Unexpected Butt Enhancements: Cold Start

Cs R7

I think we can safely say that the Renault 5 – the Le Car to us terribly cultured Americans – is at least some tier of an automotive design icon. The old R5 design has some really influential details, not the least of which was its supermini-size, with a usable and efficient hatch at the rear. That wasn’t enough for Spanish Renault subsidiary FASA-Renault, who stretched the R5’s wheelbase a bit over two inches and then grafted on a little trunk, turning the little car into a stubby family three-box sedan, calling the result the R7, perhaps because of those two extra inches.

The R7 also used chrome bumpers, which caused the design to lose one of its most influential details, the way the lower bits of the front and rear bodies were formed by he plastic bumper skins, something wildly common on car design today, but started by the humble R5. Look:

R5 Bumpers

(image from Jalopnik, but made by me)

In a way, I’m more surprised by the chrome bumpers than I am the tacked-on trunk.

These R7s always look strange to me, but that didn’t phase nearly 160,000 mostly Spanish buyers, who all seemed to think that an extra pair of doors and a trunk was just what the R5 needed. The R7 was a car in the same general category as the Riley Elf, where an incredibly familiar shape gets a bigger butt grafted on, and the result isn’t bad, as such, but always looks a little, you know, off:

Cs Reillyelf

The longer I look at these, though, the less weird they seem. I guess that says something about the flexibility of the original, iconic shapes of these cars, that they can adapt so well to an extra chunk stuck on the rear?

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41 Responses

      1. I read somewhere that the car was marketed to more traditional buyers who would clutch their pearls over the idea of buying a hatchback. Those more traditional buyers would clutch their pearls even tighter over plastic bumpers hence the bright metal ones were fitted.

    1. That’s the point. I’ve often thought the original Mini Clubman should’ve inherited the Elf butt to balance its’ extended nose, as it was the Clubman front looked better on the wagons than the (2-box) Mini sedan.

      That could be a whole thing, since that’s also true of the square-front facelifts of the Ford Pinto and AMC Pacer, that the wagons wear them better than the others.

  1. Renault in France adopted the R7’s rear doors to develop the 5-door R5 that appeared in the late ’70s.

    It’s a shame they never built a wagon with the orignal R5 hatch and taillights at the end of the R7’s extra wheelbase and overhang.

  2. What is going on in that ad? It looks like the adults are having some kind of argument – the man looks like he’s looming over the woman and jamming his finger in her face, and it looks like she’s recoiling and she has a raised fist implying that she’s feeling threatened. Meanwhile the two little girls are playing… What?

    1. One Sunday morning A woman and her husband were just popping by the local Ministry of Incongruous Fountainary, to fill out permit paperwork for a new bird bath/bidet when two children jumped in front of their new Renault R7. When her husband stepped out to scold the children he was quickly taken down by the devil’s brood. Their father swept out of the shadows to to remove the wife’s eyes, placing them in his custom Louis Vuitton cooler bag, while the children buried the husband in a shallow grave. Worst part is the Ministry isn’t even open on Sundays.

  3. Torch’s illustration shows a G5 (“Gordini 5”), the UK version of the A5 (“Alpine 5”), a nicely hooted-up model Renault couldn’t be bothered to bring to the USA. Apparently, the “Alpine” name was copyrighted by someone else in Blighty.

    One of my R5s had an Alpine engine — courtesy of the previous owner — which was a neat little hemi-head unit that increased horsepower from 58 to 93. Unfortunately, he didn’t install the nice five-speed transaxle, the zoomy wheels or the more informative instrument cluster. He did add stiffer antiroll bars, wider tires and a couple of auxiliary gauges, though.

    That car was an absolute hoot to drive. Shocked the daylights out of drivers of a couple of local gray-market Golf GTIs. Until, that is, the cylinder head cracked (not an uncommon occurrence) and coolant mixed with oil. I wonder if the guy I sold it to ever managed to get the head repaired/replaced?

    Oh, and it was registered in California, something of a feat in the early 1980s. The guy who ran the smog checks at the neighborhood gas station had no idea what the smog plumbing of a LeCar should look like. He was satisfied when I told him the engine had all the smog stuff it left the factory with….

  4. The Renault 7 was a Spanish made derivative of the Renault 5, but was not Spanish designed. It came from France, designed but not produced there.

