The post war history of the rear engine car in Europe, at least for compact vehicles, splits into two groups. Those that followed the concept after the success of the VW Beetle, such as the Hillman Imp and NSU Prinz, and those that shared contemporary birth pangs with the Beetle.
The Renault 10 was the last of Renault’s rear engined saloons, starting with the 1948 4CV and closing in 1976, when Spanish production of the Renault 10 finished, and is a member of the second group. As Paul Niedermeyer recounted in his CC on the Renault 10 back in 2012, the 10 was a development of the earlier Renault 8 (above), featuring a lengthened nose and new rear end on the same centre section as the R8, itself a direct descendant of the 1956 Renault Dauphine, and with links to the 4CV.
Much has been written about the influence of Ferdinand Porsche in the design and birth of the original 4CV, in 1946. Porsche was arrested and imprisoned by the French from December 1945; some accounts suggest this was to obtain his services for France and to contribute to what became the Renault 4CV. Other accounts highlight that the technical secrets of the VW were by then well known, the success of the car not assured by any means and that if one of the French manufacturers had wanted the VW factory and its product, it could have been easily arranged. After all, the American and British industry moguls had all turned it down.
There was a key difference in comparison with the VW as well – the engine in the rear engined Renaults was always water cooled, in contrast to Porsche’s VW and Ledwinka’s Tatra, so care is needed in any suggestion of inspiration. What is clear is that Porsche consulted on the design to some extent, but given the launch date of 1946, it is not clear how much impact he had.
The Renault 10 was launched in 1965, as a perfectly capable compact car, with a conventional configuration. The engine had by now reached 1108cc and would later go to 1289cc, with larger square headlights a visual distinction. If you want to continue the VW parallel, could be seen as France’s VW Super Beetle – the final roll of the rear engine dice for their respective manufacturers. By then, the Renault 10 was an anachronism in the Renault range, alongside the front wheel drive compact Renault 4 and the truly innovative Renault 16
The Beetle lost its pre-eminence in Germany to the Opel Kadett and the Ford Escort; the Renault 10 was beaten by the Peugeot 204 and Simca 1100, both front wheel drive, transverse engine cars.
Driving wise the car had strengths in its decent performance, especially with the later 1.3litre engine, easy controls, strong brakes and decent cornering, up to the limit. Weaknesses were directional stability and implications of the configuration compared with the hatchback Simca or the estate version of the Peugeot, and those imposed by the age of centre section inherited from the Renault 8 and itself based on that of the Dauphine.
Still, to see one in daily use in south western France reminds me of another reason for going there on holiday…….I’ll be back soon.