Renault 5 and Fiat 127
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Renault 5 and Fiat/SEAT 127, united by the tragic end of their creators

They are two of the most emblematic cars of the 70s and 80s, rivals and automotive icons that, however, saw their creators lose their lives too soon. One of them did not even get to know his work.

They were born almost at the same time and competed in the market for more than a decade. He Fiat 127 He arrived a year earlier, in 1971, but he shared a philosophy with his rival the Renault 5. Both followed in the wake of the Mini by Alec Issigonis, with front engine and traction, in short, the mechanical distribution that would define the future.

Fiat 127
The Fiat 127 hit the market in 1971, a year before its rival.

Always more aggressive in terms of design, Renault introduced two innovations rarely seen in the segment until then. Firstly, the plastic bumpers, a revolution that was "copied" by the rest of the manufacturers in the following years. In addition, he added a tailgate, something that the diamond brand had already done in the R4, R16 o R6, but which was still a complete rarity at the time.

In fact, Fiat had launched the 127 with a lid in the trunk, since the glass was fixed. Shortly after, he corrected the "mistake", because, in April 1972, he launched the three-door, already with a tailgate. In fact, in Spain, SEAT presented the 127 with two doors in April of that 1972 and that of three without the end of the year.

Both exceeded 5 million units produced. The Italian model dispatched 5,1 million cars, to which should be added another million (1,2 specifically) that SEAT sold, being the first model of the brand to exceed this figure. Zastava also marketed another 800.000 Yugo based on the 127. For its part, its French rival put 5,7 million cars on the market.

This is not intended to be an article on the history of the Renault 5 and the Fiat/SEAT 127, so we will close the introduction talking about the fame and legacy of one and the other. Over time, the R5 has become a more iconic and remembered model. There are two fundamental reasons, the first of which must be sought in the races. Today it doesn't happen so much anymore, but, then, the great presence and success in competition for the Renault 5 and developments such as the spectacular Turbo, made the difference. The 127 had a much smaller sporting career.

Renault 5
The Renault 5 was presented on January 5, 1971.

In addition, the 127 had a less extensive range and its sports versions are not as well remembered. Finally, while Renault continued to some extent with the successor and legacy of the R5, keeping even the name, the arrival of the magnificent Fiat Uno, It was a total break with the 127.

THEIR CREATORS

Unfortunately, the trajectories of our two protagonists also converge at another point. We refer to the tragic end that its two creators lived, Pio Manzù, to whom we owe the shapes of the Fiat 127, and Michel Boué, the father of the Renault 5. None of them came to see the enormous success that their creatures became.

Known internally as X 1/4 during its development, the shapes of the Fiat 127 are the almost exclusive work of Piu Manzú. The son of the famous Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzù, Piu was born in Bergamo on March 2, 1939. After finishing his studies in Milan in 1960, he moved to Ulm, Germany, where He studied Industrial Design at the Superior School of Design.

Pio Manzu
Pio Manzù stood out from a very young age as a designer.

He was a precocious talent and, together with a group of designers, he founded Autonova, from which he made several prototypes, drawing the attention of the almighty Fiat. The Autonova Fam minivan was very liked by Dante Giacosa, technical director at Fiat, beginning a collaboration with the Italian brand that would result in the City Taxi prototypes or the Autobianchi Coupé.

The case of the creator of the R5, his biography is much less known, and there is hardly any published data about him. He was born in Paris on May 26, 1932 into an ordinary family. and with the full name of Michel Florimond Marié Boué. His father, René Joseph Marie Boué, received a state pension and his mother, Jeannette Marie Odette, was a housewife. Later, he would marry Françoise Thérèse Marie-Louisse Dattin.

michel boue
Michel Boué working on a model of the R5.

