Wednesday December 18, 2019
It is hard to convey just how different the Renault Espace seemed from the majority of cars back in 1985 when British sales commenced.
It bore no resemblance to the company’s 18 Estate and nor was it directly comparable with the likes of the Citroen CX Safari or the Peugeot 505 Familiale.
But neither was the latest Renault a mini-bus along the lines of a Ford Transit or a Bedford CF. This was a “one-box” saloon in which the seven seats could be arranged to form a mini-office or, with the five rear units, folded to form platforms or even removed altogether.
At that time, a motorist might have also considered a Toyota “Model F” Space Cruiser, a Nissan Prairie or a Mitsubishi Space Wagon - but the Renault seemed to possess a unique sense of presence.
And the Espace could so easily have been badged as a Peugeot. The first Renault “MPV” was the brain-child of the Chrysler UK designer Fergus Pollock, who conceived the Espace in 1976.
His idea was eventually developed by the company’s French division in collaboration with Matra, whose Antonis Volanis worked on the design. One plan was that the “Project P16” would serve as the replacement to the Rancho but after Chrysler sold its European division to PSA, the new management eventually rejected it.
However, on 15th December 1982, Matra joined forces with Renault on the P23 programme, which was soon to revolutionise the concept of the “family saloon”. The body panels sported a polyester sheet construction reinforced with GRP and the chassis was made from zinc-protected steel, with power from the familiar “Big Four” engines.
The Espace debuted in July 1984 and Matra predicted that they would make just 50 units per day; by May of the following year, sales had already reached the 10,000 mark. British motorists were offered the Renault in either GTS or the more expensive TSE guises, and Autocar tested the latter in September 1985.
They noted that the Espace was not cheap – the price was £11,589, with the two additional rear seats costing another £483 – and moaned about the ‘stiff and notchy’ gearchange.
However, the report highlighted the ‘essential correctness’ of its concept and the ‘many impressive attributes’, including its refinement.
They concluded ‘For our money, if you have to move people and/or goods frequently and want a vehicle with all the comforts of a car, it is difficult to imagine a more sensible solution than the Espace’.
Renault GB believed that they would sell 300 units in 1985 and 2,000 in the following year – the writer questioned whether ‘if perhaps they haven’t underestimated a little’.
1988 saw a facelift of the Espace and the introduction of the “Quadra”.
‘I appreciated the ease of access, fine visibility, generally good fascia and clever concept of the Espace; with the bonus of fuss-free full-time 4WD for those wet days at Oulton Park’ mused the chap from Motor Sport.
The original shape was succeeded by the Series II in early 1991 and surviving examples of the first Espace are a testament to the brilliance of the original concept - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6s2MngMT3c