Motoring Trailblazers - Renault Espace

Fri 1st Feb 2019

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

Renault Espace
While the French may take all the plaudits for making the Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV) sexy, the idea of a minivan built to carry passengers came from the creative mind of a Brit, Fergus Pollock.

Pollock was working at Chrysler’s design centre at Whitley in Coventry for a car brand, Matra, who affiliated with Simca were building a car sold as a Talbot. Clear enough for you? To further muddle things up, Chrysler and Simca were sold to Peugeot Citreon in 1978 and they threw Pollock’s plans out suggesting that the Espace concept was too expensive a risk to put into production.

Not to be dissuaded from their futuristic vision of roomy people carriers, Matra took the idea to Renault and the French company was taken, fibreglass body and all, to the Talbot Matra Murena production line. The Murena was halted to make way for the Espace and by July 1984 the Espace was ready for the public to jump in to the MPV revolution.

Unfortunately the public remained sceptical and it seemed like Peugeot were to be proved right about the Espace being too risky, only nine models were sold in the first month! But soon consumers were to warm to the many benefits of an MPV.

And thus the clamour for MPVs began, Renault’s own website says: ‘They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In that case, the Renault Espace is one of history’s most flattered cars. We’ve all seen the copycat models and in a way, it’s understandable.

‘The idea of the Renault Espace was irresistible from the start: a comfortable, spacious, flexible people carrier that drives like a car, not a bus. The “Multi Purpose Vehicle”, or MPV, was born. In French, the equivalent term “monospace” has even earned a permanent place in the dictionary.

‘In a single design, the Renault Espace recognised that normal people like you and me don’t just need a car for commuting, OR the school run, OR transporting a garden full of plants, OR taking 3 kids with 3 bikes to the forest, OR going on holiday. We want a car that does all those things – and more!’

Though history has been kind to the Espace, in reality, the emergence of crossovers and SUVs had made the original idea defunct and after the car was retired in the UK in 2012, the MPV version was pulled from production in 2014 altogether.

You can still buy an Espace today, but only in left-hand drive nations and the Espace is most definitely an SUV.