm does try hard and is to be commended for its efforts to keep up with trends sooner or later. That means they are once again on the “hatchback” bandwagon, or staying on the bandwagon in the case of the 5 tested here today. The 5 appeared on the market in 1972 and the firm is sticking with the formula of front-drive and a hinged opening panel on the rear of the car in place of a proper separate boot.

It remains to be seen if British buyers can Continue reading “Renault 5 GTL Review”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Five]

The 5 that really was a Supercar.

Image: lautomobileancienne

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no successful model line can attain true immortality without a competition pedigree, so it should surprise nobody that the Renault 5 gained one alongside its many other accolades. Motorsport had been a somewhat patchy activity within Billancourt in the run up to the 1970s, with the bulk of the heavy lifting being provided by outsiders like Gordini and Alpine[1].

In 1974, the Renault 5 became available in 85 bhp LS Kitée specification, a low-volume model for competition in the newly renamed Renault 5 Elf Cup. 150 were produced for the 1975 season of the race series which proved popular and competitive. Two years later, Dieppe’s technicians had completed their ministrations resulting in the Alpine A5, Renault’s official performance offering. This too would gain a competition career, being campaigned in the World Rally Championship’s Group 2 class, the A5s as fielded by Renault Sport developing 130 bhp. Early results from the 1977 Mille Pistes and San Remo rallies illustrated the promise of the Alpine 5, but the following year, a class victory by Jean Ragnotti in the Monte Carlo event[2] would mark the high point of the A5’s rally career.

Despite the occasional giant-killing performance, the standard R5 was never going to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Five]”

Not Alone is the Winter’s Chalice Replenished

A vanishingly rare version of an increasingly rare car falls under our Danish correspondent’s purview today. (First published on 1st May  2017)

All images: the author

Very clearly the work of a singular vision, that of Michel Boué, the Renault 5 impresses with the clarity of its concept. This example shows how it could be more than a basic conveyance. In this instance, we have here a really tidy, time-warp example with very little sign of tear or wear. We’ll get to the interior in a moment, with its comfortable sports seats and very inviting ambience. The 5 is a reduction of the essential themes of the Renault 4, using simple industrial design form language. The surfaces are minimal and the discipline of the radii is consistently applied. The lamps fit neatly into the surrounding surface and the features are aligned in an orderly fashion. Despite all this formal correctness, the car is quite cheerful and friendly. Continue reading “Not Alone is the Winter’s Chalice Replenished”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]

My brilliant career.

Image: Publicis Conseil. Author’s collection

1975 was not a year to be recalled with much fondness across the global automotive industry, as the effects of Yom Kippur 1973 hit home. A number of carmakers would not survive the year, while others would undergo painful reinventions under dramatically altered circumstances. Renault, to some extent insulated by French Government stewardship, would undergo change too, Pierre Dreyfus, the CEO who had steadfastly guided them for two decades had elected to retire, nominating Bernard Vernier-Palliez in his stead. Prior to his departure, Dreyfus made another significant appointment, luring design-lead Robert Opron to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Three]

You Cannot Be Serious!

Le Advertising. Image: autoevolution

The North American market has always been tough, unyielding and, for a great many European carmakers, impenetrable. Lucrative for those who could find a way in, success however has always required an unswerving commitment and very deep pockets, characteristics which were in short supply at Bologne-Billancourt. Renault had made some tentative explorations into the US during the early 1950s, but it wasn’t until the advent of the Dauphine model towards the latter end of the decade that the French carmaker would put its shoulder to the metaphorical wheel.

While low-powered, potentially evil-handling European imports were by no means unfamiliar to US audiences by this time, the ones which America had taken to their collective hearts were not only considerably more robustly wrought at Wolfsburg, but were vastly better represented by a large and widespread support network.

Yet despite these apparent shortcomings, the Dauphine made significant headway, outselling Volkswagen in 1959[1]. But despite Renault Inc’s best efforts, the Dauphine’s reputation did not survive contact with US soil – a combination of a chronic lack of material quality, durability and a propensity to spontaneously dissolve into crumbs of ferrous oxide saw matters come to an inglorious halt. Indeed, so poor did the Dauphine’s US reputation become that when its replacement was introduced, early advertising billed it as a car for those who swore never again to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Three]”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Epilogue – Endgame?

