Renault Espace History & Specs
The Matra-Simca Rancho introduced in 1977 turned out to be far more popular than even Matra envisaged, selling at double the expected rate, and yet it was no more than a Simca 1100 Pick-up conversion to what these days would be termed a 'Crossover' vehicle. Consequently, when Matra decided to replace it, the new vehicle was to be purposely designed. The initial idea developed from the Rancho concept but with the design starting from a 'clean sheet' and not from adapting any current vehicle. This was 'Project Orange'.
Eventually it became prototype P18 using a transverse Simca 1600cc engine and was capable of being adapted into many configurations by moving around or removing any combination of five individual rear seats.One of the important original design criteria was to produce a vehicle that would be a luxury car and not a converted van like some of the vehicles beginning to appear in America and Japan.One consequence of this, was there would be no sliding side doors. The rear side doors were to be normal opening like any other conventional car. This concept vehicle was offered to Simca France - their partners at that time. Unfortunately Simca were in financial trouble and about to be taken over by the Peugeot-Citroen PSA group and Talbot France as Simca became known, turned the concept down. This decision showed how bad things were at Simca/Talbot France - they desperately needed some better models in their line up and yet they had little money to produce any new models. However, they were being offered a great new vehicle which is just what they needed, and at a cost much less than starting from scratch themselves, as all the initial work had been done, yet they still turned it down! So Matra took the idea to Citroen, but they also rejected it, possibly as they were now in the same PSA group and maybe it was a corporate decision.
Matra knew they had a great concept so instead of letting it die, they took it to rivals Renault. Here at last was a company that recognised the potential of what was on offer, and they started negotiations to a joint venture to produce this new type of vehicle. The powertrain was changed from transverse to longitudinal to take the Renault Douvrin powerplant and transmission similar to the Renault 21, and the new prototype P23 finally became the first Espace released in1984.Initial sales were slow since the public were unsure of the idea, but the motoring press could see the potential from their road tests and reported enthusiastically on it. Sales then started to take off. Towards the end of the first five year contract between Renault and Matra, Renault knew they wanted to continue with a second version, so a face-lifted version, called the Espace I Phase 2, was produced to keep the first model going until a completely new series II Espace could be brought to market. The Phase 2 announced in 1988 was to get a Renault corporate look to the front, to further integrate it into their model line-up and other improvements were introduced at the same time. One model, the Quadra was to have permanent four-wheel-drive, not as an off-roader, but to give it the capabilities to cope with snowy and icy roads in the mountainous regions of southern Europe such as the Alps, but also in places like Germany or Scandinavia, enlarging its potential market. The Quadra was the very first vehicle to use a carbon fibre single piece propshaft to drive the rear axle saving weight and cost over the conventional split two-piece propshaft with centre bearing. The Quadra was popular enough in Europe that it continued on the Series II until 1996 although it was only available in RHD in the UK for the Series I Phase 2.
The series II Espace continued to be produced by Matra at Romorantin with collaborative assistance from Renault, with more options including a V6 engine, automatic transmission, and air rear suspension, becoming available, widening its appeal, and the sales continued to increase. Although other companies now started to produce rivals, the Espace with its superior design, remained the top seller in Europe.It was the most successful vehicle Matra had produced, and towards the end of the second contract Renault again wished to continue, so work was started on the series III. This was introduced near the end of 1996 and the design changed to a transverse power unit for the first time, freeing up even more room inside. Again there were new design features, like the heater intakes on the outside mirrors, separate heating to left and right of the interior, and a huge central storage box that was possible because the heater was no longer mounted there as with most conventional cars.
Demand continued to climb and sales were so high that the Matra factory was reaching its capacity, and some were now being built at the old Alpine works in Dieppe. Eventually Renault decided that for the fourth generation, they would need to mass produce it at one of their factories to obtain the quantities they required, so ending an 18 year successful collaboration.The final Matra built Espace III came off the line in late 2002. Totalling all series they had produced almost 900,000 Espace and become market leaders in their category - yet were virtually unknown since the only place the Matra name could be found on the vehicle was on the chassis plate.