Not their finest hour: Renault 14

Celebrating the greatest cock-ups in automotive history. This week we look at the Renault 14
By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor
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June 21, 2016
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Seeing the Volkswagen Golf creating waves in the small family hatchback segment, many of the German carmaker’s rivals also wanted a share of the pie. The first among these was Renault, who was at the time coming to terms with the sudden termination of its collaboration with Peugeot. Before the partnership ceased, Société Française de Mécanique Renault-Peugeot had developed a four-cylinder petrol engine, and Pierre Dreyfus, Renault’s then CEO, wanted to use this engine in a new small hatch that would rival the Golf.

Renault’s designers and engineers were already working on a new car based on the Basic Research Vehicle concept shown in London in 1974. Dreyfus ordered them to adapt this car, known internally as project 121, to accommodate the ‘Douvrin’ four-pot. While the car was under development, it followed the mechanical layouts of illustrious front-wheel drive Renaults like the R4 and the R12, and squeezing the new transversely mounted engine in changed a lot of things.

Also, the concept’s design had to be tweaked considerably to suit mass production needs, and the result wasn’t exactly appealing to the eye. To make things worse, Renault’s marketing team decided to promote the car, which was now called the Renault 14, as ‘La Poire’, or the Pear. This was in effect as good as giving the public and the press a stick to beat Renault with, and that’s exactly what they did. It soon became the butt of many jokes, but the name that stuck was ‘the rotten pear’, which at once alluded to the car’s shape and its predisposition to rust.

It didn’t help either that most of the dealers in France didn’t like the idea of a Renault powered by a Peugeot engine, especially since Peugeot had already bought Citroën, creating a stronger, bigger rival to Renault. So, despite the fact that nearly a million Renault 14s were built between 1976 and 1983, the legacy the ‘rotten pear’ left is one of ungainly looks, poor quality and unreliability. Not quite the same as a Golf then.