You could argue that the Renault 16 coupe-cabriolet was doomed to failure. Developed on the fringes of project 115, the idea of a two-door version of the highly-versatile 16 seemed at odds with the vision of CEO Pierre Dreyfus.
“We have to do things differently,” he argued. “Cars must no longer be just four seats and a boot. It must be viewed as a volume.”
In respect of this, the 16 – with its large tailgate, seating for up to five, and flexible interior – was a huge success, laying the foundations for Renault’s future in the family car segment. Some 1.85 million units were built, primarily at the purpose-built plant in Normandy, with the R16 scooping the European Car of the Year award in 1966 and spawing a performance TS (Tourisme Sportif) version – a forerunner to the modern hot hatch.
The key to the R16’s success was its versatility, with the interior flexible enough to offer six different seating arrangements. The image from the brochure speaks volumes – if you’ll pardon the pun – but the names are worthy of a mention.
Number four: that’s the ‘play-pen’ position, presumably because your little ones could crawl along the rear bench, ‘safely’ cocooned between the two seatbacks. Number five is the ‘rally resting’ position, while number six is ‘fully reclined’. In short, the R16 could be transformed from hatchback to estate, and anything in between.
The 16 was a huge leap of faith for Dreyfus and Renault. The easy option would have been to launch another three-box version of the Frégate, and a six-cylinder version was mooted. But Dreyfus turned to Gaston Juchet for the styling and Yves Georges for the engineering, with the pair creating an unconventional and pioneering vehicle.
Against the background of “a car for families attracted by modern consumer society”, the idea of a Renault 16 coupe-cabriolet seems like little more than a flight of fancy. According to Renault, the coupe was dropped “owing to insufficient profitability”, with the firm pointing to the high production cost of building a version with so many different body parts.
It’s pretty, but not what you’d call beautiful. The front end, so familiar on the hatchback, seems at odds with the overall shape, lacking the purity and elegance required in such an image-conscious segment. And given the fact that it looks almost entirely bespoke from the A-pillar back, it’s hardly surprising that it was ruled out on the grounds of cost.
At the back, there’s a stubby and inoffensive tail, with a full-width ‘hockey stick’ chrome bumper featuring two rubber inserts. Overall, while certainly of its time and rather elegant, the design isn’t what you’d call memorable. It’s hard to see it stealing sales from the Caravelle, although the coupe hardtop would have given it a major USP.
France pioneered the coupe-cabriolet in 1934 when the Parisian dentist Georges Paulin designed and patented the world’s first automatic retractable hardtop. The body style enjoyed a renaissance period at the turn of the millennium, kick-started by the Mercedes SLK, and jumped on by the French with coupe-cabriolet versions of the 206 and Megane, plus their respective replacements.
Was the Renault 16 coupe-cabriolet a missed opportunity or a bullet dodged? Who’s to say. But one thing’s for sure, the styling puts it perilously close to Shatchback territory.
Main image © Bernard Canonne; third image © Antoine Pascal.