This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most ingenuous family cars of its day, the Renault 16. In 1965, the Renault 16 stood out as the first status car to feature a tailgate, providing it with an unprecedented level of versatility. The model’s original lines lost no time winning over French families of the baby boom years looking for a prestige motor car.
Renault 16: the Original ‘Voiture à Vivre’
The history of Renault’s family cars started 50 years ago in France during the post-war boom. In early 1965, the brand unveiled an innovative new vehicle at the Geneva motor show: the Renault 16.
This new hatchback featured an original body shape founded on a two-box design complete with a tailgate for access to the trunk. The model combined functional qualities with elegant looks and no fewer than six windows, carrying over the ingredients that were behind the success of the Renault 4 to an upmarket family vehicle. It was deemed the perfect family car.
Dreyfus, Determined to Innovate
The project to design a successor to the upmarket Frégate was an ambitious one, especially as Pierre Dreyfus – Renault’s CEO from 1955 to 1975 – wanted it to stand out from its rivals. “We have to take a different approach,” he proclaimed. “Cars can’t just be four seats and a boot any longer. They must be viewed as a volume.”
The result was the Renault 16. A radical concept at the time, the car was athletic in its aesthetic and luxurious in its accoutrements. Designed by Philippe Charbonneaux under the direction of Renault’s then chief designer Gaston Juchet, it was promptly signed off by Dreyfus, who predicted it would be “a car for families drawn by modern consumer society.”
Unveiled at the 1965 Geneva motor show, the Renault 16 surprised visitors with its offbeat design and it quickly won the public over by meeting its demand for simplicity. The gamble was acclaimed by the industry as well: in 1966, it was named Car of the Year, scooping the award away from the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
Crossovers have been around for a while, ever since the early days for the automobile and far before the market ing term was coined. The Renault 16 was a cross between a sedan and a van, a design that made it exceptionally versatile for the era. The cargo area could be arranged in four different ways, with a carrying capacity ranging from 346 liters to 1,200 liters thanks to a sliding, folding and removable rear bench seat.
The seats were designed to suit all types of use, from fixing a child seat to a reclined position for resting, and even a lounge/sleeping (couchette) position for two. From the outset, the Renault 16 was thought through as a family car that was fundamentally different from anything produced by rivals.
The Renault 16 also marked its time thanks to its modern, avant-garde equipment specification. Front-wheel-drive was still unusual in its class at the time, while the front-central engine ensured better than usual road manners. The engine, like the gearbox and cylinder head, were made of aluminum and produced using a pressure-die casting process, to save weight and increase durability.
From 1968, with the introduction of a TS version (‘Tourisme Sportif’), a range of then-innovative new features became standard, including a defrosting rear window, additional iode headlights, two-speed windscreen wipers with four jet washers and an interior rearview mirror with day/night settings. That was all pretty exceptional in the late 1960s.
A year later Renault added reversing lights along with front power windows, an electric sunroof and leather upholstery. This rich equipment list made the Renault 16 a prestige car, in perfect keeping with the day’s consumer society trends.
Range-Topping Renault 16 TX
From 1973 until the end of production in 1980, the Renault 16 was available with a 93hp 1.6-liter engine for the TX version. Top speed around a circuit was 175km/h, while equipment included central locking and inertia reel seatbelts, innovative features that contributed to improving the quality of Renault 16 owners’ everyday lives.
So happy anniversary Renault 16! Thanks for the memories.
Year of release – 1965 Typology – Four-door hatchback Engine – 1.4-liter I4 Dimensions – Length: 4240mm; Width: 1628mm; Height: 1450mm Design Director – Gaston Juchet
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