Subtle Innovation – 1970 Renault 16

Having grown up with a Saab 99 and two Saab 9000 turbos in the family, I’ve always had a fascination with the Renault 16. Before the Saab, and like the Saab, this car had a longitudinally mounted 4-cylinder with the engine behind the transaxle, front wheel drive, four doors and a hatch, and if you believe the Renault website, even a turbocharged engine. The TX even came with a 5-speed as of 1973, and you could get power front windows and locks. All models had an unequal wheelbase, and massive suspension travel for passenger comfort, as can be seen in this US-market TV advertisement:

Now you’ve seen that masterpiece of late 1960s television advertising, wouldn’t you like to be babied by a soft suspension and spacious interior? Well, today’s your lucky day, feller! You can have all that for the low, low price of $950! All you need to do is get your derriere and your dollars to Seattle, WA.

1970 Renault 16 right rear

What a looker she is – how much do you suppose the creative Saab engineers were looking at Renault’s homework? This car debuted in 1964, 4 years before the notchback 99 and 10 years before the 99 Combi Coupe (or in US market parlance, WagonBack). The Renault definitely has more of a 1960s look, which could explain how it lasted to 1980 while the 99/900 lasted until 1984 and 1993, respectively. Clearly our subject car is a little weathered, but the styling is quite distinctive. There doesn’t appear to be much rust on this side, and the seller says the car runs well and is very straight and complete, but needs some TLC. So you might have to go through some discomfort before being babied…

Check out this video for some great footabge of the production of the 16, including an ouvrier smoking a Gauloise and a a clear gender gap in the division of labor. Amazing to see how much was done by hand – if you’ve even seen a little bit of how new cars are produced, this will look archaic to you.

1970 Renault 16 left rear

Notice on this shot how the polished trim blends into the roof is similar to the styling on the pagoda-roof Mercedes? That car was introduced in 1963, so who was copying whom? You can also see how noses on current Renaults take their influence from this car. For a car of its age, it’s actually supposed to handle and drive quite decently, and should be able to approach about 100mph, which means cruising at 70 or 80 won’t be too strenuous.

To close out this feature, here’s a period road test by Quattroruote. While you may not be able to understand Italian, you don’t need to to appreciate Giuseppe flinging this thing around a test road that induces heavy body lean. There are also some great shots of the Alfa Romeo and Fiat vans that house Quattroruote’s highly advanced analog computer testing equipment, which probably has the processing capability of your average modern digital watch.


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