Where next for the Eco-car?


Citroen Ami (Source: Automotive News Europe)

Having enjoyed researching and writing about our three eighties eco-concept marvels, what thoughts now come to mind about the current state of the small car market? After all, the future as predicted by the ECO 2000, for example, has long since passed.

The car as we know it is, without doubt, experiencing something of a fin de siècle. Personally, I have felt a growing sense that car design and development has plateaued, become complacent and intellectually flabby, with form increasingly disconnected from function. I have also realised that this is reflected in my writings for DTW, which recently has been focused very much on the past rather than today or the future.

So, much as I enjoyed writing this short series, it has left me a little flat in terms of thoughts about the status quo and the future. Cue a stream of consciousness … Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Epilogue – Endgame?”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]

The Supercar cometh.

Image: renaultgroup.com

Unlike other major European markets, France did not particularly enjoy a love affair with the two-door bodystyle and by consequence, for sound commercial reasons, few mainstream French carmakers saw fit to offer one throughout the 1950s and 60s[1]. It was therefore not at all surprising that Renault CEO, Pierre Dreyfus and his marketing heads were initially dubious about the sales prospects for the new Renault 5’s two-door-with-a-tailgate style. The level of commercial risk was, not to exaggerate matters, enormous.

Misgivings were not only expressed within Billancourt itself however, Renault’s dealer representatives vehemently agitated against the two-door body style when the Cinq was previewed to them prior to launch. In fact, they wrote it off entirely, baldly stating that only commercial operators would Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part One]

Big science in a small package. 

Image: largus.fr

The scientific approach to motor car design was one which was taken up with some enthusiasm in France during the post-war period, resulting not only in some of the more compelling examples of motive modernity, but the most significant of the modern era. The results of intellectual rigour and no small quantum of application, these cars were also imbued with another, more nebulous quality: a piquant and distinctive character. Certainly, it was a potent amalgamation of elements that in this instance created a car both of its time, yet also timeless. A car for living. A car for life.

Towards the end of the 1960s, amid Europe’s engineering centres and styling studios, a new evolution of car was being forged. With matters of powertrain layout and body format still to be definitively established, nobody was entirely sure what would emerge as the dominant strain. But while Mirafiori, Turin would in the fullness of time lay claim to the precise technical layout of the compact front wheel drive car[1], it was their Transalpine rivals at Boulogne-Billancourt who would go on to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part One]”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 3 – BL Technologies ECV3

We look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.

BL Technologies ECV3. Can you imagine the shock of BL presenting this in 1982? (Source: AROnline)

The last of the cars featured in this series is the BL Technologies ECV3. This is a classic BL tale of burgeoning promise turning to wracking frustration as funds dried up for the development of a new small car. As might be expected, it is also by some margin the most convoluted and protracted of the three stories.

BL Technology was the R&D arm of the state-owned British car maker. In 1980, it was led by renowned engineer Spen King and given a home at BL’s new testing facility at Gaydon in Warwickshire. BL Technology and its Gaydon site was basically a sand-box environment, enabling King and his colleagues to propose theories about the future design of cars, then turn these into working prototypes to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 3 – BL Technologies ECV3”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 2 – Renault VESTA

A short series in which we look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.

Renault VESTA – look through the rear side window, and one can see that it is one of those styling mules where each side elevation has a differing design (Source: All Car Index)

Today, we turn our attention to Renault’s vision for a compact car designed to do 120mpg (2.35l/100km), the 1983 VESTA.

In its February 1984 edition, Car Magazine went into some detail about what it reported would become the new Renault ‘R3’ in an article, entitled ‘Towards 2000’. This edition of the magazine is memorable for having scoop photos of the Kadett E / Astra MkII on the front cover, the car brightly illuminated at night on the road, showing that GM Europe’s compact offering was going to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 2 – Renault VESTA”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 1 – Citroën ECO 2000

A short series in which we look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.

ECO 2000 in museum context (Source: Auto.cz)

I was an eighties teenager and consider that decade to have been influential on many aspects of the world today. After what seemed to me to have been the grim stagnation, complacency and listlessness of the seventies, the eighties saw the (sometimes painful and tragic) breaking of ties to the past and the search to replace them with future opportunities, especially in technological innovation.

