A Family Car That is Different
It is some years since Renault has made anything but small cars, and their re-entry into the medium-size market with the Renault 16 is remarkable, for this is a family car that is different—very different!
A front-wheel-drive car, the R16 follows in this respect., and in its supple torsion-bar springing and practical details, the R4L which, like the Citroen 2 c.v., is indispensable in its native France and has made many firm in friends here.
The Renault 16 has a 76 x 81 mm. (1,470 c.c.) engine with sealed cooling system, 5-bearing crankshaft, pressure die-cast aluminium cylinder block with replaceable wet liners, thermostat-controlled nylon cooling fan for the cross-flow radiator, and an S.E.V. alternator which keeps the ammeter needle well to the + charge side of the dial. This in-line engine is behind the final drive, with the 4-speed, all syncromesh gearbox ahead of it.
The body is a 4-door saloon and the layout of long wheelbase (8 ft. 11 in. n/s, 8 ft. 8.3 in. o/s with a wheel at each corner makes for good stability. The styling of grille, bonnet, roof with plated edging and boot, and the name RENAULT spaced out across the tail, is distinctly unusual, but any smiles the lines of the R16 occasion quickly change to expressions of admiration when this unusual but highly-practical car is sampled.
The body has been described by a contemporary as merely a gimmick, but its lift-up back window, with which part of the back shelf folds, makes for convenient loading, as on a Hillman Imp or Singer Chamois, and the various permutations of the back seat give much scope for load carrying .
The seats, separate at the front, with easily adjusted squabs, are extremely comfortable, if not quite the most comfortable even, because they are on the small side and a trifle brief in the cushion. But really comfortable they most certainly are and their leathercloth upholstery is of good quality.
The “pleated” padding round the facia, commercial-vehicle style mounting of the excellent Philips radio and speaker on the engine bulkhead, and the remote location of the r.h., inconvenient, pull-up-and-twist handbrake, stamp the R16 as unusual, likewise rear-door window-winders which can be made to lock-up the window glasses.
The speedometer is a nonsense, its casually-calibrated dial figured 5, 20, 35, 50, 65, 80, 95 and 110 m.p.h., but odd diagrams show effectively what the warning lights mean—oil can, thermometer, petrol can and battery diagrams being easy to apprehend. (The battery is appropriate, because the R16 possesses a voltmeter instead of an ammeter.) There is a choke warning light which isn’t so labelled. The l.h. steering-column gear-lever works precisely without wasted movement but a strong wrist is needed to pull it up and back to engage 3rd gear. A r.h. stalk looks after the turn-indicators, and three initialled small press-buttons control, respectively, the parking lamps, quiet heater-fan and wipers, the last-named, on the right of the panel, requiring to be held down to cancel the blades, as on a Fiat 500. There is a convenient foot-operated screen-washer, again a copy of Fiat practice.
I particularly liked the little pendant lever, easily reached by the right hand, which controlled volume from the very effective heater, a central lever setting the flow up into the screen or down into the car, although three-flaps have to be raised for full screen de-misting. Vents each end of the facia send in a really effective flow of cool air and shut effectively. Quarter-lights are not needed, for the R16 is effectively ventilated. I did not much like the r.h. stalk which is twisted to select the lamps, then twisted or moved up and down to dip them, it being all too easy to plunge oneself into darkness, or dazzle inadvertently, blowing the horn meanwhile, for the stalk’s extremity is depressed to sound it. The oddments locker (lockable between the seats is useful but less well contrived than that of a Ford Cortina or Corsair, and the cubby-hole low down under the facia (also lockable) is rather shallow, but is illuminated automatically. There are no door pockets.
The choke knob is out of sight under the facia and the engine responds to it by revving very fast. It started from cold well but not entirely willingly. On the road this ingenious Renault, once in its high top gear, runs with commendable quietness, only road noise trom the Michelin “X” tyres intruding, while 3rd is a quiet gear in which speed can be increased to 70 m.p.h.
