Espace I (1984–1991)
Pre facelift Renault Espace diesel
The Espace's design was originally conceived in the 1970s by the British designer Fergus Pollock, who was working for Chrysler UK, at its design centre at Whitley in Coventry. Later, Matra, which was affiliated with Simca, the then French subsidiary of Chrysler, was 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, which phased out Simca within a decade because of falling sales. PSA decided the Espace was too expensive and too risky a design to put into production, so it was given to Matra, which took the idea to Renault.
The Matra concept became the Renault Espace. The design featured a fibreglass body mounted on a warm-galvanised steel chassis, using the same technique and assembly line at the factory as the Talbot Matra Murena. 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 eventually launched by Renault in July 1984. After a slow start, a mere nine Espaces were sold in the first month, consumers realised the benefits of the MPV concept and the Espace became popular. It was sold in the United Kingdom from August 1985. In October 1984 the turbodiesel versions Turbo D and Turbo DX arrived. To accommodate the diesel engine, these have a protruding grille and a correspondingly larger front bumper.
Phase I turbodiesel, showing the larger front grille
In 1984, American Motors Corporation (AMC) announced it would begin to market the front wheel drive Espace in the United States. The minivan was exhibited to consumers at the 1985 Chicago Auto Show, but AMC's negotiations with Matra continued over the vehicle's import pricing. Plans for the Espace to be launched in the U.S. ended with the purchase of AMC by Chrysler.
In 2004, BBC's motoring show Top Gear set up a race between two Espaces, a Toyota Previa, a Toyota MasterAce, a Mitsubishi Space Wagon, and a Nissan Serena. The Espaces came first and second.
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.
Along with the changes in design, a four-wheel drive version called Quadra was also introduced.
Brazilian Ford Concessionaire Grancar, in cooperation with Toni Bianco, developed a faithful copy of the original Espace in Brazil in 1990. Called the Grancar Futura, it was powered by four-cylinder engines (AP1800/AP2000) from Ford/Volkswagen's local lineup, while using the dashboard from the Ford Del Rey and the Escort's fuel tank. With Renault upset about intellectual property infringement and market liberalization undercutting the car's raison d'être, the Futura came to an end in late 1991 after 159 cars had been built.