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Project H. The «joint venture» between Peugeot and Renault for the high-end range

In 1968 the commercial borders were opened between the six founding partners of the European Economic Community. An elimination of customs fees that liberalized trade, sowing concern among French manufacturers that still did not have a saloon capable of facing the German ones beyond the Citroën DS. A situation in which Peugeot and Renault joined forces to design an innovative model equipped with new mechanics. That was called Project H.

If we talk about the Renault H, the most recurrent thing is to think about the range of engines with low displacement and turbocharger available in the Dacia Sandero, Renault Captur or Megane IV. However, for followers of French industrial history this name may sound like a prototype. Yes indeed, shared in its development with Peugeot. Responsible with Renault for the conception of this saloon. Strange and complex even for the most knowledgeable when it comes to the trajectory of both brands. And is not for less. After all, removing a few photographs in the XNUMXs press, Project H has only been seen in the Renault Classic space during the 2020 Retromobile.

A piece as unknown as it is significant, since it has the quality of witnessing one of the key processes in European automotive history. In that sense, the first thing we have to do is focus on 1968. Key year in which Europe convulsed on both sides of the Iron Curtain. With young people in Paris barricading and Soviet tanks about to suppress the mobilizations in Prague. One of those years in which events happen quickly, marking the transition between one era or another. However, despite this, the truth is that 1968 produced a gloomy balance.

Liberation in the East was crushed by the Kremlin's realpolitik and Western students discovered that the beach sand was not hidden under the cobblestones. A cluster of broken illusions and broken flags among which stands out a day as crucial as it is influential in our current day to day life. On July 1, 1968. Moment in which customs duties were eliminated between the six countries of the European Economic Community. In this way, the national automobile industries could no longer avail themselves of protectionism against foreign competition. Something especially problematic for French manufacturers, who were swept away by Mercedes and BMW in the field of high and medium ranges.

renault h

For this reason, as early as 1966, Peugeot and Renault had signed a collaboration agreement, joining forces to develop common models. An "joint venture" between the brand of the lion -private and in low hours- and that of the rhombus -completely state-owned and with new engineering needs-. Projects like the M121 came out of it. Common trunk of the Peugeot 104 and Renault 14 utility vehicles. But especially a prototype that never saw series production despite having the DS and the German saloons in the sights. The H.

renault h

PEUGEOT / RENAULT PROJECT H. ASSAULT ON THE UPPER SEGMENT

After World War II, economic growth was so expansive that not only the urban middle classes but also a growing upper class settled. In this way, car brands created utility vehicles such as the FIAT 500 and compact cars such as the Renault R16. But also large saloons like the Citroën DS. One of the best technological showcases in France. Even more so if we take into account that it hardly found competition within the national market. And it is that, after all, Peugeot did not make high-end vehicles since it launched the 1934 in 601.

A drought shared by Renault, which offered the R16 and R12 as the top of the range in the sixties. Two very effective models in their respective market niches, although obviously very far from the saloons with the class and level of the Mercedes W110. Main enemy to beat in the field of sedans, especially for a French market where the only alternative was the DS. A reference vehicle, but one that has already been on the market since 1955. In this context, the pact between Renault and Peugeot contemplated the need to create a top of the range which, according to the plans, would be sold by both companies with different touch-ups in each of the brands.

Regarding the design, it was divided into two large areas. On the one hand, the bodywork would be the responsibility of Renault, while on the other, the mechanics would be the responsibility of Peugeot. For the first, Renault opted for a few classic lines that prioritized the interior space and the brightness of the cabin. What's more, the tailgate drop away from the typical three-volume way dominant in saloons to appear with a fifth door of a long and smooth drop. Very interesting and daring. Although less charming than the determined futurism of the DS or the canonical classicism of the W110.

Doubts that reached those responsible for Peugeot. Those in a collaborative environment covered their backs by secretly commissioning an alternative design from Pininfarina. Work that was entrusted to Aldo Brovarone. Which, far from its usual muscular forms of the sixties, opted for a rectilinear design that inspired the 604 of 1975. First high-end saloon in the lion's house in forty years. However, among this and the three static models provided by the designers of the house of the diamond, the design of the unit preserved by Renault Classic was the one that was closest to reaching series.

renault h
Prototype proposed by Peugeot

A MECHANIC THAT PROMISED

Regarding the mechanics, Peugeot opted for a new V8 with 3 liters and a horsepower that was not determined. Among other things because before the end of the development phase the project was abandoned due to commercial calculations. A death sentence that left the Project H mechanic half finished, depriving us of seeing how its rear axle would propel this saloon whose engine was expected to be placed in the forward position. Of course, at the beginning of the seventies the idea of ​​creating a benchmark engine between both brands was still valid. Which is why they partnered with Volvo to make the V6 PRV.

A most successful and robust device, which - as a fun fact - became the heart of the DeLorean. But why was Project H abandoned? After all, the "joint venture" Peugeot and Renault expected to make 150 to 200 units a day. Too rosy a prognosis. Stopped by the realistic vision of some executives who did not see credible placing such a quantity of sales even adding the national market with exports. Therefore, it was decided to stop Project H before going any further. Focusing energies on compact models and the shared development of mechanical elements.

A sad ending for what could have been the French saloon successor to the DS. Something for which he really had a chance, even counting on a oleo-pneumatic suspension system on the rear axle. Innovation designed by and for comfort. In the same direction as the two-zone climate control or the adjustable seats in the rear seats. Just some of the reasons why this joint venture between Peugeot and Renault would have been worth seeing go to series. Although of course, in the automotive industry everything has to be subject to profitability. At the end of the day, we must never lose the perspective that when we talk about cars we talk about economics.

Photographs: Renault Classic / Unai Ona

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Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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