Inside Renault’s secret classic car collection

From the Type A of 1898 to the radical Avantime, Renault has a rich and eclectic history. We take a tour of its heritage collection

Celebrating Renault’s heritage

Celebrating Renault’s heritage © Renault

French car manufacturer Renault has more than 120 years of heritage to celebrate, which explains why it has upwards of 750 classic cars in its collection. While the cars are dotted around France, a purpose-built garage at the Flins factory near Paris houses a small part of the collection. It’s only open to members of staff, but we were permitted a sneak peek.

Renault Type A

Renault Type A © Renault

The story goes that Renault was founded on Christmas Eve 1898, when aspiring engineer Louis Renault drove his first car, a Type A voiturette, up the incredibly steep Rue Lepic in Paris. The assembled audience was so impressed that 12 deposits were received, giving the 21-year-old the funds to acquire a factory.

Renault Type B

Renault Type B © Renault

Many of Louis Renault’s early customers were friends and family, so he was keen to listen to any feedback and demands they had. The main thing buyers wanted that the Type A didn’t supply was comfort. Working with coachbuilder Labourdette, Renault designed a closed body that appeared on the Type B in 1899.

Renault six-wheel type MH

Renault six-wheel type MH © Renault

When you think of expedition by motor car, a Land Rover might spring to mind. But the French were doing it years earlier. In 1923, Renault revealed the Six-Roues – a powerful truck with six wheels and low-pressure tyres, along with two-axle drive to provide off-road capability. A number of expeditions followed, including numerous trips across the Sahara.

Renault Primaquatre

Renault Primaquatre © Renault

In the wake of the Great Depression, manufacturers were building cheaper cars within the reach of normal men and women. Louis Renault was adamant this wasn’t the right approach and, during the time before a middle class emerged, Renault continued to build high-quality cars for affluent families. The Primaquatre of 1937 was a four-seat family car, 3.7 metres long and capable of 65mph. It had a starting price of 19,500 francs.

Renault 4CV

Renault 4CV © Renault

Despite Louis Renault’s beliefs that the firm should concentrate on premium cars for affluent motorists, the firm quietly worked on an affordable small car during the Second World War. The 4CV, as it went on to become, was France’s answer to the Volkswagen Beetle. More than one million were produced before it was replaced by the Renault 4 in 1961.

Renault Colorale

Renault Colorale © Renault

Think 4×4 pickups are a relatively recent thing? In 1946, Renault began designing a ‘station wagon for the countryside’. The result was the Colorale range, with a number of utilitarian and family versions introduced between 1950 and 1951. They were fairly old-fashioned from a technical point of view, with a truck-like chassis and a tractor engine.

Renault Caravelle and Floride

Renault Caravelle and Floride © Renault

Based on the Renault Dauphine (we’ll come to that in a minute), the Caravelle was also known as the Floride. That’s because the idea was initially conceived by US dealers at a convention in Florida, who said a coupe/cabriolet model would improve the brand’s image in America. However, Renault was concerned naming it after a US state would exclude buyers elsewhere, hence the Caravelle name.

Renault Estafette

Renault Estafette © Renault

Introduced in 1959, the Estafette was a genuinely clever van. With front-wheel-drive (a first for Renault), it featured a flat floor, small turning circle and sliding doors, making it the perfect workhorse for French tradesmen. Production lasted until 1980, by which time more than 533,000 Estafettes had been produced.

Renault Dauphine

Renault Dauphine © Renault

As a successor to the Renault 4CV, the rear-engined Dauphine continued to rebel against Louis Renault’s wish to stay upmarket. A rival to the likes of the Volkswagen Beetle and Morris Minor, the Dauphine was a hit from the moment it was revealed at the 1955 Paris Motor Show. More than two million were sold during its 11-year life.

Renault 4

Renault 4 © Renault

The Renault 4 was more than simply a replacement for the 4CV; it’s a symbol of France in the early 1960s. A rural exodus was happening, seeing people shift from the countryside to new suburbs around urban areas. As such, Renault decided to launch ‘the ultimate versatile automobile’. Capable of serving as a workhorse during the week, the 4 could also double up as a family car at weekends.

