The Renault Frégate is a full-size or executive car produced by the French automaker Renault between 1951 and 1960.
The Frégate was conceived in the years immediately following World War II. Renault, which then had recently been brought under control of the French state, needed a new modern, upmarket model both to improve its image and to cater to the needs of middle class consumers in the hoped for economic recovery. Several prototypes were produced before the Frégate design was put into production.
Initially, the car was to have had a rear-engined layout as in the recently launched 4CV, but Renault abandoned the rear engined "Project 108" and in 1949 decided to go with an engine mounted ahead of the driver. This decision was taken only late in the day and the switch to a front engined configuration was therefore rushed.
The Frégate was unveiled at the 1950 Paris Motor Show, but the first model was not delivered until November 1951. The assembly plant at Flins where the car was assembled, which had been renamed after Pierre Lefaucheux, was formally opened in October 1952.
Production built up only slowly. Even in 1953 it was reported that the Frégate, with approximately 25,000 units sold on the French market, was comfortably outpaced by the standard wheelbase versions of Citroën's '11 Normale' model, with approximately 35,000 sold that year, despite the Citroën being little changed since its unveiling fifteen years earlier and, since the war, available from the manufacturer's French factory only in black.
From its appearance late in 1950 until 1953 the car was branded simply as the Frégate, but the nomenclature became more complicated at the Paris Motor Show in October 1952, and from early 1953 the Frégate was available in two trim levels, as the "Frégate Affaires" and the "Frégate Amiral", advertised at 799,300 francs and 899,000 francs respectively. The "Frégate Amiral" was little changed from the previous year's Frégate, although the interior was slightly reworked and it did feature twin fog lights at the front whereas the previous year's model came with just a single fog light. The "Frégate Affaires" offered a price saving of approximately 100,000 francs in return for a reduced specification that involved a simplified dashboard, reduced interior trim, the removal of exterior chrome over-riders from the bumpers as well as the loss of the twin fog lights and windscreen washer which remained a standard feature on the "Frégate Amiral" The launch of a cut-price Frégate was presumably part of the same strategy that was behind the launch of the cut-price 4CV Service. Neither of these stripped down versions were well received by customers: in the Frégate's case, this was one of several attempts to make the model more competitive that failed to shake Citroën's dominance of the French market for large family cars.
Renault addressed the complaints about the lack of power from the 2 litre engine by introducing in 1956 the new 2141 cc Etendard engine, which produced 77 hp (57 kW). A popular estate model badged Domaine was also launched in 1956, along with the new, luxurious Grand Pavois trim package.
In 1957 a three-speed 'Transfluide' semi-automatic transmission, incorporating a fluid coupling, became an option along with a slightly more powerful version of the 2141 cc engine producing 80 bhp (60 kW; 81 PS) thanks to a compression ratio increased from 7.0:1 to 7,5:1.
The 1958 models saw another modified front grille. The prominent wide chrome oval and horizontal bars were removed to leave only the row of thin bars over which, since 1955, they had been placed.
Citroën reinforced their domination of the market for larger saloon cars in 1955 with the introduction of the futuristic DS, followed in 1957 by its more aggressively priced ID variant. Sales of the Frégate gradually declined throughout the late-1950s, and production ceased in 1960. In total, 163,383 Frégates were made in the Flins-sur-Seine factory.
The sales performance of the car was regarded as disappointing. Some were content to blame the excessive number of teething troubles in the early models, the car's lack of power and, especially during the second half of the decade, the superior attractions of the Citroën offerings: but some commentators also draw attention to a very French political dimension. The manufacturer was nationalised directly after the war and the death in 1944 of Louis Renault took place under circumstances which were and have remained controversial. Many members of the (still relatively small) haute-bourgoisie class able to afford such a car were simply more comfortable buying from a private manufacturer, especially after the Peugeot 403 was added to the Frégate's competitors. At the end of the decade Charles de Gaulle returned to power as president in 1958, and he was an unapologetically partisan fan of the Citroën DS, as newsreels of the period attest. Only a single long wheel base "presidential special" Renault Frégate exists.
Under an agreement with American Motors Corporation (AMC) beginning in 1962, Renault began selling the Rambler Classic as the Renault Rambler Classic as a replacement for the Frégate. The Rambler Classics were assembled from CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits in Renault's factory in Haren, Belgium and the executive class cars were marketed in Algeria, Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
Ironically, Pierre Lefaucheux, who had succeeded Louis Renault after his arrest and subsequent death, to become director of the now nationalized Regie Renault — died in a car accident near Saint-Dizier when he lost control of his Renault Frégate on an icy road and was struck on the head by his own unsecured brief case as the car rolled over. By then he had also overseen most of the development of the Renault Dauphine, which would be presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1956.