“Hatchbacks revolutionised the automotive industry by offering greater interior modularity.”
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“So make me a volume!”
These were the words used by Pierre Dreyfus, Renault’s boss between 1955 and 1975, to brief his teams when designing Renault 4.
This unusual vehicle was set to make car history for a feature that would seem insignificant nowadays. However, it constituted a mini-revolution back in the day - the hatchback.
Featuring a fifth door combined with a flat floor, this car was a saloon, a sport tourer and a utility car.
Having this new opening made it easier, back in the time of 4L, to load a straw bale for example. Nowadays, the hatchback on Arkana makes it easier to load other objects such as luggage for weekend trips away or holidays. Hugues Portron, Director of Renault Classic, takes a look back at this hatchback revolution, initiated by Renault.
Renault unveiled its Renault 4 in 1961. At the time, the French were starting to leave the countryside to move closer to cities. However, public transport infrastructures left a lot to be desired, particularly on the outskirts of towns. People began to feel the need for a car suitable for rural and urban areas. In a nutshell, a car they could drive to the shops or use to get to work.
It was also a time when increasing numbers of women were in employment and the purchasing power of households started to increase. In this context, the car that would soon come to be known as “4L” was a solution for all work and weekend needs... all as a result of its hatchback!
A door to freedom
The fifth door meant that Renault 4 quickly became a genuine social phenomenon. With over 8 million units sold in more than 100 countries over a period of more than 30 years, it is safe to say that the gamble paid off. “With the 4L and its tailgate, we invented a car model, we created a new automotive standard,” says Hugues enthusiastically. “This wonderful invention resulted in a vehicle that was a saloon car, a sport tourer car and a utility car in one.”
The fifth door offered greater interior modularity enabling engineers and designers to create the first true “cars for living”.
“The hatchback showed that engineers could deviate from the traditional ‘bonnet, passenger compartment, boot structure”, explains Hugues. “The fifth door provided greater freedom in terms of design.” This hatchback effectively paved the way for creating new types of vehicles, such as people carriers, SUVs, and more.
Renault then dared to apply this formula to a more statuary segment, that of the family saloon with its traditional boot. This resulted in Renault 16, launched in 1965, the figurehead of an unprecedented revolution putting a new standard within reach with more upmarket models. But if you think about it, Renault 16 can be seen as a large Renault 4. They are both hatchbacks with the same features. This is a two-box car that offers a fifth door and incredible rear bench modularity.
The hatchback, in fact, can be applied to all car models, including saloons, coupés and city cars. Renault then began developing a wide range of hatchback models such as Renault 20 and 30, Fuego, Renault 25 (photo opposite), and Renault 11, etc. The hatchback even had its moment of glory at the 1982 Paris-Dakar rally, which was won by the Marreau brothers in a Renault 20.