20 November 2014

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: Renault Twingo MK1

The original Twingo could have been a greater success if Renault sold it across the channel in the UK.





I CAN’T help but think that Renault would have enjoyed greater success with the original Twingo.

Nevermind its domestic home market in France and continental Europe, they would have sold well across the Channel in the UK. I for one am convinced that many Brits would have loved the Twingo. The original Twingo has the things we Brits like about small French cars. Not only was Renault’s town toddler cheap, cheerful and practical, but one packed with Gallic charm.

Launched in 1993 as an indirect replacement for the old Renault 4. The Twingo was one car with a mixture of innovations and idiosyncrasies. With its unconventional one-box design and frog like face penned by Patrick le Quement, there are suggestions it could have been inspired from the FSM Beskid prototype. It was a ground-breaking design at the time though because there was no car on the road that looked quite like it. Today, it's even regarded as a design classic.

I mean: What car has a car has an aerial mounted on the wing mirror? Not even a car from Citro├źn has that oddball feature. Besides that, it had other quirky features like one big windscreen wiper that did 90-degree swipes, and three air vents on the bonnet placed offset in the top corner.

The quirkiness continued inside with vibrant colours on the upholstery.

Renault offered the original with some vibrant patterns and colours on the interior. Admittedly, some made the cabin look pretty garish. But you could never accuse Renault of being boring on its creation behind the Twingo.

The dashboard had an unusual layout with digital instrument panels centrally mounted - which is where the speedometer is - and they are controlled with a stalk on the steering column. There's also a narrow bar behind the steering wheel, which gives the driver information with warning lights or when you're using your indicators.

The Twingo looks tiny on the outside, but thanks to its one-box shape, it has more interior space than you'd expect from its compact dimensions. The Twingo also has clever sliding rear seats, which meant you could either increase legroom for rear passengers, or more space for luggage; boosting practicality and making the Twingo a versatile little car.

Early Twingos were very basic and sparsely equipped. No electric windows, air conditioning, central locking and power steering. In fairness, that meant less to go wrong and kept costs of buying and running a Twingo low. Renault originally offered with one model and one engine in the range, with a tried and tested 1.1 litre engine that was also used in the old Renault 5.

Renault updated the Twingo on a regular basis.

Throughout its lifespan, Renault updated the Twingo with visual and mechanical tweaks ‒ such as the newer 1.2 litre engine from the Clio for example. But they also added more creature comforts and broadened the range of models, as well as make many limited edition Twingos.

The Twingo was an instant success across France and Western Europe from the word go. Renault's baby enjoyed a lengthy spell of being in production for 15 years until 2007, and sold around 2.8 million examples. When they replaced the original Twingo with a toned down and more conventional replacement.

Its successor, was also made in right hand drive ‒ meaning that this was the first generation of Twingos available in the British Isles. More the pity that us Brits have missed out on the original Twingo - and Renault for that matter too.

The Twingo was a clever small car, but has a bigger personality than them two sumos put together.

So why did Renault not sell the original Twingo across the channel on British soil? Firstly (and stating the obvious here), they never made them in right hand drive. After a difficult period in the 1980s, Renault were on a cost cutting exercise into the 1990s. So it was more of a case of saving money. Furthermore, Renault didn't want it harming the Clio's sales in the UK apparently.

Still, with the time and money they would have spent engineering and making a RHD Twingo. Renault would have more than re-couped the investment If it was sold it in the UK. I reckon Renault's city car would have been as popular as the Peugeot 106, Fiat Cinquecento/Seicento, Volkswagen Lupo and the Ford Ka - of which Claude Lobo (designer of the Ka) had confessed that the Ka's design was inspired from the Twingo.

Re-iterating my point at the beginning, the original Twingo was a success and they missed an opportunity on capitalising its success. It would have potentially been a bigger goldmine for Renault if it was sold in the UK.

If Renault did make the original Twingo in RHD and sold it the UK. Would you have bought one?

6 comments:

  1. When I was looking 2nd hand cars in the early 2000s, it would've been right up my street. Cheap to buy, cheap to run, funky, low insurance.
    In the end I got a 1994 Clio with a 1.2 litre 8v engine from a 5 mated to a 4 speed box.

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    1. A Clio with a 4-speed 'box. That must have been a misery spec model and a case of how low you can go. Yeah like I mentioned on the post, if the original Twingo was sold in the UK, I'm convinced this would have given the Ford Ka, Fiat Seicento, Peugeot 106 and VW Lupo a run for its money.

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  2. As someone interested in a modern lightweight city car alternative to the original Mini, would have to agree that the mk1 Twingo was definitely a missed opportunity for Renault here in the UK.

    Especially intrigued by the idea of a mk1 Renault Twingo equivalent of the Saxo VTR / VTS to slot below the Renault Clio 16v / Williams / RS models, even if the subsequent Max Power reputation gained would be very off putting along with leaving few unmolested cars.

    Is there any proof the mk1 Twingo was directly related to the Renault 5 as some as suggested?

    Also read that the Twingo II was actually supposed to appear in the early-2000s with a more advanced design allegedly considered at one point though cannot be sure if either is really the case.

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    1. Earlier Twingos had the same 1.1 engines that were tried and tested units to the R5.

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    2. Considering how well the original Ford Ka went down with its quirky styling, convinces me that the original Twingo would have been well received in the UK.

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