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Renault R15 and R17. 50th anniversary of R12-derived coupes

Two years after the launch of the R12, Renault introduced the coupe versions of it. One with a large glass surface intended for a family audience -the R15- and another with sporting airs that even had a competition version in the Group V -the R17-. Two models that represented a stylistic leap in the rhombus brand, which turn half a century in 2021.

During its first two decades, the World Rally Championship was dominated by Italians. And it is that, between 1973 and 1992 we find thirteen titles of constructors obtained by FIAT and Lancia. The first with the 131 Abarth, and the second with its Stratos HF, 037 and Delta in four different evolutions. A success that could only be interrupted by the awakening of the Japanese. Who with Toyota, Subaru and Mitsubishi established a parenthesis until the arrival of the eleven titles achieved by the French Peugeot and Citroën. However, the truth is that the first edition in 1973 was won by Renault with the Alpine A110.

Something that made an important contrast with its range of passenger cars, which was dominated by practical and familiar vehicles with few sports evolutions. In fact, even the designs were somewhat outdated by the start of a futuristic decade heralded from the late sixties. By ello, Renault wanted to do something to give the R12 a new touch. Its most international mid-size saloon, which has been sold successfully for 27 years from Australia to Colombia via the United States. Country where he even had a electric version.

A global character with millions of units sold based on its reputation as a robust and resistant car. The best quality of this model, which nevertheless needed a derivative with which to conquer somewhat more carefree market segments. For this reason, in 1971, Renault presented two coupes derived from its flagship saloon: the R15 and R17. Both with a sporty touch and a more modern look, perfect to win the favor of a middle class that no longer only asked for practicality and robustness, but also originality and performance.


Launched two years after the R12, the R15 and R17 not only represent a leap forward with respect to the lines that have dominated the brand so far, but also the fruit of a good market study. A study that observed how among the wide segment of the public demanding the sober R12 and R16 there were certain niches where they could reach thanks to a more sporty touch. Or rather, touches. Since the even launch of both models is not a simple coincidence. And it is that, while the R15 was prepared to win the favor of the families, the R17 would take care of the young public.

As proof we only need a simple glance. With its large windows and ample cargo space thanks to its station wagon rear, the R15 is a three-door family appeal. Ideal for someone who, even with children, is still looking for a certain sportiness and design. A formula rarely seen today, but which in the seventies explored models such as our protagonist or the Lancia Beta HPE 1975. On the other hand, With its most striking line, the R17 is thinking to show off in a market where having a sports coupe takes precedence over day-to-day practicality..

Something that is not only underlined by the double round headlights or a rear that reminds of an American fastback, but also with the possibility of mounting a folding canvas roof. An open-air version that is the most daring that came out of Renault itself, since the convertibles that are usually seen in the second-hand market are private preparations. The demonstration that the R17 was a car thinking for those who were looking for a certain distinction, which was renewed when in 1980 the Renault Fuego replaced these two models repeating the formula of creating a 2 + 2 on the basis of a saloon. This time from the R18.


Regarding the engines of the R15 and R17, these were always based on a four-cylinder in-line engine block with eight valves. A very robust device, powered by double carburetion or injection depending on the version. Something in which there was a certain variety in both potencies and finishes. Regarding the R15, it was offered in three finishes. The same in their 60CV engine, the TL and GTL only changed in regard to certain equipment details. But nevertheless, the TS version had the displacement up to 1565cc. Achieving 90CV for an engine that was the top of the range in the R15 and the basic in the R17.

And it is that, designed to contain greater benefits than its family brother, the R17 started from those 90CV in the TL version to go up to 108 of the TS. Model that, from 1975, received the nickname of Gordini to highlight its belonging to the Renault sports family. Of course, the TS did not really disappear since when the Gordini appeared, its acronyms were kept to be applied to a new 1647cc mechanic-forty-two more than the TS MKI / Gordini- with 98CV. Ten below the Gordini, which achieved a peak of 180 km / h with a five-speed manual transmission and a weight of 1080 kilos.

The perfect base for Renault to create the R17 Group V. An interesting rally version for which up to fourteen units were made, lightened thanks to the intensive use of aluminum. An attempt to continue racing after the success of the Alpine in 1973, which achieved some interesting victories in the middle of the decade. However, more interesting than its record is the fact that it is still a derivative of the R12. Proof that this model has not only been a pinnacle of reliability for Renault, but also one of its most versatile vehicles. And if you need more arguments, you just have to remind the R12 Break 4 × 4 Sinpar.

Photographs: Renault Classic

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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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