(First Posted October 21, 2013) The Renault 16 probably needs little introduction, but if you need a refresher this is a good place to start. Unarguably, it is one of the cars that Europe produced that showed the way forward was, technically, a lot more interesting than the Ford Cortina or Vauxhall Victor.
Cars like the Renault 16, the Morris 1100, the FIAT 124 and Peugeot 204 suggested, in the early 1960s, that there was more to Europe than ¾ scale American products and that some genuinely innovative and exciting engineering solutions were available.
The Renault 16 (known colloquially as the R16) had many interesting ideas – let’s have a quick canter through them.
Front wheel drive – not new, or even by 1965 that unusual. BMC had been offering transverse engines for 6 years, it was nearly 30 years since the Traction Avant, nearly 20 since the Citroen 2CV and 5 years after Renault’s 4, a 2CV re-imagined for the 1960s. But Renault took the opportunity to make it a truly integral part of the car, and really built on it to create a fully cohesive product.
Longitudinal front mounted gearbox ahead of the engine – by putting the engine behind of the gearbox, Renault were able to keep the impact of the front wheel drive configuration on the weight distribution to a minimum, as well as easing access to the gearbox and clutch, just in case. The engine was initially 1470cc, than from 1968 1565cc, later 1647cc, 4 cylinder, OHC and the gearbox 4 speed, later 5 speed on certain models, or a 3 spreed automatic. Power was 55PS initially.
Column mounted gearshift – a direct consequence of the gearbox location but the floor was kept clear (behind a noticeable engine intrusion though) and the column mounted lever was ergonomically at least as good as a floor mounted one.
The hatchback – this was the key to fully utilising the benefits of the front wheel drive configuration – a long, low uninterrupted floor and a rear bench seat that folded in various ways and could be removed entirely made this the next best thing to a pickup, a panel van and a traditional estate. Or even a caravan. The hatchback revolution started here.
Comfort oriented interior – the big and soft seats, big windows (an underrated and now much missed luxury), head room and flat floor all worked with the long travel and supple suspension to give what was probably the best conventionally sprung ride this side of the Jaguar XJ6.
(Seen here alongside a 1973 Renault 15)
Soft, long travel suspension – the car had torsion bar suspension all round and this is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of it; the question that people ask when studying the specification of the Renault 16 is “Is it true that the wheelbase varied from side to side?” (I was very puzzled when I found out, aged 10, and even more disappointed that my Dad didn’t know why. Dads know everything, don’t they?). But, here’s the proof.
The rear suspension was by transverse torsion bars (shown below) and the resulting offet was about 2 1/2 inches. Look carefully at the rear wheel cutout, the door and the bumnper and you can see it.
Finally, though out equipment – long before many such items were commonplace, the Renault 16 was progressively offered with a 5 speed gearbox, 2 speed windscreen wipers, a heated rear window, a rear screen wiper, electric windows and central locking (this may not sound exciting, but Rover did not offer central locking on any car until 1976, and Ford in Europe not until 1977).
Even now, apart from the Citroen DS and the Peugeot 504 Cabriolet, I can think of no other way I’d prefer to cross through France. And, before you ask, I have heard of the French TGV train and the Airbus A320.
And that lever in the slot by the headlight – to adjust the headlight beam alignment when the car was laden. Later, this was placed under the bonnet, away from interfering pedestrians and now replaced by an electrical switch on the dash, of course.
More R16 on the table, I spotted a car chase featuring a R16 in a episode of a French police drama titled “Commissaire Moulin” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJgruv3kjkI and a French vintage R16 commercial from 1975. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OzSaziIIXY
Did the police really use the 16TX? You’d think it’d be a plain-jane L model with an upgraded engine – the equivalent of a Chevy Biscayne or Ford Custom 300 with the big-block interceptor motor.
I think the 16TX was used mainly as a detective car or undercover car. The regular cars was the R4 like this one http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Renault_police_car,_Police_Liege_pic2.JPG probably for K9 unit, R15/17, R12, R20/30 and R25.
There were a few R16 with the magpie (black and white) scheme for the Police as well as regular ones. R16 were also used by Gendarmerie thought not by the BRI (highway patrols).
I don’t think either had any upgraded engine, they were mostly utility vehicles, their hatch was really usefull to transport radars (familliary known as BBQ because of their size) and other road-side items.
