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Renault: 50 years of ‘voiture a vivre’

2015-05-26 13:15
 renault 16

ALMOST 2-MILLION SOLD: The Renault 16 was built at the purpose-built Sandouville plant in Normandy. Image: Renault


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BOULOGNE-BILLANCOURT, France - 2015 is the 50th anniversary of one of the most ingenious saloon cars of its day, the Renault 16.

In 1965 the Renault 16 stood out as the first saloon to feature a tailgate, providing it with an unprecedented level of versatility for its day.

The French marque celebrates the Renault 16 – the family 'voiture à vivre' (car to live) par excellence in 2015.


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 vehicle at the Geneva auto show: the Renault 16.

This new hatchback  had an original body shape founded on a two-box design complete with a hatch for access to the boot. The model combined functional qualities with elegant looks and had six windows, carrying over the ingredients that were behind the success of the Renault 4 to an upmarket family vehicle.

It was the perfect family car.


The project to design a successor to the Frégate was an ambitious one, especially as Pierre Dreyfus – Renault’s CEO from 1955-75 – wanted it to stand out from its rivals. Dreyfus said: "We have to take a different approach, 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 car designed by Gaston Juchet and signed-off by Dreyfus who predicted it would be: "a car for families drawn by modern consumer society".

The Renault 16 was a cross between a saloon and a van, a design that made it exceptionally versatile for the era. The boot could be arranged in four ways thanks to a sliding, folding and removable rear bench.

The seats were designed to suit all types of use, from fixing a child seat to a reclined position for resting, and even a couchette position for two. From the outset, the Renault 16 was thought through as a family car which was fundamentally different from anything produced by rival makes.


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 first class road manners.

The engine, like the gearbox and cylinder head, were made of aluminium and produced using a pressure-die casting process. From 1968, with the introduction of a TS version (Tourisme Sportif), a range of innovative features became standard, including a defrosting rear window, additional headlights, two-speed windscreen wipers with four-jet washers and an interior rear-view mirror with day/night settings.

In 1969 the Renault 16 gained reversing lights, 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, and represented a new way to go motoring.


Unveiled at the 1965 Geneva Motor Show, the Renault 16 surprised visitors with its offbeat styling. However, it quickly won the public over by meeting its demand for simplicity. The gamble was acclaimed by the industry, too: in 1966, the model was named Car of the Year, ahead of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, no less!


From 1973 until the end of the model’s career in 1980, the Renault 16 was available with a 69kW 1.6-litre engine for the TX version.

Top speed round a circuit was 175km/h, equipment included central locking and inertia-reel seatbelts, innovative features that contributed to improving the quality of Renault 16 owners’ everyday lives.

In the course of the Renault 16’s career 1.8-million units were made, chiefly at the make’s purpose-built Sandouville plant in Normandy.

FAMILY SALOON: The Renault 16 was a family car that pushed the boundaries of design. Image: Renault

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