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French flair and character for less than €10,000: Renault 16

A true succes story, the Renault 16. And today it is a great classic at a fine price.

One of the first – and certainly the first successful mainstream – hatchbacks, from a time when the French made some of the most interesting, innovative and individual cars you could buy, the Renault 16 was one of the most long-running and successful models to come out of its Sandouville factory near Le Havre. Produced over a 15-year period between 1965 and 1980, Renault sold almost two million of these characterful and distinctive cars – to be precise, 1,845,959.

At the time of the introduction of the 16, Renault was best known for smaller utility cars such as the R4 (a rival to the Citroën 2CV and itself a possible contender for first hatchback, though some view it as a small estate) and Dauphine (we featured one of the latter in a Prime Find just a few months ago).

Everyone admires the new hatchback.

The 16 represented a move back into the medium-sized sector where they had previously competed with their Frégate, discontinued in 1960. It’s then-unique 5-door layout was not its only innovation, and it wasn’t until the launch of the Austin Maxi in 1969 that another similarly sized hatchback came onto the market.

It certainly was a very flexible layout.

Innovative?  Well, for example, the two back wheel axle shafts are not in-line, with the left wheelbase slightly longer
than the right, to accommodate the torsion bar suspension – a bit like having one leg longer than the other, I suspect. With typically French soft front seats combined with unusually long suspension travel, this gave the car a particularly and – again, typically French – smooth ride. It also contributes to its marked forward-leaning stance when parked.

Could you call the 16 pretty?

The Renault 16 was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1965 and went on sale in June that year. In GL trim, power initially came from a 1470cc 4-cylinder engine that pumped out a modest 55bhp. A couple of years later, Renault introduced the more luxurious and powerful TS version, with a 1565cc engine generating 83bhp, and 1973 saw the introduction of the top of the range TX, with a 1656cc engine producing 93bhp, and equipped with four rectangular headlamps, electric windows, central locking and a 5-speed transmission. Unfortunately, this coincided with the contemporary oil crisis and sales were poor, but despite this, Renault continued to manufacture the R16 until 1980, when it was replaced by the R20.

The Renault 16 was well received by the motoring press, being voted European Car of the Year by a board of European motoring journalists late in 1965, and it held its own against rivals even several years into its life. In a July 1971 test, despite finding some of the cars idiosyncrasies irritating – such as the column gear change, complicated heating controls and awkwardly located handbrake – Motor Sport magazine nevertheless praised it for its character, performance and versatility, and later that year, in a twin test with one of its direct rivals, the Austin Maxi, Car magazine felt the older Renault was still a match for its larger-engined British competitor.

Our Prime Find this week is on sale with a dealer in The Netherlands and is a later model, a 16TL built in 1977 and comes in a strong metallic green with cream interior, a combination that to my eyes works well. Unfortunately the dealer’s website offers limited information on the car, other than to say it is in good condition “with a few marks” and is on Spanish plates – it does however invite queries for more information.

They do have a multitude of photographs on the site, and the overall impression is favourable. The paint looks generally good – I’ve struggled to find the “few marks” referred to by the dealer – and the interior appears to be in very good condition indeed, especially the fascia. Seats and door cards look to have been re-trimmed. An interesting quirk is the set of additional bumper bars protecting the frontal area and rear lights – I can’t decide whether I like them or not, though they are relatively unobtrusive.

The engine bay looks less tidy and more like a 42-year old car that’s seen some driving, the luggage area shows signs of wear, and the photos of the underside also make it look like the car has seen some use, though it looks solid enough, superficially at least. The photo of the speedometer shows what I think is 70,011 kilometres, which would be very low for a car of this age, if genuine.

At €9,950, or £8,867, this is a relatively expensive Renault 16 but there will surely be some room to manoeuvre on the price. Based only on the photographs, the car looks good, and while not as unusual as last week’s VW K70, is nevertheless a rare sight on UK roads at least, with 76 remaining according to, and the Renault 16 Register has 32 cars on its books.

As always, caveat emptor applies, and the car should be closely examined in the metal before parting with any cash. More pictures can be seen on the dealer’s website here – Renault 16.


With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to

7 Responses

  1. jakob356

    Lovely car with so many brilliant ideas. Perfectly placed in the french market, between the mechanically conservative Peugeot 504 and the just bonkers Citroën DS. I think the roofline and tall windows even inspired the Daimler DS420 limousine from 1968.

  2. kim ornbjerg

    well the uneven wheelbase, also used on the R3R4R5R6 and R7was copied directly from Citroen that introduced it in 1947. So not very innovative……

  3. Tony Wawryk

    @jakob, I think you’ve positioned the R16 perfectly!

    @kim – I’m always happy to be educated :). I will say this though – the R3 and R4 were pretty much the same car, the others came after the R16, and as far as I can find out, the Citroen that introduced this concept was the H van – so for a medium-sized family car, I would say that the uneven wheelbase on the R16 was at least fairly innovative – can we agree on that? :)

  4. kim ornbjerg

    Yes the H-van, exactly. I have the same feelings about the R16 as i have with the Traction Avant, the Mini…They’re all hailed as innovative. But none of them really offers any new technology, just a combination of known technologies.

  5. Andrew Boggis

    This is an interesting article about interesting car. There are a number of points that can be added:

    – the car was innovative at the time as it clearly defines the modern hatchback. This is the blueprint of the VW Golf…

    – It also has a very fine aluminium engine. This did not escape the attention of either Jean Rédélé or Colin Chapman.

    – for rally fans, this 16TS is eligible for the Rallye Monte Carlo Historique. It is possible to add have twin Weber 45, “TLC” and end up with about 130 bhp. This was fairly handy engine when fitted to the Alpine A110…

    Do I want to buy one ? Yes!

  6. Claus Ebberfeld

    Interestingly the car now seems to be at auction – at least so the updated ad description says. I have no idea where, though. But maybe you can grab yourself a bargain, @andrew!


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