Like myself at that time, I would argue it that was a decade which could be described as naïve, one in which political, economic, cultural and social ideals and principles still meant something. People who believed in those ideals and principles were prepared to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 1 – Citroën ECO 2000”

Chacun Voit Midi à Sa Porte*

A trio from the French quarter.

Amid the less frequently visited outposts within automotive history’s archives, intriguing and fascinating things can sometimes be found.

Marsonetto

Until fairly recently the family business of Automobiles Marsonetto was still active as a concessionaire of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia in Villeurbanne on the outskirts of Lyon. Founder of the company, Mario Marsonetto was the son of an Italian mason but was more interested in automobiles than following in his father’s footsteps. By his early twenties he had successfully trained to become a coachbuilder, having gained valuable work experience by rebodying passenger cars – mainly Renaults and Citroëns – as well as trucks. Continue reading “Chacun Voit Midi à Sa Porte*”

She’s Electric

ZOE’s days may be numbered, but its EV pioneer status is assured.

Image: highwaynewspro.com

A decade ago, two quite different, yet in their own way, equally significant electric cars would go on sale. While the Tesla Model S would come to define the latterday electric car as a tech-laden, super-computer on wheels, another – less significant from a purely historical context perhaps – would go on to become the best selling European battery electric car ever, a position it retains.

The 2009 Frankfurt motor show witnessed something of a bombshell from Groupe Renault, the carmaker displaying four fully electric concept cars[1], each destined to Continue reading “She’s Electric”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)

We conclude our sixtieth anniversary celebration of the Renault 4, France’s most successful car.

Image: lautomobileancienne

The Renault R4 was formally launched at the Paris Salon in October 1961(1) in base and L trim. The two versions were immediately distinguishable by the fact that the base model had no third light in the rear quarter panel, just a very wide C-pillar. The L version was priced at a premium of 400 francs (£29 or US $82) over the base model. Both shared the same Billancourt 747cc 26.5bhp (20kW) engine.

Also launched at the same time was the R3, which was similar to the base R4 but had a smaller 603cc 22.5bhp (16.8kW) version of the engine, which placed it in the cheaper 3CV taxation class. The R3 was targeted directly at the Citroën 2CV and undercut the entry price for the latter by 40 francs (£3 or US $8). Also unveiled was the Fourgonnette van version. This was identical to the R4 ahead of the B-pillars but had a large cube-shaped bespoke body aft of the pillars with a single, side-hinged rear door(2). Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)”

For A Few Pesos More

A Renault that came close to making it to market, and one that actually did. Some may prefer it to have been the other way round….

Image: Forocoches.com

IKA Renault 40: Argentina

When Varig flight 820 crashed just a few miles from its destination of Orly airport on 11 July 1973(1) causing 123 deaths and only 11 survivors, there naturally was widespread grief among the families and relatives involved. The air disaster also derailed a promising project by Renault Argentina owing to the fact that Yvon Lavaud, the president of IKA Renault, was among the victims.

In 1967, Renault became the majority shareholder of IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina). Lavaud was sent to Argentina to Continue reading “For A Few Pesos More”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)

The Renault 4 celebrates its sixtieth birthday. We salute a French automotive icon.

1961 Renault R4 Image: weilinet

Certain cars seem perfectly to encapsulate a vision of their country of origin. It is easy to imagine a gleaming black Mercedes-Benz S-Class carrying a German government minister or plutocrat along an Autobahn at great speed and in discreet, sybaritic luxury. Likewise, one can dream of a pastel-coloured Fiat Nuova 500 driven by a strikingly attractive olive-skinned young woman, nipping adroitly through the narrow twisting streets of a sun-baked Italian hillside village.

Less romantically, one can readily visualise a metallic grey Vauxhall Cavalier sitting at a steady 80mph in the outside lane of a British motorway under a leaden sky, its driver grimly contemplating another difficult meeting with his boss about his failure to Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)”

Searching for the Next Big Thing

We recall three vehicles from different European manufacturers, each trying to offer a new twist on the large executive/family car formula, but all failing comprehensively to break the stranglehold of the status quo.

2001 Renault Vel Satis (c) Haessliche Autos

It is the Holy Grail for automakers: coming up with a design that defines a whole new automotive genre. You reap the rich rewards of first-mover advantage while your rivals struggle to catch up. Sticking your corporate head above the parapet of automotive convention is not without risks, however. For every Nissan Qashqai there is a Suzuki X90, selling in tiny numbers before being canned, then hanging around like a bad smell to remind the public how foolish you were.

