1970s / French / Renault

A look at the Renault 2, the Mini-fighter that never was

In 1971, French magazine Auto-Journal proudly claimed that it had uncovered a car that Renault was developing in utmost secrecy. Illustrated on the magazine’s cover, it was billed as an entry-level city car designed to take on the Austin Mini, among others.

Auto Journal‘s information indicated that the car would likely be called the Renault 2, a guess that logically followed Renault’s naming system at the time. Aimed at young people on a budget and families who needed a second car, it was said to be 118 inches long, the same size as Fiat’s rear-engined 500. To put that into perspective, the Autobianchi A112 was 127 inches long, the Honda 360 was 117 inches long and the Mini was 120 inches long.

Auto-Journal speculated that the R2 would be powered by the same 747cc water-cooled four-cylinder engine that was found under the hood of the Renault 4, enabling it to fall into the 4CV category of France’s taxable horsepower system. Unlike the Renault 4 the Renault 2’s engine was said to be mounted transversally, a setup which rose to prominence in 1959 under the hood of the Mini but that was arguably pioneered by Dante Giacosa, a Fiat engineer, in 1947.

Acceleration figures were not given but the car was rumored to have a top speed in the general vicinity of 71 miles per hour. In all likelihood the 747cc four-banger would have made somewhere in the vicinity of 25 horsepower.

To partially compensate for the car’s tiny size Auto-Journal reported that the seats could all fold down individually, meaning that the car could go from a four-seater to a single-seater and everything in between in a matter of mere minutes.  A version with fixed seats was said to be sold as an entry-level model that would be a little less expensive.  The magazine’s illustrations showed that both models were equipped with a hatchback that extended all the way down to the rear bumper to make loading and unloading heavy items as painless as possible.

Auto-Journal provided several remarkably credible illustrations of the car but it never published a single photo of a test mule.  Nevertheless, the magazine claimed that the Renault 2 was scheduled to make its debut a couple of years after the Renault 5, very likely in 1974.

The car sounded very promising on paper but 1974 came and went without so much as a concept car that prefigured the Renault 2.  As it turns out the 2 described by Auto-Journal never made it to the prototype stage.

The rumor of an entry-level Renault was not entirely false, however. An employee of Renault’s archives department confirmed to us that the company was indeed mulling the launch of a small car called VBG (“vehicule bas de gamme”, or entry-level vehicle) internally in the early 1970s. Whether or not engineers toyed around with the idea of a transversally-mounted engine and a versatile interior is not known but what is certain is that Renault worked on the project off and on until it became a priority in the late 1980s. The production car that finally came of it was none other than the Twingo, introduced at the 1992 Paris Motor Show.

All of the images in this article were scanned out of a 1971 issue of Auto-Journal; Ran When Parked takes no credit for them.

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