Renault 8 Gordini

Renault 8 Gordini © Renault

Although by the 1960s Renault primarily catered for people wanting affordable transport, there was still an enthusiastic audience captivated by the likes of the 4CV used in the Monte Carlo Rally. In 1964, Renault launched the 8 Gordini, with the standard car’s 50hp engine replaced by a 95hp 1,100cc unit. Just 1,000 cars were planned, but 11,600 customers parted with money for the Gordini – despite a price tag nearly twice that of the standard car.

Renault 16

Renault 16 © Renault

The world’s first production hatchback, the Renault 16 was launched in 1965 as a bigger, upmarket alternative to the Renault 4. Half-way between a saloon and an estate, buyers and journalists struggled to get their head around this new body style at first, but it soon became a huge success. More than 1.8 million were sold worldwide during its 15-year production run. This example in Renault’s collection was destined for the US, where the 16 was sold in tiny numbers.

Renault 5

Renault 5 © Renault

Launched in 1972, the Renault 5 was unashamedly a car designed for women. It featured a curvy shape and two doors (allowing children to stay safe in the back without the risk of them opening a door – or that was the theory), plus an easy-to-lift hatchback that was convenient for supermarket shopping. Oh, and plastic bumpers were used for the first time, offering protection from minor impacts.

Renault 12

Renault 12 © Renault

Simple, inexpensive and unbreakable. That was the brief for the Renault 12, revealed at the 1969 Paris Motor Show. Developed with international sales in mind, the 12 would take Renault to new markets, with much of its testing carried out in Brazil. It went on to find a following in Turkey and Romania (where it was built under licence by the Dacia brand). It was a commercial success, with 2.5 million sold internationally.

Renault 14

Renault 14 © Renault

Renault’s trademark had become the hatchback since the R16, but it didn’t offer a mid-range hatch. The Renault 14 was introduced in 1976 with a clever ad campaign promoting it as the ‘pear-shaped’ car. It was the first Renault to be powered by a transverse engine, allowing for a roomier cabin and increased luggage space.

Renault Espace

Renault Espace © Renault

Renault had been pushing a ‘car for living’ philosophy with its series of practical cars designed with families in mind – including the 4, 16, 6 and 5. With the Espace people carrier, it pushed the idea further still, with a revolutionary new vehicle designed by Matra. Although sales were slow to begin with (just nine found buyers in its first month on sale), families were soon tempted by the versatility offered by the world’s first MPV.

Renault Twingo

Renault Twingo © Renault

Described by Renault as having an exterior design that evokes a ‘small, friendly animal’ combined with the interior of a ‘mini passenger van’, the Twingo was launched in 1993 as a quirky, affordable and practical city car. It was initially available with just one trim level and a choice of four paint colours. ‘It’s up to you to invent the life that goes with it,’ said the launch slogan.

Renault Scenic

Renault Scenic © Renault

Having gained experience with the Espace, Renault set about something smaller. Following the ‘car for living’ philosophy, the Scenic featured a sliding rear seat that could be used as a table, tilting rear side seats, tray tables for passengers and even a bottle rack. The Scenic was so impressive when launched, it swiftly won the 1997 European Car of the Year award.

Renault Avantime

Renault Avantime © Renault

Renault has never been afraid of taking risks, and in 1999 it launched a bizarre hybrid of coupe and people carrier. The Avantime ‘embodied the leisure car of the new millennium,’ said Renault, with large windows, an all-glass sunroof and a minimalist centre console. Although critically acclaimed, it sold in tiny numbers and was dropped after just two years on sale.

More classic Renaults

More classic Renaults © Renault

Keep clicking for more pictures of Renault’s amazing classic car collection

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

Renault's secret car collection

Renault's secret car collection © Renault

Inside Renault’s huge classic car collection.

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