Renault were envious of the growing success in North America of the Volkswagen Bug/Beetle and were looking for ways they might match the Volkswagen's success with their own Renault Dauphine. At a convention of North American distributors that took place in Florida, Renault's US dealers called for the creation of a Dauphine coupé/cabriolet which would improve Renault's image in the critical US market. Renault's chairman, Pierre Dreyfus, agreed, and since the concept had been born at a convention in Florida the car instantly became known within the company as the "Renault Floride". The "Floride" name was considered unsuitable for 49 of the 50 states of the USA, however, since it could have implied disrespect to states other than Florida. For this reason an alternative name, "Caravelle", was from the start used for North America and for other major markets (including the UK) where the principal language was a form of English.
The LaunchThe Floride was unveiled at the 1958 Paris Motor Show. A small rear-engined design by Pietro Frua at Carrozzeria Ghia, it used the floorpan and engine of the Renault Dauphine sedan. It was offered as a 2+2 coupe, a 2+2 cabriolet and as a convertible, the latter being a cabriolet with a removable hardtop. Renault marketed a performance version, engineered by Amedee Gordini, which produced 40 hp (30 kW) as opposed to the standard model's 35. The Floride was launched in the United States and Canada as the Renault Caravelle a year after its introduction in Europe.
In March 1962, the Caravelle received a new 956 cc engine that would be also used by the new Renault 8 since June. Although the new "Sierra" series five bearing engine shared no components with the existing 845 cc Dauphine engine, it was conceptually very similar: the engine size was chosen in order to come in (slightly) below the top of the 5CV car tax band in France. Maximum power output increased to 48 hp (36 kW). The upgraded cars, first presented at the 1962 Geneva Motor Show, now featured disc brakes on all four wheels: the Floride was the first French volume car to benefit from this enhancement which also reduced unsprung weight by approximately 6 kg. The Caravelle name also replaced the Floride name in all markets from 1962 onwards.
In 1964 another R8-derived engine of 1108 cc was introduced to the Caravelle, producing 55 hp (41 kW).
The Floride's body style, particularly the front end, has been acknowledged by former BMC designers as an inspiration for the MGB.
Caravelle 1108 cc road test
The British "Autocar" magazine tested a Renault Caravelle in November 1965. The car had a top speed of 89 mph (143 km/h) and accelerated from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 17.8 seconds. An "overall" fuel consumption of 30.2 miles per imperial gallon (9.35 L/100 km; 25.1 mpg-US) was recorded. The Caravelle's performance closely matched that of the contemporary Triumph Spitfire 4 under most headings, though the Spitfire was a couple of mph ahead on top speed. The British car market was still protected by tariffs at this time, but even allowing for that the Renault looks expensive in this company: The Caravelle came with a UK recommended price of £1,039 as against £666 for the Spitfire 4. The contemporary Austin Healey Sprite was both a little slower and a little cheaper than the Spitfire.