    Spain has a tradition on those years about little cars with 4 doors. They made a 4 door variant of the Fiat 600, named the Seat 800. A bit longer, and with 4 door, made by an independent coach builder but sold as a SEAT model, on official dealers. They also made a 4 door version of the FIAT 850, with the same length than the 2 door and a longer one. SEAT also made a 4 door version of the FIAT 127 series one, that didn’t existed in Italy, so Fiat marketed them in Europe. They did also a 5 door version starting with the Series 2.

    The first series of the Renault 7 was called Renault Siete, seven in Spanish. They didn’t used numbers to accentuate it was a Spanish product. They are the ones with the square tail lights. The second series got the number 7 on the anagram, and rectangular bigger tail lights. Colors were the same of that time Renault 5. They never got the sporty engines of the R5, and used engines closer to the Renault 4.

    I have seen a Renault 7 that got the bumpers of the 5, and I like it.

  5. In Australia they produced the wonderful Austin Kimberley, which was an Austin 1800 with an extra long boot. The only snag being that the Austin 1800 already had a boot. I think it’s fair to describe the styling as challenging.

    Incidentally, the race club of which I’m treasurer once had a young driver named Austin Kimberley, and he wasn’t hugely amused when I pointed out the coincidence.

  6. Yep, I can confirm that the R7 was everywhere in Spain. And that they are unbelievably dull. Probably Renault thought that the Spanish market wanted a more “conventional” alternative to the R5, so not only they replaced the bumpers, but they also replaced the dashboard with a far more insipid one. Google it if you dare.

  7. Plenty of examples of this phenomena that American readers might not be aware of.
    Opel Corsa, VW Polo, numerous Peugeots/Citroens/Renaults Known affectionately by #weirdcartwitter (possibly UK only) as ‘hatchloons’, often v ugly. European superminis most frequently afflicted, although Japan can be similarly afflicted. As with most things, now being gentrified, by the German marques, see BMW 2Series 4door for example.

    1. Worst one in my opinion they actually did a Peugeot 206 Sedan … probably the thought process was:
      – Hey we have this aging car … what should we do with it in order to sell more in Eastern Europe …
      – (Random Guy from room) why not putting an ass on this 206 …

  8. Integrated bumpers are the styling element that makes a car register as “modern” to me. The hierarchy is something like this:

    Integrated everything: basically a modern car

    Chrome bumpers: a car from
    the Before Times

    Non-integrated headlights: maybe my grandpa had one of those?

    Pontoon fenders: probably pre-WWII?

    Looks like a horse-drawn carriage without the horse: probably a Model T???

    1. Interesting analysis, even though it sent me in a existential crisis on account of me remembering chrome bumpers as “proper bumpers”. I guess old age sneak upon you, if you are not looking 🙂

      Anyway, I kind of miss properly styled chrome bumpers. The small nicks and bumps add up on the plastic (that is basically a body panel), whereas separated bumpers concentrated those events, handled them better and were easier to replace.

      1. I’m with you on ‘proper bumpers’, but I’d take it further: thin, graceful blades are proper; the later, squared-off chunky battering-rams make me cringe. This is probably due to my VW-centric upbringing.

        And I well remember the first time I took a bumper cover off and found ‘styrofoam’. I was all, ‘I can’t even…’ a decade or more before that was a thing

  9. Seeing the Riley Elf reminds me of a heavily modified I saw at the coffee shop last weekend. Someone somewhere old enough to get it may have been having a bit of a laugh, because along with the enhanced trunk she had modified elfin pointed ears. Or it could be completely unrelated. Or she could be a fan of British Automotive Archana along with unnecessary surgery and Tolkien. While I was initially put off, after looking at it for a while I decided it was a look I could get behind. If push came to shove.

  10. Nobody’s going to mention the MkI VW Jetta? It didn’t really catch on until the Mk2 which was designed alongside the Golf 2 but in the US market the Jetta being a full-fat German import while the Rabbit was in its’ trough of Oldsmobilization, along with BMW and Mercedes’ refusal to hatchbackify their compacts until much much later, set the groundwork for the idea that Americans think of hatchbacks as beneath them, something most didn’t get over until automakers literally lifted them.

    1. Yup, that was based on customer surveys where lots of Cadillac buyers were complaining that their newest cars would no longer fit in many garages. Sold terribly, and convinced GM to just ignore survey and focus group data, especially regarding customer interest in smaller cars, for like another decade, since it showed that what customers say they want and what they will actually buy can be two different things

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