The R16 rides comfortably, in the supple manner of a grown-up 2 c.v./4L., but does not roll anything like as much even when cornering quickly—and it can he cornered very fast indeed. The f.w.d. layout has no vices, except a tendency to snatch at crawling speeds if one is careless with the throttle, and to spin its wheels to a jerky take-off if too much ambition is displayed with the 63 (gross) b.h.p, developed at 5,000 r.p.m. On really rough going, such as up Old Park Lane. out of Farnham, the suspension proved disappointing. steering difficult, and the car inclined to grate over the ruts. The non-servo, disc/drum Lockheed brakes are very good and the rack-and-pinion steering light, except when parking, but rather low-geared, at over 4 turns, lock-to-lock, although the turning circle is excellent.
The rear-view mirror juddered about, the Cibie headlamps cut off too sharply on dip, and there were odd rattles from the region of the engine compartment and very occasional brake squeal. Equipment includes vanity mirror, a grab-handle like a towel-rail for the front-seat passenger, rheostat panel lighting easily controlled by an under-facia knob like a trip-zero-er, total mileage recorder sans decimals, adjustable headlamp-beams by tiny levers on the lamps, a brake pressure valve coupled to the rear anti-roll bar to accommodate braking to load, rubber-tipped bumpers, turn-indicators acting in the side parking lights, bonnet lock which the door-key fits, rear door locking by pushing in the interior handles, childproof back door locks, spare wheel accessible under the bonnet, etc. Both front doors have to he locked from outside and then cannot be unlocked with the interior handles, while the key tended to stick in the awkward locks. The unsecured fuel filler-cap is of an odd shape, difficult to replace, but a 12-gallon tank gives a very useful fuel range of 360 to 400 miles—I did covered 284 miles before the gauge reading made refuelling prudent. Indeed, in every condition of motoring, the economical R16 gave the excellent fuel consumption of 33.6 m.p.g,, using premium petrol. It consumed a pint of oil in 1,000 miles.
As a last, comfortable, easy-running, accommodating family car this is an outstanding newcomer. It displays no troublesome understeer even when cornered so fast the front Michelins protest in fact, roll oversteer is easily promoted, while excellent visibility aids the fatigue-free travel it provides, even if the steering wheel is a trifle high set and wiper blades park badly. The Renault 16 oozes individuality, but this is more apparent in its ingenious and unusual details than in its manner of quiet, easy running, for it handles like a conventional car. Getting in and out is supremely easy, the arm-rests provide well-shaped “pulls” for the doors, and the floor is nearly flat. The body is rather a tin-box but the doors are well-scaled and have to be firmly shut. The window-winding handles are substantial and function nicely. The full-beam warning light is red, the single arrow for turn-indicators in use is a flashing yellow light. As a commodious family-cum-estate car which will run up to 90 m.p.h. and dispose of a s.s. 1/4-mile in under 21 seconds, Renault’s new 1 1/2-litre is a significant new model indeed, especially with Renault’s reputation for longevity, and one which offers something of a Citroen’s f.w.d. stability and comfort, with less complication and at a lower price, if without quite so much refinement. It costs £948 17s. 11d. (radio extra) in Britain in GL form, in which the seats fold to form beds.—W. B.
1966 Club Season Opens
The 1966 Club Racing season opened in early March with a B.R.S.C.C. meeting at Brands Hatch on the 6th, and meetings at Mallory Park (B.A.R.C.) and Snetterton (B.R.S.C.C.) on the 13th. If we were asked to choose one highlight from the three meetings the choice could be none other than the race for GT cars at Brands Hatch, for in this race John Miles, in a Lotus Elan, having pit-stopped to remove an open bonnet after the first of ten laps, drove magnificently from 15th place to take the lead at Clearways on the last lap. Miles’ drive was such that it brought the crowd to its feet, and when he finally passed the Alan Fraser-entered Sunbeam Tiger, driven by Bernard Unett, even the dispassionate journalists in the Press box were beside themselves with excitement. The ovation given to Miles as he climbed out of his car was quite fantastic and wholly deserved.
At Mallory the following week, a four-wheel-drive car in the shape of the Felday-B.R.M., pictured on the Cover of the February Motor Sport, was the attraction of the day, with Peter Westbury winning the Formula Libre race and Mac Daghorn, in the same car, the sports car event. At the Snetterton meeting, Lewis Kerr, an American of several years’ experience, was having his first British race and made a fine first showing by winning the single-seater race in his ex-Dennis Hulme F.2 Brabham-Cosworth.
VINTAGE POSTBAG, May 1970
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