Starting in the 1950s, Peugeot regularly outsourced the design of its cars to Italy’s Pininfarina. The two firms gradually built up a close relationship which largely explains why certain Peugeot convertibles from the 1960s were nearly as gorgeous as Ferraris that cost exponentially more.
Rival Renault eschewed coachbuilders for a long time and chose to draw the bulk of its mainstream models in-house. The motives behind this decision are hard to decipher but Renault’s state ownership likely played a sizable role – after all, the government would have to take the blame if the in-house designers found themselves with less work.
The tide changed slightly in the early 1980s. Perhaps looking for a more modern design language, Renault timidly approached Italdesign to jointly develop an experimental sports coupe based on the upcoming 11 hatchback. Called Gabbiano, the car was presented to the public at the 1983 edition of the Geneva Motor Show.
The Gabbiano’s exterior design was typical of 1980s concept cars and saying it left no one indifferent is an understatement. With a wedge-shaped, two-box design, the Gabbiano featured a large greenhouse, pop-up headlights and half windows that were more commonly found on high-dollar sports cars. The car was devoid of any brightwork but dark silver trim on the beltline emphasized the body’s width.
Italdesign wanted the coupe to be able to accommodate four adults in relative comfort so wide gullwing doors were fitted to make it possible for passengers to access the rear seats without having to tilt the front seatbacks forward. This feature gave the car its name: “Gabbiano” means “seagull” in Italian.
The Gabbiano was equally futuristic on the inside. It was equipped with a mono-spoke steering wheel, a fully digital instrument cluster with a dizzying selection of displays and two pods that housed a wide array of buttons and switches.
Power came from a 1.4-liter carbureted four-cylinder engine borrowed from the regular-production 11 TSE. It sent 73 horsepower and 78 lb-ft. of torque to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. The concept was fully functional but performance specifications were not published at the time of its debut.
It goes without saying the Gabbiano remained a one-off show car that was never given the green light for production. Some of its styling cues were integrated into the Super 5 by designer Marcello Gandini, and Renault worked with ItalDesign on the 21 and the 19 before returning to in-house designs in the early 1990s.