Wednesday November 15, 2017
43 years ago, I encountered a car that I genuinely thought belonged in the world of Star Trek or Doctor Who; i.e. the front windows and the door locks were operated at the press of a button.
Younger readers may take such luxuries for granted but given at that time my family was running a ’64 Wolseley Hornet Mk. II and a ’57 Minor Traveller, a new Renault 16TX struck me as the height of luxury.
When the 16 made its debut on British roads in March 1966, it would be fair to say that few motorists had seen anything quite like it before.
Over the past five years the R4 had established a niche as an economic runabout but the latest car from La Regie was neither entirely a saloon nor a full-blown estate
Not only was it front wheel drive and with an asymmetrical wheelbase, the 16 sported five-door coachwork and was altogether the sort of vehicle for drivers who pretended to understand French art house cinema. And who probably wore their sunglasses indoors.
The 16 began as ‘Projet 115’, with power from a new 1.5-litre all-aluminium engine - Renault initially intended it to be badged as the ‘1500’ – and a steering column gear change maximised the floor space.
The styling was the creation of Philippe Charbonneaux, who devised a body that combined elegance with functionality.
In January 1965, the 16 was unveiled to the automotive press and anyone watching the promotional film below, would surely have been inspired to trade in their Simca 1500 or Peugeot 404.
The entry-level model was the Luxe but few were marketed, as who wanted a front bench when one of the 16’s major sales features was seating that could be arranged in seven different configurations.
The backrest of the rear seat could be suspended from the grab handles (!), the Rally bed set-up was ingenious and moving the back-seat cushion forward by six inches gave extra luggage space.
At a UK price of £948 17s. 11d for the GL version the new Renault was not a cheap car but, in the words of Motor Sport, as a ‘comfortable, easy-running, accommodating family car this is an outstanding newcomer’.
It came as little surprise when the 16 was voted Car of The Year 1966, ahead of even the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.
As with all great cars, the 16 did boast a few idiosyncrasies, such as the appalling location for the handbrake and its entertaining body roll but its standard of comfort for seating and ride quality would not have disgraced a car costing twice as much.
1968 saw the launch of the extremely desirable TS, which sported extra instrumentation, servo assisted front discs and a 1,565cc engine with a twin choke Weber carburettor.
‘There are few cars in this price class to even approach it’ mused Car magazine and the TS is indeed one of Renault’s most desirable models.
And then there was the TX, which made its bow in the 1973 Paris Motor Show.
For under £2,000, the svelte motorists gained a five-speed gearbox (still operated by a column lever) with a 1,647cc engine, four Cibie QI headlamp, a rear spoiler, tinted glass, and Gordini sports wheels’.
Add to that already desirable specification central locking and electric front windows and you have a boulevard cruiser to make a Ford Cortina 2000E owner vert with envy.
The last examples were made in 1979, by which time its 18 replacement was already in production.
For anyone not familiar with this truly great car, one that helped to refine popular motoring, here is a guest appearance in the Money Money Money episode of The Sweeney.
A Renault 16 being pursued by a Ford Granada Ghia – this is surely television at its finest.