Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
introduced its model 16 in December 1964
the concept of a five-door saloon was very new. It used a rear hatchback door with fold-down rear seats and although it had awkward styling, at the time it was unique. It achieved excellent roadholding and its all independent suspension
allowed a soft ride on even the toughest roads. As well as front disc brakes
it could handle 145 km/h with its 1470 cc engine.
The R16 had a long production span (some 15 years) and was superseded by the Renault 20 in 1979
. In 1968
the TS was made as a higher performing version with its 1565cc motor that managed 160 km/h. It cruised the motorways like a dream and its electric front windows were seen as a rarity on a car in the 1970's. It was distinguishable by four-headlamp nose and sports wheels.
The Individualistic R16
The Renault R16 was a very individualistic 1470cc semi-sedan, semi-wagon with the virtues of both. Long before the R16 was launched the basic form of the car was no secret, thanks to factory-organised press leaks prior to pre-release test runs provided to motoring journalists. The design was deemed a little on the ugly side by many, but not so bad that it would have put you off.
Within this shell Renault
engineers managed to come up with seven different interior arrangements - and all could be created smoothly and had a purpose. The trick for the designers was to make make the R16 look like a wagon from the outside (which was the European trend at the time) while keeping luggage hidden from prying eyes, and giving the inhabitants the feeling of riding in a sedan. To some, it seemed Renault
had taken a long hard look at the Austin/Morris 1100
range - but we will let you be the judge of that.
A Sedan, A Hatch, And A Wagon
Where the R16 scored was in versatility. These days the design ethos is pretty standard stuff, but in the early 1960s it was a revelation. The fact that it had four normal doors made it appear as a normal sedan - but instead of a boot the R16 had a rear, top-hinged, cargo door like the R4
. The permutations began there. When you raised the nicely counter-balanced lid what appeared to be the parcel shelf behind the rear seat went up with it, uncovering the hidden luggage space.
For long tours, two up, the back seat could be slid forward to increase this luggage capacity. Furthermore, the parcel shelf unhooked entirely to carry upright loads behind the seat when the car was full of people. Then you could fold away the rear seat and its back, wagon style, and carry really long loads. In a nutshell, the R16 was brilliant in the way it combined a hatch into a 4 door sedan, with the much better lines as an added bonus.
On The Inside
The front seats were very comfortable, the standouts being on the Grand Luxe model, which could be reclined to rest on the rear seat, rally style, or folded entirely flat with manipulation of the rear bench as well for sleeping. The instrument cluster was typically French, and that meant it was a little different. The speedo
consisted of a straight line with a sag at its end, and needle behind the slot. In practice, many claimed the designers had become a little too clever, and that the shiny silver finish suffered such bad reflection that you were unable to read the speedo
during the day - and only at night was the beauty of the design revealed. Other dials like fuel and water temperature
had cartoons to indicate function. If you were unfamiliar with the car, this concept just made things that much more difficult. But then, it did give the R16 a little joie de vivre.
Instruments aside, the interior was a cut above the rest. The leatherette and matt-plastic black dash was unobtrusive and durable. There was a small glovebox and a small bin by the driver. Passenger comfort was arguably class leading for the time, in both the seating and heating/ventilation departments. Apart from all the seat positions available, the individual front seats offered good side support and thigh hold, plus exemplary comfort. The ventilation system was a step beyond the R8
with its vents and even the Cortinas
with their extractors (which German Ford Taunus had first). The R16 used multiple flaps, not the normal two found in other cars, such that they could direct air most anywhere. Renault
engineers then added extractors on both the sides and top in back to let the air out.
Behind the Wheel
The first noticeable change from the Renault
formula of past was that the shift lever was located on the steering column. The throws were spongy and finding reverse was a puzzle, while many motoring journalists claimed second to be gummy to engage - although this was rectified after the initial production. One of the best features was the clutch, with progressive feel and easy engagement. The initial road testers also found the brakes
to be a disappointment, particularly when compared to the R8
- which in some ways was inevitable.
heard the complaints on the pre-production brakes
and made the necessary changes to the production units to ensure the issues were addressed. One change was the inclusion of an anti-locking device built into the rear drum circuit. Steering
was a realm where Renault
had made giant strides during the 1950s, and into the 1960s. Despite the R16 being driven by the front wheels there was no kick-back at the wheel in hard corners under power or on a trailing throttle. It was commendably quick and there was no slop. Vision was good in all directions.
The Renault 16 may not have been brimming with new technology, but it was there if you looked a little deeper. At the time, modern mass-production trends in the class did not include 12-volt alternators for electric power (the R16 was first for the class in Europe), nor did it include the use of electric cooling fans
. The radiator system was sealed and there are no grease nipples. The engine itself had a relatively modest 62.5 bhp output which kept it both quiet and docile in traffic. Thanks to the Renault
preoccupation with more stroke than bore it also had a long-limbed gate for passing and easy cruising.
The basic layout was very much R4
rather than R8
, right from the point of the front engine, behind the driven axles. The R16 even used a wheel-base which is longer on the left than the right, with all independent suspension
, despite the minor role of the back end. There the wheels rode on trailing links with a transverse torsion bar for each side running right across the car. In front there were twin wishbones on each side with springing
by longitudinal torsion bars twisted by the lower wishbones. Anti-roll bars
were fitted front and rear.
On the Road
On the road the result of the suspension setup was that the R16 provided exceptional riding comfort, with compliant cornering and sure-footed handling
. The Renault
engineers avoided the dreaded tail-wag feeling when you lifted off the accelerator to quickly in a corner, and from initial mild understeer the R16 would become virtually neutral when cornered hard. The 90 mph top speed may have seemed a little low, but it was well above any speed limits here in Australia, and surprisingly good for an engine developing little more than 60 bhp. Some of know, it is more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car at the same speed. And with speed limits the way they are, the R16 was a bundle of fun. Quirky, French and individual - and as time would show, very well put togther. Their longevity would become legendary.