French fancy: To mark 50 years since its launch in Paris, PetrolBlog asks: whatever happened to the Renault 6 family car?

Pity the poor Renault 6. Given its single digit number, it should occupy a seat at the top table of Regie’s legends, sandwiched between the R4 and the R16, and playing footsie with the R5 sat opposite.

But the Renault 6 is all but forgotten, even within classic circles. Far less successful than the Renault 4 upon which it was based, lacking the innovation of the Renault 16, and less stylish than the all-conquering Renault 5, the forgotten one lacks six appeal.

All of which means there has been little in the way of fanfare to celebrate the car’s 50th anniversary. No bunting strewn across the garden path or Fox’s Party Rings circled around a paper plate. PetrolBlog believes this is unfair, which is why it gets its moment in the limelight.

Launched in 1968 in Paris – three years after the 16 – the R6 created a new model line for Renault, occupying a slot between the 4 and the 12. France led the way in the five-door family hatchback segment, with Citroën’s Dyane and Ami 8 joining the R6 in offering a little more comfort and versatility to the people of rural France.

Deliberately unpretentious

Renault 6

The Renault 6 was not a car for the fashion-conscious: the original UK launch brochure was refreshingly free of needless references to the car’s styling. It was deliberately unpretentious because that’s what was demanded by its target market.

Instead, the Renault 6 majored on three primary attributes: space, comfort and economy. “Everything a family car should have,” claimed Renault. How times have changed. These were the days before families demanded safety, cupholders and an infotainment system.

In typical French style, it was delightfully simple yet wonderfully effective. The gear lever was mounted high, below the dashboard, creating a clutter-free floor and a real feeling of space. A front bench seat was standard fitment, but individual front seats with adjustable backrests were an optional extra.

The back seats were equally spacious, but the R6’s main attraction was its estate car-like boot. A large, full-width tailgate opened to reveal a cavernous boot, with further space available by removing the parcel shelf and folding the rear seats.

Its styling might have been more ‘plain Jane’ than Jane Fonda, but it masked a hugely practical and comfortable cabin. And besides, the Citroën Ami had the controversial styling side of things sewn up – playing it safe wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Petrol-starved motorists

Renault 6 in France

At least it wasn’t in France, where styling sat low on the list of priorities. On the other side of the Channel, the buyers were more demanding, requiring a little joie de vivre to accompany their daily motoring. Renault may have been Britain’s biggest car importer, but the R6 took a while to catch on.

Things changed in 1973 when the fuel crisis focused the minds of Britain’s cash- and petrol-starved motorists. All of a sudden, a cheap and practical car, offering 35-40mpg was in-demand, especially in light of the fact that cars had been getting more expensive for a while.

The 6 could offer two engines: the tried and tested 850cc unit, as fitted to more than five million Renaults over the previous 15 or so years, and the more powerful 1108cc unit, introduced in 1970. Neither offered whippet-like pace – the 6-850 developed 34bhp, the 6-1100 47bhp – but the larger engine was marginally quicker and more flexible.

That said, the increase in power was offset by the additional weight of the 6TL – or Tourisme Luxe – which also offered a few notable extras over the 6L, including individual front seats, front door armrests, a day/night rear-view mirror, vanity mirror, ashtrays in the rear doors and a heated rear window. TL customers could also specify cloth seats as an option.

‘Little Renault 16’

Renault 6 dashboard

As Britain emerged from the effects of the fuel crisis, the R6 went a little more upmarket through a range of ‘Renault Boutique’ accessories. Everything from alloy wheels to mud flaps and roof racks to front fog lights could be ordered through a main dealer, as Renault’s Cinderella could finally dress for the ball.

It remained on sale until 1980 – although production continued in Spain and Argentina until 1986 – and it had no direct successor. For a dozen years, it occupied its own niche within the Renault range, winning many friends but very few admirers.

The R6 never really won hearts and minds in quite the same way as the R4, R5 and 2CV. Too dowdy to be loved, too little flair to be a showroom star. Even Renault dealers insisted on calling it a ‘little Renault 16’ to give it ideas above its station.

And yet, some 1.5 million people liked the R6 enough to give one a home. Of that number, around 15 are thought to be taxed and tested in the UK, which is too small a number for a car that got us through the fuel crisis, provided transport to growing families and took us on seaside holidays to the coast.

Happy 50th anniversary, Renault 6. You really were the family car we had all been waiting for. It’s just a shame that so few people remember you.

Renault 6 TL

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