Since I started following this site, I have come to a bit of an appreciation for the unique qualities of French cars. Armchair appreciation, that is, as I have never owned one.
The stylists’ way of camouflaging the wheelbase difference from side to side with that asymmetrical bumper is very interesting.
Now this would have been one of my high choices for a new car back in the 1960’s. Yes, I would have happily taken one over a current GTO, SS396, Mustang, etc.
Still would, for that matter. And that R15 (and especially an R17 Gordini) would be about equally high on my list.
My Dad had a ’68 R10 when these came out, and they must have seemed to be almost the opposite of the R10…look to be much roomer (with FWD vs RWD on the R10)…bigger engine (I think my Dad’s R10 had 1100 CC) and power locks…holy smokes, that must have been impressive. Didn’t know the R16 was column shift, my Dad’s R10 was floor shift…..and I guess you could even get an Automatic too. I guess power windows were too decadent…at least these had “normal” roll down windows…the R10 had weird sliding windows on the rear doors (1/2 of the window slid forward in track, none of the rear window went into the door) so power windows would probably be a trick kind of like a sliding minivan door they had much later.
I liked the R10 but was too young to drive it by the time he got rid of it (with very few miles) he went “conventional” with a Datsun 710 with Auto transmission (front engine/ rear wheel drive) with which he replaced the R10. Also I think the R10 had 4 wheel disk brakes (unpowered) but on such a small car it was probably overkill.
Yes, the R10 had four wheel disk brakes. It was basically a modified R8. And the R8 was basically a rebodied Dauphine.
And the R4 was basically the Dauphine/R8 drivetrain moved to the front. And that’s why Renault used that configuration in the R4. Transmission, differential and engine, front to back, all jammed, mostly, under the hood.
When Renault built the R16, they basically made a larger R4 complete with unequal wheelbase. 🙂
I basically used the word “basically” WAY too often above …
4 wheel disk brakes are a good idea on a rear-engined car as the rear brakes do more work than normal.
“And that lever in the slot by the headlight – to adjust the headlight beam alignment when the car was laden.”
My first experience with this feature was in a rented ’93 Renault Clio on the M1. What a great idea I wish American cars would adopt.
Unfortunately, the closest I’ve gotten to an R16 was a Dinky toy as a kid.
One of my favorites. The seats were sinfully comfortable, even better than a Citroen DS as I remember. The model sold here was the 16TL. If you wanted to upgrade the engine to 16TS specs, I think you could order the revised cylinder head from Mercury Marine. The hows and whys of that business arrangement escape me. Does anyone else remember?
Way before my time and I’ve never seen one, but I’ve always thought they were really cool. How many of these made it to the US? I’m guessing not many. Four door fastbacks/hatchbacks were deemed un-American at some point.
I could be wrong but I doubt the R16 ever made it here, even though Renault would leave us around 1980-81. I DO know we got the Dalphine back in the 60’s, and in the 70’s, we had the R12, or the Le Car for several years, and I forget what else we got from Renault (outside of the Alliance/Encore twins from AMC in the 80’s).
Yes, the R16 was sold here. Renault was still one of the biggest importers (#2 in 1963, actually), and the R16 was an important expansion of their line here:
Interestingly, despite Johnstown having a very strong Renault dealer (they were the Oldsmobile franchise, primarily), the R16 was rarely seen. Too odd and radical for this very conservative town. The R10 sold fairly well, I think it was the last really popular Renault in the area – at least until the Le Car (R5) came out.
Probably because while the R10 was popular for being cheap like a VW, the R16 was firmly in mid-sized priced territory. It took real commitment to buy an R16.
That’s why I said, I could be wrong as I don’t recall all that Renault sold here, I just know the R5 (Le Car) and the Dalphine for certain were, as were possibly other models, like the Peugeot and the Citroen, however, I know that the Citroen left our shores around 1973, the other two, in the 1980’s.
Too bad as some of their cars now might work in this country today.
Ten years later four-door hatchbacks were everywhere in the USA.
1986 Toyota Camry LE Hatchback
Ah the sixties, France.
Citroën and Renault were THE brands in France, Peugeot were much smaller, but Renault desperately wanted a mid-size saloon since the unsuccessfull Fregate (1952 – 1960) had been their last mid size saloon and not a hughe success compared to the 203 & 403 from Peugeot.