To compound your embarrassment, it will also Continue reading “Searching for the Next Big Thing”

LocoDiscoBox (16+)

What have you planned for the festive season?

All images: group.renault.com

What’s the first thing you think of when considering gearboxes? Have you parked in gear? Does the manual action satisfy your taste? Is that a dog-leg set up? Why won’t the automatic change when I want it to? Where’s my Lego set? That latter, more pertinent point being what led to Renault seeking out a new way of changing gears. Settle in, pop it into D and grab your Lego Technic manual.

Christmas 2010 and we find Renault’s Nicolas Fremau, Powertrains and Hybrid expert, ordering boxes of Denmark’s most prodigious export. Not for his son, either. Fremau hit on the idea that the plastic cogs along with connecting rods could form the potential of a real world use gearbox for use in the coming hybrid/ electrification vehicles. The holiday period allowed him to Continue reading “LocoDiscoBox (16+)”

A Deadly Misadventure

DTW recalls the alliance between Renault and American Motors Corporation that proved highly damaging to the French automaker and had fatal consequences.

1988 Eagle Premier(c) blog.consumerguide.com

American Motors Corporation (AMC) was long the plucky underdog of the US automotive industry, always struggling to compete on equal terms with the ‘Big Three’ of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. AMC had itself been formed from the 1954 merger of Nash Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Car Company(1). This was a merger driven out of weakness rather than strength, as neither partner had the financial or technical resources to continue independently.

With a market share of just 4%, AMC was still a fraction of the size of the Big Three, but there was a larger plan in play, devised jointly by George Mason, President of Nash-Kelvinator, and James Nance, President of the Packard Motor Car Company. Packard would Continue reading “A Deadly Misadventure”

Oh Nicole!

File under (Renault: B-segment: Good – not great). At least the ad-campaign was memorable.

(c) autoevolution

Ask anyone about the 1990 Renault Clio and amongst those who remember it at all, most will cite the long-running UK advertising campaign, featuring the somewhat clichéd antics of comely young Nicole, getting the slip on her somewhat louche papa at their somewhat clichéd Provencal retreat. Meanwhile Papa, displaying equally duplicitous behaviour (all French men of course routinely have affairs), was fomenting assignations of his own.

Risible of course, but it played to cherished English preconceptions of French mores, and was instrumental in cementing brand-Clio in the minds of UK buyers. It worked too: the Clio proving a thirty year success story for the French carmaker, but the first-generation model, unlike its ad-campaign, was not what anyone would Continue reading “Oh Nicole!”

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 Continue reading “Going Pear-Shaped”

A Failure of Nerve

In 1966 Peugeot and Renault formulated an ambitious plan to take on the incumbents in the luxury car market. Sadly, both companies got cold feet and their dream went unrealised. DTW recounts the story of Projet H.

Image: Christopher Butt

With the successful launch of the 16 in 1965, Renault had a large five-door FWD hatchback to complement its (not so) small 4 model. The range would be augmented with the medium-sized 6 in 1968 and completed with the 5 supermini in 1972 . These hatchbacks sat alongside its rear-engined 8 and 10 saloons for more conservative customers.

However, the company lacked a large and prestigious car as a flagship for its range. Likewise Peugeot, where the largest model was the well-regarded 404 saloon, launched in 1960. Both manufacturers eyed Citröen with a degree of envy. The Double Chevron’s large DS model, although already a decade old, had been so advanced and futuristic at launch that it still looked handsome and prestigious.

It was a fitting ‘halo’ model for the marque, notwithstanding the idiosyncratic appearance of Citröen’s smaller cars. The DS was also the choice for official transport at the Elysée Palace, giving Citröen kudos that was jealously coveted by both Billancourt and Sochaux.

Both manufacturers were allegedly nervous about the market potential for a large and luxurious car bearing their marque names, so they agreed in April 1966 to Continue reading “A Failure of Nerve”

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 Continue reading “Lucky Seven”

Coupé à la Française

DTW recalls the 1971 Renault 15 and 17, La Régie’s distinctively French take on the sporting coupé.

