Until the launch of the TX at the 1973 Paris Motor Show, the Renault 16 TS was the performance flagship of the range. It was a landmark car, not just for Renault but for the entire industry. The first mainstream hatchback to combine performance with a touch of luxury. A vision of things to come.
Up until its unveiling at the 1968 Geneva Motor Show, R16 sales had been solid but looked set to plateau. Buyers spoon-fed a diet of rear-wheel drive family saloons were reluctant to feast upon a front-wheel drive hatchback future. Renault 16 production hit 118,319 in its first full year, but had increased by just 980 units in 1967.
The Renault 16 needed a kick up the derrière – and the TS was wearing the tailgate-shaped boot.
Renault positioned the 16 TS more as a luxurious family car than an outright performance model. The TS (Tourisme Sportif) badge delivered a subtle hint of sporting pedigree, but little more. With its twin headlights and 14-inch Gordini-style wheels, the later 16 TX was far more extrovert than the 16 TS.
Indeed, aside from the badges, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish a 16 TS from a basic 16 or 16 TL. Things were very different on the inside.
The Renault 16 TS featured the likes of two-speed wipers; four-jet washers; illumination for the ashtray, cigarette lighter and glovebox; heated rear window; spotlights and reversing lights. These were big ticket items in 1968. Optional electric windows, sunroof and leather upholstery were standard from 1969.
Stitched leather cloth covered the steering wheel and fascia, which housed a set of five circular pods. Rev counter featuring a 6,000rpm redline. Speedometer showing a maximum 120mph – the Renault 16 TS was capable of hitting 100mph. Remember when dashboards were this elegant? Before the age of the touchscreen.
Two separate front seats could be turned into a bench by raising the centre armrest. The back of the 16 provided enough room for three, while the boot offered between 346 litres and 424 litres of luggage space, depending on the position of the rear bench. The six different interior layouts are explained here.
A 1,565cc twin-choke Weber carburettor engine featured a new Gordini-tweaked cylinder head to deliver 83hp at 5,750rpm, making it 50 per cent more powerful than the regular Renault 16. Bendix servo-assisted brakes provided the stopping power, with 10-inch discs at the front and 9-inch drums at the back.
Not everything about the Renault 16 TS was a glimpse into the future. It made do with a four-speed column change (an automatic transmission was optional), while rivals utilised a conventional stick shift. The washer jets were controlled by a foot-operated button next to the clutch pedal.
Few cars could rival the Renault 16 for ride quality. Contemporary reviews likened it to the Citroën DS, while praising its typically French way of blending handling with comfort. The 16 TS would lean like a drunk Frenchman when cornering, but while a sozzled Jean-Pierre would fall over without a crutch, the Renault would just grip and grip.
More importantly, the 16 TS provided the catalyst for a sales boom. Production hit 186,632 in 1969, followed by a peak of 196,253 in 1970. Sales declined year-on-year until the Renault 16’s demise in 1980 – the 16 TX failed to deliver a second spike in production.
Many Renault 16 TS cars were produced outside of France. The Quebec government built Renault a factory in Saint Bruno, with the aim of encouraging the Quebecois to abandon American cars. “Our Renault 16 TS: There are slower airplanes,” proclaimed the Canadian press advert. “Fast outside. Soft inside. Test fly one today at an enthusiastic Renault dealer’s [sic]” was the call to action.
UK press reviews were favourable. Car magazine tested the 16 TS against the BMC 1800S, concluding that the Renault was “more comprehensively and obviously a new model”, before saying that it “impressed us immensely”.
The final lines were telling: “For comfortable long-distance touring, except along the twistiest routes where the roll may be a problem, there are few cars in this price class to even approach it; and its superb versatility continues to stand it in good stead with all sorts of people.”
Three years later, in 1972, Car pitched the 16 TS against the Triumph Dolomite Sprint in a mildly partisan review. Although the tester claimed it “would be difficult and foolish to make an absolute clear cut choice between these cars”, there’s a sense that the ‘Dolly’ edged it. The Renault was praised for its high-speed cruising and load space.
Today, there are thought to be around 20 examples on the roads of Britain, which is surprisingly healthy for a Renault of this vintage. Prices range from £1,000 for a rough example to £6,000 for a Renault 16 in concours condition.
A small price to pay for such an innovative and forward-thinking family car. That’s less than a £1,000 per suitcase – count them.
The Renault 16 doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. A car good enough to scoop the European Car of the Year award in 1965, when it beat the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, arguably the greatest car of the 1960s. A car so ahead of its time, production continued until 1980, by which time 1,851,502 units had been built.
The Austin Maxi, Britain’s answer to the Renault 16, didn’t arrive until 1969, but it would be another decade before front-driven hatchbacks became the norm. Does the 16 deserve to be held aloft alongside the likes of the Citroën GS, Renault Espace, Citroën DS and Renault Twingo as a true great? Definitely, and the 16 TS is one of the best of the breed.