The Renault Espace is a large MPV from French car-maker Renault. Generations 1-3 were sold under the Renault brand but manufactured by Matra. The current fourth generation model, which seats seven passengers, is an all-Renault product; the Renault Grand Espace is a long-wheelbase version with increased rear leg room and boot size.
The Espace is often credited as being the world's first MPV (a claim Renault themselves encourage). However, the 1950 Volkswagen Type 2, also known as the Kombi, and the 1956 Fiat 600 Multipla, popularised the versatile multi-seater concept some 30 years prior to the Espace, and the concept had been tried several times before that, an early example being the 1935 Stout Scarab.
Espace I (1984-1991)
The Espace's design was originally conceived in the 1970s by the British designer, Fergus Pollock, (at around the same time as Giorgetto Giugiaro's 1978 Lancia Megagamma concept MPV), who was working for Chrysler UK (formerly the Rootes Group), at their design centre at Whitley, (now the Jaguar design centre) in Coventry. Later Matra, who were affiliated with Simca, the then French subsidiary of Chrysler, were involved in partnership in the design, spearheaded by Greek designer Antonis Volanis.
The Espace was originally intended to be sold as a Talbot, and to be a replacement for the Matra Rancho leisure activity vehicle. Early prototypes used Simca parts, and hence featured a grille reminiscent of the Simca 1307 (Chrysler Alpine).
In 1978, six years before the Espace went into production, Chrysler UK and Simca were sold to the French company PSA Peugeot Citroën (PSA), and the Espace design was given to Matra.
PSA decided the Espace was too expensive and too risky a design to put into production, and Matra took their idea to Renault (PSA finally ventured into the minivan sector eleven years later with the Citroën Evasion/Peugeot 806).
In 1982, Pierre Heymann who was working on the comparative testing for automobiles at the French National Consumer Institute, made his design for an ideal car and proposed it to Renault.
The Matra concept became the Renault Espace. The design featured a fiberglass body mounted on a warm-galvanized steel chassis, using the same technique and assembly line at the factory as the Talbot Matra Murena. In fact, the introduction of the Espace required the relatively small factory to cease the production of the Murena, to make room for the Espace.
The Espace was launched by Renault in 1984. After a very slow start — a grand total of nine Espaces were sold in the first month after launch — customers warmed to the benefits of the MPV concept and the Espace became very popular.
In 2004, BBC's motoring show Top Gear began a historic racing series with two Espaces, a Toyota Previa, a Toyota MasterAce, a Mitsubishi Space Wagon and a Nissan Serena. The Espaces came first and second.
Espace I - Phase 2
Building upon its success, the Espace was revamped in 1988 with most of the Talbot/Simca content being replaced by equivalent Renault parts (the chassis and mechanical components of the car remained largely unchanged). The most obvious cosmetic exterior difference between the very first Espaces and the revamped post-1988 models were the changed headlights: the forward-slanting lights with orange indicator casing of the original Espace were replaced with backward-slanting lights with a clear indicator casing.