Citroën created the DS, nobody in France or abroad could compete with the DS
Peugeot did their own thing, their answer being the conservative RWD 404, but the 404 was much better in many practical ways then a DS and the ride approached the DS’es ride. Besides the 404 was much, much tougher and easier to maintain and repair. (many DS owners turned to the ‘lesser’ 404 injection with leather upholstery)
Renault started with a blank sheet of paper, hiring Phillppe Charbonneaux, an industrial designer who created this all new hatchback.
Engine, gearbox, hell even the factory was built new in Sandouville at the outskirts of Le Havre on the Seine river for the R16.
The Renault 16 was more a combination of both aformentioned cars, it had FWD but the suspension was rather conservative compared to the Citroëns.
Nor did it have any of its complicated hydraulics.
It had no grease points, a fully enclosed cooling system with an electrically operated cooling fan These were hughe innovations in 1965
Although the 404 and R16 were smaller and had smaller engines (404 1618 cc and the 16TL 1470 cc) they could compete with the D series with interior space, ride and handling.
Basically, Renault follwoed the Peugeot league, offering a more powerful R16TS in 1968 and a TS Super with an automatic gearbox, electric sunroof and leather upholstery
Today the R16 is mostly forgotten, but it simply is a brilliant car and it has opened the door for a whole new nich in car-land : the five door hatchback.
My late father, had 3 – 404 Peugeots before in 1969 the first of four R16’s appeared on the scene; he’d always loved the DS but frightened of many horror stories about running costs he decided for the next best thing under the DS, like the 404’s the R16’s ran without great problems during their 100000 kilometers my father used a car for, he also looked at Citroëns air cooled GS, but that car, with its air cooled 4 cylinder boxer turned out to be too weak to really compete with an R16.
And it missed the R16 biggest selling point : The Hatch !
For the US market, the looks of the R16 are spoiled by the DOT round headlights and they sold the TS in the US, but US versions were not equipped with the Jaeger sports dash nor the Cibie spotlights that actually identified a TS from its normal sisters in Europe.
Don’t know if Renault had an entirely “blank sheet of paper”. Citroen was working on Projet F – a midsize hatchback [pic below] – about the same time. The Citroenet site has this to say:
“Work on this project had reached an extremely advanced stage when Renault launched the almost identically styled 16. Rumours of industrial espionage abounded but were unproved. To add insult to injury, the technique for welding the roof and door frames had been patented by Renault. Citroën had decided not to patent the process…”
BTW – that’s another way the Renault 16 was the real template for the future: almost every car today uses the ‘whole side of a car in one piece’ technique (door frames and roof all stamped in one piece with roof mounted welds).
I read it too, that the steel construction for the hatch was actually developed by Citroën, because it was a hughe challenge to make the body of the car stiff enough and lightness was also a very important issue.
Problem of course that Citroën were poor and Renault were rich.
I remember test driving an R-16 back in 73 and being very impressed. It was probably the first front wheel drive car I ever experienced. That along with precise handling and the very comfortable seats practically sold me. I really did not trust Renault enough to lay my money down though. Later I bought a VW Dasher. Would have probably done as well with the Renault reliability and better with Renault comfort. Also, the Dasher looked like a hatch back but it wasn’t.
One of my brother’s mates inherited a dark green R16 from his Dad and thrashed the life out of it.It was still going strong 3 years of abuse later when he sold it to a neighbour who brush painted it dark green one summer morning.Unfortunately my landlord decided to renew the roof slates at the same time as the car was just finished and threw the old slates in a skip raising clouds of dust and grit which gave the R16 a strange textured paint finish.My landlord and the R16 owner ended up having a spectacular fist fight in the street over this.
There was an engineer at the tv station I worked at in LA in about 1978-80 or so that drove an R16 at the time I was into 404s, and another guy drove a beautiful DS. We had quite the French car club going there then. There was little doubt that my 404s were the most robust of the three, with the Renault falling in the middle. But the DS was by far the most seductive of the three.
+1 on the DS.I met Consevative MP Alan Clarke on an animal rights demo and he showed me a picture of his gorgeous DS convertible.He was quite an eccentric character,a vegetarian classic car collecting womaniser who lived in a castle and had a string of mistresses.
No question about DS seduction. I’m back from three weeks with Lily in Europe with plenty of fun pictures. So now I have no excuse not to finish my DS CC very soon. Paul’s been very patient.
Back when French cars were expected to be used in African and other colonies, as well as rural roads quite different from today – hence they actually had ground clearance!