Renault 15 & 17. (c) stubs-auto .fr

The 1969 Renault 12 saloon was an immediate hit for its manufacturer. It was praised by European motoring journalists for its styling, spacious and comfortable interior, and good performance and fuel economy. It was based on a new platform that placed the engine longitudinally ahead of the front axle and gearbox. On Renault’s existing FWD models, the 4, 6 and 16, the engine was positioned behind the gearbox, necessitating a distinctly unsporting high bonnet line and dashboard mounted gear lever.

Renault had not offered a coupé in its range since the demise of the Dauphine-based Caravelle in 1968, and only 9,309 Caravelles had been sold in the last three years of its production. Moreover, the European coupé market had been transformed by the launch of the Ford Capri Mk1 in 1969 and Opel Manta A a year later. The new coupés were closely related to their mainstream saloon siblings, the Cortina Mk2 and Ascona A. More significantly, they were styled to look aggressively sporting, masculine rather than demure in character.

Renault decided that it could usefully Continue reading “Coupé à la Française”

One Last Push (Part Two)

DTW concludes its brief history of the post-WW2 rear-engined Renaults.

Renault 8 and 10 models. (c) lautomobileancienne

By 1960 the Renault Dauphine, while still popular, was beginning to look somewhat dated. The front-wheel-drive Renault 4 was at an advanced stage of development and would be launched in 1961. This would be the first of four identically formatted models, with engines mounted longitudinally behind the front axle, the gearbox placed in front, necessitating a gear lever mounted high on the dashboard, with the linkage passing over the engine.

The 4 would be followed by the large 16 in 1965, the mid-size 6 in 1968, and the supermini 5 in 1972. All would be hatchback designs with five doors, apart from the 5, which would initially be available only as a three-door.

Notwithstanding these plans, Renault still believed there was life in the rear-engined saloon layout and set about to Continue reading “One Last Push (Part Two)”

One Last Push (Part One)

Today DTW remembers Renault’s post-WW2 series of rear-engined cars.

1954 Renault 4CV Brochure (c) autoweek.com

The post-war worldwide success of the Volkswagen Beetle(1) encouraged manufacturers as diverse as Fiat, NSU, Renault, Rootes, Skoda, ZAZ and even General Motors to emulate its mechanical layout, with varying fortunes. In so doing, many appeared to miss the point that the Beetle was successful despite rather than because of its rear-engined layout.

A rear-engined design typically involves many compromises with regard to packaging for luggage space, engine accessibility and cooling, and handling and stability. The smaller the car, the less important these compromises are, but the layout becomes increasingly unviable as the design becomes larger and more powerful. Porsche spent the best part of sixty years engineering out the instability(2) caused by having a heavy weight mounted aft of the rear axle on the 911, while General Motors suffered huge reputational damage owing to claims of dangerous instability made about the rear-engined Mk1 Chevrolet Corvair.

During WW2, Renault was controlled by the occupying German forces and was under orders to Continue reading “One Last Push (Part One)”

Stuck In Neutral

How Billancourt was presented with an unexpected proposal for an ultra-basic car, not by the product committee, but from the mighty French labour union.

Renault Neutral proposal. (c) Conceptcarz com

The mid eighties were tough times for Renault. Georges Besse had become CEO in January 1985 and was confronted with an alarming financial situation: between 1984 and 1985 losses were spiralling – amounting to in the region of 10 billion Francs. Furthermore, the alliance in the USA with American Motors was costing enormous amounts of money, with little headway to show for in return. In an effort to Continue reading “Stuck In Neutral”

Against all Odds (Part Two)

As part of Groupe Renault, Dacia has carved out a distinctive niche as a manufacturer of competent if unexceptional budget vehicles. Today we examine how this strategy has evolved over the past twenty years.

2018 Dacia Duster Mk2 (c) Dacia UK

In 1997 Renault Chairman and CEO Louis Schweitzer visited Russia to gain an understanding of the market and Renault’s prospects there. To his surprise, he established that the ancient Fiat 124-based Lada was market leader despite its antiquity. The prime reason for this was its bargain price, equivalent to US $6,000 when the cheapest Renault sold in Russia cost twice that.

Flying back to France, Schweitzer set down the requirements for the design of a basic but not minimal modern car which could be sold profitably worldwide at the Lada’s price of $6,000 (€5,000). His brief, written on an airline napkin, stated the basic tenets in three words: modern, reliable, affordable, with the codicil that “everything else is negotiable.”