THE DESIGNS OF THE FIAT 127 AND THE RENAULT 5

It was Dante Giacosa and Paolo Bonao who decided to entrust the design of the future 127 to Pio Manzù. It was a logical choice, for this he was in love with simple and functional designs, who fled from any costly complication. His jobs - inside and outside the automotive industry - were extremely simple and he took this interest to the extreme.

During the X 1/4 project, he progressively refined the model drawings until he came up with an almost final design. He had the collaboration of the Fiat staff and its modelers on his way to the 127, which had shapes that were as clean as they were attractive. Of course, he didn't need any complex lines to look fantastic. With the first complete model, it was decided that it would be presented to the Fiat presidential committee on May 26, 1969 at 8 in the morning. As we will see later, Pio Manzù would not make it to that appointment.

Fiat 127
The clean lines of the 127 are part of its appeal.

The process of birth of the Renault 5 was somewhat peculiar, because Michel Boué drew it on a photo of an R4 in his spare time in May 1968. His superiors quickly saw the potential of those drawings and, just a few days later, the first model was formed in foam. The management of the Régie did not doubt that they had in their hands an ideal product to compete in the category inaugurated by the Mini a few years earlier.

Known within Renault as Project 122, the future R5 had elements such as only two doors, in a market like the French that always preferred four (see the 2CV, the 4/4, the R4…). The planning manager, Bernard Hanon, He considered that this way he would not cannibalize the rest of the range and that it was also more sporty. Another complex element were the plastic bumpers, the use of which ended up popularizing the R5. These resisted small blows better and gave the car a more modern look.

renault 5 sketch
A Boué sketch for the Renault 5 dated 1967.

The Renault 5 was presented on January 5, 1972 and, contrary to what has been said in the last half century, Michel Boué was there to see the birth of his baby.

UNITED IN THEIR FATAL DESTINY

As we have already anticipated, the 127 was going to be presented to the Fiat presidential committee for approval. Pio Manzu he had visited his father in Rome the day before, after which he spent the night at the family home in Bergamo. He resumed his journey early in the morning, but, for reasons unknown, lost control of his small Fiat 500 on the Milan-Turin highway and went off the road. Sadly, he passed away in the accident.

After his death, the event was canceled and the Fiat 127 was parked for a while in the place where the presentation was to be held. Logically, the project could not be cancelled, so it was resumed after a while. Since Giacosa and Boano were delighted with Manzú's design, it was barely touched. Only the hood was lowered a bit, despite the opposition of Boano, who did not want to change the original work.

Pio Manzu
The designer of the 127 would pass away at the age of 30.

The case of michel boue it wasn't that dramatic. Until now, it was thought that he had died in December 1971, so he would not have seen the arrival of his work on the market. An investigation of Design Car Archives has shown that, actually, he died just a year later, when the Renault 5 had already been on the market for several months.

Boué's own widow confirmed that her husband died of sudden cancer on December 25, 1972. In his last months of life and already very ill, Michel Boué was worried about seeing so few R5s on the street and I was afraid that the car would end up being a commercial failurehe. He saw his child born, but in a way, he didn't live long enough to see the phenomenal success he became.

michel boue
Michel Boué working on the design of the R5. He died at the age of 40.

EPILOGUE

Thus, the Renault 5 and the Fiat 127 (and with it our SEAT 127) were not only two very tough competitors in their time, but they are also united by tragedy. All in all, surely its creators would be more than satisfied to see that their cars have a very prominent place in automotive history.

Photographs from Fiat, Renault and Wikipedia.

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Written by Ivan Vicario Martin

I am lucky to have turned my passion into my way of earning a living. Since I left the Faculty of Information Sciences in 2004, I have been professionally dedicated to motor journalism. I started in the magazine Coches Clásicos in its beginnings, going on to direct it in 2012, the year in which I also took charge of Clásicos Populares. Throughout these almost two decades of my professional career, I have worked in all types of media, including magazines, radio, the web and television, always in formats and programs related to the engine. I am crazy about the classics, Formula 1 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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