“Front mounted gearbox ahead of the engine – by putting the engine ahead of the gearbox…..” I think you meant to say “engine behind the gearbox”. Also I found your mention of the BMC’s transverse FWD a little confusing, since R16’s engine is longitudinal, which I found out by looking it up. You might want to clarify all that.
In fact here’s a nice picture from Renault16.com
Thanks for bringing up the R16 again, it’s quite a car.
I think he knew that, and that was a typo, since he also mentioned the weight distribution benefits of that arrangement. I’ve made the correction. I’m not sure what you’re getting at in your reference to BMC’s transverse engines though.
Just that it left me uncertain whether R16’s engine was transverse or longitudinal. Nowadays the transverse setup has the engine in front of the transaxle, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be the other way around.
In fact, did anyone ever build a car that way, transverse FWD with the crankshaft behind the transaxle?
Longitudinal it is…fixed.
The Toyota Scion iQ has that arrangement. In that case it is to move the wheelhouses further from the cabin, but surely it would have weight distribution benefits also. The only downside would be a slightly increased turning circle.
yes, as Paul points out, a type.
A longitudinally mounted engine with the gearbox ahead of it, benefitting weight distribution and necessitating a column shift and linkage over the engine. The penalty was that the engine, being mounted further back than normal,intruded more in to the passenger compartment, although 3 a breast seating in the front of a car this size was not a European expectation. Moving the shift to the column recovers some of that space, as well of course
Agreed, it’s a great setup except for the intrusion into the cabin. Renault was in good company, with the DS having the same layout.
I started a “French Car Period” in our family when I bought my first car in 1972, a 1966 Peugeot, dark red with tan all-vinyl interior (bet I’ve got your attention now, Paul). My father, an aeronautical engineer who owned only Ford products since his first car, was intrigued with it from a design standpoint. He looked around for Peugeots, Citroens but ended up with a used R16 (can’t remember the exact year).
I remember the cloud-like seats that somehow provided good support, the big floppy column shift lever and a ride better than anything I had experienced up until that point. My dad worked on his own cars and there was an identical parts car in the garage.
Unfortunately this led to the purchase of a used Alliance (crap) and I almost bought a Renault Le Car (sure glad I didn’t).
These were brilliant cars in their day and showed BMC how FWD could be done reliably, much better cars that that crap but now rust has removed them from the landscape I havent seen one live in many years.
You’re right – even in France I’ve seen fewer than 10 in 10 summer holidays!
Very intrigued by the wheelbase varied from side to side, what kind of effect it has on the handling etc.?
As it is only a couple of percent difference, I don’t think there is any real/discernable impact
I was never a fan of the R16 , although they were popular in their day. I always thought they just looked “wrong”, and when I got a brief opportunity to drive one I didn’t care for the inside either. Surely unequal length trailing arms would have been a better solution than unequal wheelbases ? Having spent my early motoring years climbing over rusty Renault Dauphines in scrapyards I wasn’t surprised when most R16s recycled themselves after relatively short lives.
IIRC the engine/tranny from this were used by Lotus for the Europa (my favorite car since I was 6, when I got a Matchbox model of one) . Turn the drivetrain around again and it made a great inexpensive mid engined car. I’d love to get one, but I already have too many time-consuming hobbies (and a little matter of three high-schoolers about to enter college. Oh well…)
the r16 is a wonderful machine. I am rebuilding a 70 1152 model . the four on the tree shift is precise and fun to drive. parts are tough to find. I would love to find a parts car to complete the restoration. any info out there. one brutal thing they did in the factory was to put expanding foam insulation in the a and b pillars which invites rust
Excellent write-up on the R-16. In my younger years I came across a blue 1975 with the 1647 CC engine (side plugs) vs. (top plugs – hemi) on the 1565 cc.
It was an automatic. It leaked like a sieve. Tranny overheated since it did not have a cooler inside the radiator. Engine did too on occasion in 100 deg summers. You could boil eggs in the glass overflow jar. I think putting the 3 speed automatic was not a well thought out engineered install. I loved the seats, cushy and tall. Also the front hood key lock, not sure of its purpose but it was a unique feature. Who in his right mind would steal a spare tire from under the hood with a 3 lug pattern!!!