Long serving Renault R&D manager Gérard Detourbet, was given the task of developing a car to meet Schweitzer’s brief. Led by Detourbet, engineering teams in France and Romania would first Continue reading “Against all Odds (Part Two)”

Against all Odds (Part One)

Before it became part of Groupe Renault, Dacia survived enormous political, social and economic upheavals to remain in business for over thirty years. Today we look back at its remarkable history.

The first Dacia 1100 being presented to Nicholae Ceauşescu (c) autoevolution.com

Although subsumed into the vast political monolith of the Soviet Union following the Second World War, the countries that were signatories to the Warsaw Pact tried to maintain at least a veneer of independence from their Soviet masters. In the vanguard of resistance was Romania. Nicholae Ceaușescu, who became the country’s leader in 1965, refused to participate in and openly criticised the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Ceaușescu’s independence of mind initially won him widespread support at home and he leveraged this to Continue reading “Against all Odds (Part One)”

Sighting and Seeing

A Laguna Coupé ought to be both a rare and welcome sighting. But it doesn’t do to look too closely. 

Image: the author

The Renault Laguna, especially in its third and final iteration was a popular car in Ireland. Not popular in Passat or Avensis terms, but sold in quite respectable numbers nonetheless, notwithstanding Irish motorists’ long-standing distrust of the larger offerings from our esteemed French neighbours.

This was all the more surprising really, given the frightful reputation its immediate predecessor earned over its lifespan – riddled as it was by electronic gremlins which cost the carmaker dear, both in market share and in warranty costs. But then, Renault’s Irish importers were (perhaps through grim necessity) somewhat generous when it came to sales incentives. Continue reading “Sighting and Seeing”

Photo For Sunday : La Gamme Complète

Renault 82, it says on the cover. 

Image: The author

The image you see here is taken from a 1982 brochure prepared by Publicis Conseil (Renault’s long-standing communications and advertising agency) for Ireland’s then distributor, Smiths Distributors LTD, who also assembled Renault 4s in Co Wexford for the Irish market. More a pamphlet than a brochure, it nevertheless provided a well-produced and reasonably comprehensive overview of what the nationalised French carmaker had to Continue reading “Photo For Sunday : La Gamme Complète”

Fire Without the Spark

The French Capri?

(c) stubs-auto.fr

The Spanish word for fire, the Renault Fuego was somewhat unusual in 1980 in that it was in receipt of a name rather than a numeral. The nationalised French carmaker’s numerical system, which had been in place since the ’60s was already showing signs of unravelling, but would take almost another decade before being abandoned with debut of the Clio in 1990. This made the Fuego something of an outlier in the range, a status the car maintains to this day.

To those who Continue reading “Fire Without the Spark”

“Sit thysen down fur a bit: hev a glass o’ cowslip wine!”

It’s Sunday. Again.

Mk 2 Renault Espace**

Today’s text has nothing to do with the Espace (above). I wrote a whole other article and scrapped it after Eóin had gone to the trouble of deleting the expletives and formatting it for consumption. What I decided to do with this version of the article was to Continue reading ““Sit thysen down fur a bit: hev a glass o’ cowslip wine!””

The Dreaming

The Renault 9 was deemed blandness personified. But one of the design proposals was, shall we say, over the Rainbow? 

1981 Renault 9. saripahmunaek.blogspot.com

Occasionally, when one is presented with a rejected concept for a well-known car design, one experiences a frisson of regret, a sharp sense of opportunity missed. More often however, one is reminded of the essential rightness of the production concept chosen. But once in a while, one finds oneself staring in disbelief, wondering what were they thinking? But let’s not Continue reading “The Dreaming”

Take Five

Remembering a memorable Renault.

(c) stubs-auto-fr

In 1976, Renault introduced the 5 GTL, a version of France’s best seller which was intended to appeal to more economy-conscious customers. Powered by a detuned version of the 5 TS’ 1289 cc engine, it was a low-revving, relatively unstressed power unit, aimed at reducing fuel consumption – in a rudimentary manner perhaps, predating BMW’s more elaborate attempts at achieving a similar goal with their ETA engine programme the following decade.

