Not many cars have gone down in history as a game-changer – the innovative Renault 16 is one of them.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015, the ingenuous 16 was the first family hatchback.
Launched at the 1965 Geneva Motor Show, it featured an offbeat, but sleek two-box design complete with a tailgate for access to the boot.
It quickly won the public and the gamble was acclaimed by the industry. In 1966 it was named Car of the Year, ahead of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
Combining functional qualities with elegant looks and no fewer than six windows, it provided the blueprint for the hatchbacks we take for granted today.
The radical Renault 16 was designed by Gaston Juchet and signed off by Renault’s CEO from 1955 to 1975, Pierre Dreyfus, who predicted it would be “a car for families drawn by modern consumer society”.
The first crossover?
The Renault 16 was a cross between a saloon and a van, a design that made it exceptionally versatile for the era.
It featured a boot which could be arranged in four different ways thanks to a sliding, folding and removable rear bench.
The seats were designed to suit all types of use, from fixing a child seat to a reclined position for resting, and even a couchette position for two. From the outset, the Renault 16 was thought through as a family car which was fundamentally different from anything produced by rival makes.
It was also way ahead of the game technically, featuring front-wheel drive (still unusual in its class at the time), while the gearbox and cylinder head were made of aluminium and produced using a pressure-die casting process.
In 1968, the TS version (‘Tourisme Sportif’) was introduced, boasting a range of innovative new features as standard, including a defrosting rear window, additional iodine headlights, two-speed windscreen wipers with four-jet washers and an interior rear-view mirror with day/night settings.
By 1969 the Renault 16 had gained reversing lights, along with electric windows at the front, an electric sunroof and leather upholstery.
From 1973 until the end of the model’s career in 1980, the Renault 16 was available with a 93hp 1,647cc engine for the new TX version. It had a top speed of 109mph and its equipment included central locking and inertia reel seatbelts.
In the course of the Renault 16’s career, 1,851,502 were made, mainly at Renault’s purpose-built Sandouville plant in Normandy.