Thursday, February 27, 2014

5k: Sweet Sixteen: 1970 Renault 16

Many years ago, the French car industry would routinely release some of the most remarkable vehicles. Today, the government backed industry that consists of PSA & Renault is but a shadow of what it used to be, and produces poorly assembled and strangely styled rip-offs of Volkswagen's latest people car models.  It is not surprising that the French auto industry is in such shambles, given the country's dramatic switch from true leaders like Charlemagne, Jeanne d'Arc and Charles de Gaulle to weaselly ninnies like Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.  Back during the presidency of monsieur de Gaulle, Renault introduced a car unlike any had seen before and it was likely the first small SUV/crossover vehicle produced in a segment that is now jam-packed full of offerings.  Find this 1970 Renault 16 for sale in the San Fernando Valley, CA for $3650 via craigslist.

Don't expect to be able to replace your wife's Honda CR-V with an R16, because it will stall on the highway and light on fire, leaving your wife/kids to walk home...if it starts in the driveway to begin with.  Perhaps that is being a bit unfair, as the Renault A-series engine was used in various Renault models and even sold to Lotus for the Europa and Alpine for the A110.  However, its not like Lotus or Alpine had a warehouse full of reliable and torquey Honda B-series engines sitting around, so their use of the A-series is less of an endorsement of the engine and more of a random factoid.   The 1.6 liter inline-4 was good for about 80 horsepower and was mated to the front wheels...but in a strange (and French!) mid-engine setup that involved placing the transmission in front of and under the engine.  Suspension travel was set up on the "comfort" side and rumor has it that if you hold the brake, shift into reverse and slip the clutch, the rear end will drop over a foot of height. 

See a better French small fry with a lot of room?


  1. Man, DT, the way you guys go on about the reliability of European cars leaves me imagining that you have spent your lives rolling around in Ford F-150 trucks that you tuned with a ball pein hammer. And maybe a cold chisel when you needed some finesse.

  2. Losing some reliability in the name of performance is totally acceptable, but a Renault 16 is a crap can. I've driven one, sold one and never been so ashamed of myself in my life. Probably the worst car I've ever sold, including AMC Pacer, AMC Hornet and yes Renault Alliance! I'd live with the eccentricities of a DS or ID 19 because they are overwhelmingly cool and ride incredibly. I've ridden in a Citroen ambulance and marveled at how smoothly it descended from a Swiss ski resort to a local sanitarium. I'd thoroughly enjoy a 2CV with a picnic basket in the back or an Ami to do my impersonation of James May or a an R8, Dauphine or Caravelle, but dear Lord, please let me never have to drive or ride in a 16 ever, ever again!

  3. R16 was remarkably comfortable and with rear seats folded down, very roomy.

  4. Does anyone know a source for these headlights? I'm looking for a set for a custom project. Any help would be appreciated!

    1. It appears the original R16 headlamps were made by Lucas and then later by Cibie. Be careful as the RHD and LHD headlamps are different to account for aiming. There is one R16 headlamp on US ebay, but located in Cyprus and with zero information, so I would just keep searching ebay on a regular basis. You could also try searching for them on a local craiglist by using an aggregate search site like onecraigs. . Good luck!

    2. Those are the euro-model headlights, so you are better off on eBay Europe.Tthe US imports came with four round headlights. (This one has likely been converted, since it has the US-market front bumper.)

      I've owned three of these over a period of 20 years and they are seriously bulletproof--even having a tree fall on one couldn't kill it. Whatever reputation Renault has or had before or after this car should not be applied to the 16. They are awesome in every way. In addition to the aforementioned suspension travel (you can manually set the ride height in the rear), the corner lean is pretty impressive.And the wheelbase is a couple of inches different between the left and right sides.

  5. I had the pleasure of using one of these to tour the French countryside back in 1979. Remarkably comfortable, quiet, excellent autoroute cruising (at a sustained 130 kph, no stress), and quite pleasant on the back roads. Roomy and flexible.

    $3650 with a parts car thrown in? Heck yes! Too bad it is in California.


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