Thursday March 2, 2017
Some cars seem destined never to make their mark on the British motorist, and one such is the Renault 14. On paper, it appeared to be an ideal rival to the Volkswagen Golf, but the 14 is seldom encountered in their homeland, and UK registered survivors are very rare.
In the 1970s, Renault was one of the largest importers of cars into Britain but while a 4, 5, 6 or 12 were everyday sights, the 14 never enjoyed such popularity. My one vague memory of this most overlooked of the post-war Renaults is of my family using a very comfortable – and very beige - hire car in the 1980s, but after 1990 you would be hard pressed to find any left on the road.
Yet there is much to like and even admire about the 14. When it debuted in 1976, there was great interest in the fact that it was the first transverse engine Renault and in how Renault and Peugeot had developed the 1.2 litre OHC ‘Douvrin’ power plant in cooperation with Peugeot. The 5-door coachwork was entirely new, and this is where the sales challenges really commenced. The 14 was capacious and versatile, but by the standards of the day, it was deemed to look ungainly, an accusation that could seldom be levelled at previous generations of Renaults. A 1977 ad campaign made matters far worse by comparing its appearance to a pear and subsequent corrosion problems inevitably lead to it being commonly referred to as ‘the rotten pear’. One high-profile domestic customer was the police, and black & white liveried 14 patrol cars.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, British sales commenced in 1977 with a Bruce Forsyth fronted PR campaign to lure Allegro, Maxi and Citroen GS owners to their friendly local Renault dealer. For £2,829, the 14 TL offered comfort and a fair degree of refinement even if there was not a great deal in the way of actual equipment. Still, the ‘Boutique’ section of the brochure could rectify that issue, with its tempting array of aftermarket fittings and when decorated with black spoilers, side stripes and alloy wheels a 14 could be made to look (vaguely) sporting.
In fact, the Renault 14 rarely made any claims to performance as the marketing emphasis was – wisely - on its versatility and comfort. 1979 saw the introduction of the twin carburettor TS, which is probably the most desirable version in the entire range, and it was aimed at drivers who valued their creature comforts. 38 years ago, a reasonably priced family car with a specification that included electric front windows and central locking was very unusual indeed as this was a time when many parts of the country regarded reclining front seats as evidence of decadence. A 1980 test in Car magazine concluded with ‘better handling than you might expect’ and noted the ‘good performance’ and ‘fair refinement’.
The TS also helped to raise the 14’s profile at a time when it was facing increasing competition from other European hatchbacks. Domestic rivals included the Talbot Horizon and, from 1979, the Citroen GSA and from abroad there was the Fiat Ritmo/Strada, the Opel Kadett D, the Lancia Delta and the Ford Escort Mk. III. A 1980 facelift, and a 1.4-litre engine option did help to raise the 14’s profile. Later examples featured a five-speed gearbox, and for anyone who wanted a highly comfortable compact hatchback for motorway driving, a 14 TS represented excellent value for money.
When the 14 was replaced by the 11 in 1983, it represented a comparative failure in commercial terms for Renault, with less than a million examples sold in seven years. My thoughts are that asides from rust issues – and the 14 was certainly not alone in suffering from such drawbacks – its main problem was the styling. From a 2017 perspective, its lines have dated rather well, but in 1976 the crisp outline of the Golf virtually defined the light/medium hatchback. To see a 14 at any car show is to be reminded of a bold experiment by a major car manufacturer that did not quite pay off – and a very underrated vehicle.