At the time at least, it went against the orthodoxy of using a smaller capacity engine to Continue reading “Take Five”

The Persian Bodyswappers

Novels such as ‘Vice Versa’ and ‘Freaky Friday’ have inspired a long list of films about body swapping, but in the rare cases the automobile industry has resorted to the practice, it hasn’t exactly resulted in any award-winning performances.

(c) Pedal.ir/Flickr/Gomotors.net/Pakwheels.com

Since the Ayatollahs assumed power, Iran’s relationship with Western nations has been complicated. This has not stopped the country from developing a thriving automobile industry however – after oil and gas it is the third in economic importance – and to achieve licensing deals with a number of major car manufacturers such as Peugeot, Citroën, Renault, Nissan, KIA, Chevrolet and Cadillac. In some cases, this has lead to results that can only be described as bizarre. Continue reading “The Persian Bodyswappers”

Metropolitian Glide

A chic urban concept from Renault: Denied again.

Image: myrenaultzoe

Despite the diminutive profit margins they typically engender, small cars have always been big business for mainstream European carmakers. But finding a recipe that is equally acceptable across pan-European palates is no minor matter. The ongoing mission to craft the required blend of practicality, utility, style and indulgence at a price that will attract the urbanite and rural dweller alike might well be the toughest gig in car design.

Renault landed upon just such a recipe with the original 1992 Twingo, a charming and strikingly designed compact monospace whose distinctive style, the result of Patrick le Quément’s dogged determination to Continue reading “Metropolitian Glide”

Pardon The French

Peculiar and of dubious aesthetic merit though its products are, DS Automobiles’ output at least possesses one commendable trait

Citoyen No1, photo (c) autoplus.fr

It’s rather easy to ridicule DS Automobiles. After all, it’s yet another car brand created in vitro, whose main claim to fame is a name that references one of the greatest creations in automotive history, without paying any respects to it whatsoever.

Casting aside this truly overbearing issue though, paying some attention to the brand’s design proves to be rather more worthwhile than a first glance would suggest. Of course, DS’ range of cars has so far mostly set itself apart through a sheer overabundance of stylistic tropes, many of which are rather less than inspiring (shark fin b-pillars, double badges). However, amid all the cacophonous excess, there are some interesting details to be found. Continue reading “Pardon The French”

Le roi est mort, vive le roi!

The proud, if patchy tradition of the French grand tourisme didn’t quite end with the Citroën SM. 

The French relationship to automotive luxury is similar to how Germans deal with fine food. Just as those stemming from east of the river Rhine tend to be more willing to spend a fortune on engine lubricants, rather than extra virgin olive oil, their more occidental counterparts usually gain more pleasure from visiting a fine auberge on a regular basis than a car showroom or garage. How he or she gets to said auberge is a secondary concern, too.

Yet, just as there are Germans who care deeply about fine food (Fritz Eichbauer being a particularly striking example of this), the French aren’t totally immune to the charms of decadent motoring either, as the erstwhile success of proud names like Bugatti or Facel proved. It was only some time after the war, and due in large part to stringent domestic luxury taxation, that the French GT found itself on the wane. Continue reading “Le roi est mort, vive le roi!”

Mr. Warburton Writes a Letter

Analysts Bernstein Research rediscover a lost art, but in doing so have they shifted the paradigm?

(c) grandprix247

Something unprecedented has happened. It’s probably too early to tell whether it will prove to be an isolated occurrence or a sign of a wider shift in the manner in which the industry operates, but the implications could well prove to be far-reaching.

Max Warburton, the senior automotive analyst from Wall Street financial analytics firm, Sandford C Bernstein, and leading soothsayer on matters pertaining to the motor business wrote an open letter last week to Renault Chairman, Jean-Dominique Senard, suggesting he Continue reading “Mr. Warburton Writes a Letter”

Romping Home Into Eighth Place

Now the fine powdered debris has settled, I thought I’d gather up some third party opinions on the mooted Renault/FCA merger.

2018 Renualt Espace: Renault Germany

I’ve decided to amalgamate three sources of information. They are the Financial Times, the New York Times and Autocar. My own view is that the merger is a re-run of the value-incinerating union of Chrysler and Mercedes twenty years ago. But what do the other commentators say if Renault and Fiat Continue reading “Romping Home Into Eighth Place”