A versatile fastback with true French flair...

In the early 1960s, Renault was known for its rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive 8 and 10 models. The inevitable switch to front/front started with the Renault 4, with the “16” models joining the party in 1966.

Packaging

To make full use of the newly adopted engine and drive upfront, Renault designed a clever number of seat-position options, from standard five-seater – with a large boot and less rear legroom – to fully flat for the possibility of compact sleeping quarters. For even more space, the spare wheel was shoehorned into the room remaining under the bonnet in a similar manner to that of the Fiat 128. This resulted in a boot capacity of 350 to 425 litres and a utility figure of 1 200 litres, provided you removed the rear seat. This rivalled station wagons of the day, with the advantage of a sleek fastback shape. A column-mounted gearshift and a retractable centre armrest allowed for a third seat in the front.

While our testers initially criticised the untidy facia layout with its ribbon speedometer, this was soon improved to four-dial instrumentation including a rev counter and coolant temperature gauge.

Powertrain

Voted European Car of the Year in 1966, the first model had a 1 470 cm3 engine with just 45 kW.

This was, in part, due to the low compression ratio of 7,6 to 1. In 1969, the power was significantly upped to 65 kW by enlarging the engine to 1 565 cm3 and increasing the ratio to 8,6 to 1.

The gearbox was sited in front of the longitudinal engine and an electric fan allowed for more freedom to squeeze all the ancillaries under the bonnet. The Solex 35 carburettor of the 16 was swapped for a Weber 32 DAR twin choke in the TS.

Suspension and steering

In typical French fashion, the ride was excellent and, coupled with the soft seating, it made the 16 a comfortable long-distance vehicle. The suspension was independent all-round using torsion-bar springing. Rack and pinion took care of the steering with four turns lock to lock to counter the added heaviness from the new powertrain layout (that soon led to the universal adoption of more complex power assistance).

Which one to get

While fuel economy suffered slightly, the newer TS versions were superior performers to the early models, so get a TS if you can find a good one.

What to watch out for

Rust, spare parts and mechanical/electrical maladies are the main concerns. It might pay to look for a donor vehicle which can supply spares, circumventing extensive eBay searches and postage costs. Knowing a Renault specialist mechanic would be a great asset.

Availability and spares

Sales figures started slowly with 363 in 1966, but rose to more than 700 the following year. When the TS was launched, sales jumped to 1 200 and then more than 3 000 in subsequent years. In total, about 12 500 units were sold in South Africa. While this was nowhere near the sales of rivals such as the Peugeot 404, it still managed to climb to number 21 in the sales charts, above Opel, Datsun and Leyland products.

Interesting facts

So popular was the TS engine that some owners (including a family member of mine) kept their R8 Gordinis on the road by replacing the worn engine with a used 16 TS engine.

Our road test in 1969 lists the seating capacity at 5,5 to allow for that occasional front armrest/seat.

In May of 1970, the new, sporty instrumentation received an analogue clock mounted in the centre of the facia. Another version, the TSL, even had powered front windows, something found only on expensive, luxury saloons at that time. The revised TS of 1971 gained a pair of spot lamps, new taillamps and three-point seatbelts.

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