Friday, May 17, 2019

Renault Espace F1 (1994)

The Espace F1 is a unique, one-of-a-kind experimental model, the result of boundless know-how, daring engineering and limitless imagination.

The beginnings

In 1979, Philippe Guédon, CEO of Matra Automobiles, asked Antoine Volanis to make a proposal for an American van-type vehicle. He came up what would become known as the "orange design". Elegant, dynamic, unique contours, far removed from the utilitarian image of a van. It was a 3-door vehicle with the driver's position brought forward over the front wheels, and a suggestion of the Rancho's high roof.

The plans showed a more traditional design. The transverse engine was brought to the front and the seat rows were in a more conventional position. The forward-placed cockpit was abandoned for safety reasons.

In June 1979, a solid mock-up was made, followed by a hollow mock-up with a fully fitted interior. Between the two mock-ups the design had evolved and the high roof was abandoned. The bodywork was based on the Talbot Solara with theme variations: Weekend, Grand Raid, etc. Matra would take the concept further with the P17 and the P16, followed by the P18 with its elegant, sporty lines. In October 1981 the bodywork took on its final shape, including for vans, pickups, etc.

By October 1982, the project had changed considerably. Antoine Volanis had left Matra. The base used by Matra became that of the Renault 18. Front-wheel drive, a longitudinal engine, and a front axle inspired by the Fuego.

The P23 was presented to the Renault CEO, Bernard Hanon, with smoother lines and an almost finalised shape. Studies for a utility version gave the idea to make the most out of the flat floor by using removable seats. Up till then, all studies had kept a conventional back seat. And that's when this car got its most innovative feature...

The launch was planned for spring 1984 with commercial release through Renault's European network. In January 1984, preproduction models were released from the Matra assembly lines, and the manufacturing of production models started in March. At Renault, the Matra P23 became Espace Renault Project "J11".

The Espace II

The Espace II, which unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1991 (codename J63), had a smoother contour with more streamlined shapes. It was a modern, more dynamic car. On the outside, the differences were noticeable, starting with a serious facelift in front, with a rounded grille in the Renault style with new lamps. Its radiator grill was now a more aerodynamic perforated plate. The bumper was also more rounded and sat higher thanks to a new spoiler. The windscreen pillar trims were slimmer and covered by curved panes accentuating the luminosity and visibility in front. Wing mirrors were integrated into the shape of the bodywork.

The concept of MPV combined with F1 engineering

In 1994, Williams-Renault carried off the Formula One World Constructors' championship for the third year on the trot. The Renault V10 was to go on to win three more constructors' titles. The experimental Espace F1 vehicle was designed the same year to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the collaboration between Renault and Matra. A 3.5 litre V10 800 horsepower F1 engine was installed in the centre of the MPV. The result: 0 to 100 km/h in 2.8 seconds...

The F1 Espace shown at the 1994 Paris Motor Show had the basic contours of an Espace II, with a V10 RS5 engine identical to the one used in the Williams FW15C. The rear axle and the semi-automatic 6-speed gearbox were taken from the Williams FW14 Formula 1 car that triumphed in the 1992 World Championship, while a special front axle was designed and the Espace structure was reinforced. The chassis was made of carbon, with an aluminium honeycomb structure and graphite bodywork. It had four ventilated carbon disks on the brakes. The tyres were from Michelin. Four occupants were accommodated in bucket seats. The paintwork was yellow with sill panels and bottom of doors in carbon. Performance: 0 to 200 km/h in 6.9 s; maximum speed: more than 300 km/h on the track.

This Formula 1 car in city clothes was used mainly for promotional purposes. A few well-known personalities were lucky enough to be taken for a drive in it by Eric Bernard or Alain Prost and the Espace F1 was also used as a safety car on a few circuits.

Two copies were made. The one that was used as a model for track exhibitions is kept in the Matra museum in Romorantin. The other is in the Renault collection.

Source: Renault Classic