In 1977 I bought a very rare fully imported VW Dormobile camper,1972 model 1600cc, sold it in 1981,then bought a 1975 Renault 16ts,alpine white with highback tan seats and the copper like dashboard with Jaeger instruments,60,000 kilometres only,had the chrome grille and driving lights and the floor mounted button for the windscreen washer/wipers.The 1976 models had a black plastic grille and no floor mounted w/w/w button/pedal or driving lights.The 16ts was a great car to drive but in 1982 I sold it and bought a one owner arctic white/black interior 1970 Peugeot 404.Both cars had manual column gearshifts but they were opposites in configuration and one night after dinner at a waterfront restaurant my neighbour,who used to drive his mum’s R16tl years earlier,asked me if he could drive the 404.He is driving,my girlfriend in the back seat,we stop at the traffic light and I notice a car coming up behind us,the light changed and suddenly we are travelling backwards towards the approaching car! He was used to the R16.After driving a near new Citroen GS Pallas which I nearly bought,I continued with Peugeot 404s until in 1986 I bought a good Citroen ID19,1965 model.No power steering was a hefty effort in city parking.Later went back to 404 sedans and utes/trucks.16ts was fast,supremely comfortable and looked luxurious on the inside,handled brilliantly.The 404s had a more comfortable ride and equal seat comfort.The 16ts and 404s were my favourite cars.When I sold the Citroen ID19 I still had my almost mint 1963 Fiat Multipla 600d and the 1959 Multipla 600 but bought a well used Peugeot 404 ute.My next 404 sedan felt like it had a harsh ride in the rear compared to the Citroen although after driving Holdens of similar vintage I realised just how magnificent is a 404.I haven’t seen a Renault 16 here for many years,sold mine to a man who had a very nice 16tl,1970 version,and he told me he would keep them both.
“4 cylinder, OHC”
Nope.. All 16s were pushrod OHV… …. Reverse-flow parallel valve head on the base models and crosslfow hemi on TS and TX models.
Another couple of points.. The odd-length wheelbase also featured on The R4 (and later derivatives 6, 5 and 7), and the engine-behind-gearbox layout of R4 and R16 was directly ripped off the Citroen Traction Avant (also used on other early FWD cars like Alvis and BSA)
Which is the power of the engine and the maximum speed
Beginings of the hatchback yes BMC had all the ingrediants for this but none of the fore sight, they sort of cloned the R16 with the Maxi then stopped, why? the hatch was the best part of the Maxi. Since this article first appeared I have seen a R16 so there is at least one left in going order here.
Renault could have wiped off Volkswagen off the map in the late 60s, early 70s. Volkswagen bifaces like Beetle or Squareback couldn’t compete with Renault R4, R5, R16. Some Renaults – especially R4 could run circles around the beetle. At much lower price and costs and 10x trunk.
VW was only saved by the usual french dualism:
Incompetent french administration meets strike happy french workforce.
The problems with Renaults in service were directly related to how the designs suited their actual uses and users, especially in the US. Greedy workers didn’t make a damn bit of difference to the fruit-fly natural lifespan of the parts.
Interesting that a few days ago we were discussing the rust issues of the Lancia Beta, that received such a mauling from the UK press that the brand was soon killed off. I remember no such press criticism of Renaults. Perhaps it was because Lancias were in a higher price bracket, or perhaps because the serious rust in a Beta was unseen, whereas Renaults rusted in places everyone could see.
I presume Renaults are galvanised like other cars these days, but old Renaults are still rare on the street, at least where I live.
Renault is a carmaker.
Lancia is trophy wife.
How did Chrysler, in its transverse torsion-bar front suspension on the 1976-1989 F, M and J-platforms, solve the asymmetry question? Or DID they?
Chrysler’s “transverse torsion-bar” front suspension didn’t use traditional traverse torsion bars. Instead, they used L-shaped bars connected to traditional lower A-arms. To compensate for the offset, they changed the length of the bar (see image).
However, Volkswagen solved the asymmetry question many years earlier by using shorter torsion bars. Either Renault wanted to avoid patent infringement, or (more likely) longer bars led to an improved ride.
Thanks. I never did take a tape measure to my Dodge Aspen to be sure, but if the length of one bar relative to the other was changed, or if the angles of the “bend” to the “drag strut” sections differed, then the asymmetry issue wasn’t actually solved.
The second photo in the article is a dead ringer for my brother’s R16. It was also a J plate, but wasn’t in quite that condition when he had it in 1977. I remember him allowing me to change gears when he was parking the car. I’ve gone a bit misty-eyed with nostalgia now