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. At the time it was one of few cars produced in Europe that showed the way forward in function and also technically.
This new hatchback featured an original body shape founded on a two-box design, complete with a tailgate for access to the boot. 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 a great family car and my greatest recollection was of it being the most comfortable. It had big and soft seats, a great glass area, good head room, and a flat floor, but it was the long travel and supple suspension that delivered the best conventional ride at that time.
The 16 had a torsion bar suspension all round that helped deliver the soft ride. In this regard, I only read recently about an intriguing aspect related to this. Did you know that the wheelbase varied from between the driver’s side and the off-side? Well, it appears that in the rear suspension transverse torsion bars were offset by about 2.5 inches. I haven’t checked this out yet, but perhaps a reader can let us know if this is true.
The project to design a successor to the 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 car penned 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 different ways, with a carrying capacity ranging from 346dm3 to 1,200dm3, 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 of 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 new features became standard, including a defrosting rear window, additional iodine 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, 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, 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 European 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 93hp 1,647cc engine for the TX version. Top speed round a circuit was 109mph (175kph ), while 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, 1,851,502 units were made, chiefly at Renault’s purpose-built plant in Normandy.