By on December 14, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride is one of those that’s always been on the to-do list, but never floated to top of mind. That changed the other day, when this very tidy example was posted on Twitter.

Let’s talk about Privilege.

The Avantime was without predecessor at Renault, or really anywhere across the entire automotive landscape. This all-new type of car was part shooting brake, part van, part hardtop coupe, and part luxury greenhouse. The idea came not from Renault, but from the director of Matra, Philippe Guédon. He thought the descendants of Renault Espace owners (another Matra build) still felt a kinship to the modern, minivan incarnation of the family wagon. And as a result, younger buyers wanted and deserved a grand touring van-coupe. Given Matra was a longtime business partner with Renault, Mr. Guédon took his idea over there. Renault brass said “Let’s do it!” and Avantime was underway.

The project manager at Renault wanted the Avantime’s design to astound from every angle and pulled Patrick Le Quément to pen its shape. Innovative angles formed into an overall one-box design that lacked a b-pillar. For strength and lightness, Avantime’s structure and panels were made of aluminum. Special strengthened glass reflected heat and protected all four passengers inside the sumptuous luxury car interior filled with Bridge of Weir leather. In pleasant conditions, the glass roof and side windows retracted and allowed the desired open-air hardtop coupe van experience. Renault created a unique door hinge system for the Avantime: A double parallel setup which they called double kinematic. The hinges meant the large coupe doors opened wider for passengers to enter the car, but made a smaller horizontal motion. Useful in crowded parking lots.

Avantime shared components and a platform with the more down-to-earth Espace van, a suitable basis for the exciting new car. Power plants were borrowed from Espace as well and included 2.0- and 3.0-liter gasoline engines, and a 2.2-liter diesel. Transmissions were of five speeds if automatic, or six speeds if manual.

2002 Renault Avantime, Image: RenaultProject complete, Renault debuted Avantime at the Louvre in February 1999, where it had its own press conference. The Avantime (called Coupéspace at auto shows) went into production two years later and was built with pride by Matra. Renault introduced another luxury car at the same time in the more traditional Vel Satis, which unfortunately competed with the Avantime for sales. Time proved that customers chose neither Avantime nor Vel Satis, and went to other brands for their luxury coupe and sedan needs. As a result, in its debut year in 2001, Renault shifted just 772 Avantimes. Slow sales continued in 2002 and 2003, at which point Matra went bankrupt after hemorrhaging far too many Avantime-related Euros. Rather than move production to a Renault facility, Renault decided it was easiest to drop the Avantime. Just 8,083 examples were produced before the very unique van slipped from consumer memory, taking with it Matra’s 40-year car building legacy.

Today’s Avantime is in top-spec Privilege trim. It has a V6 engine, manual transmission, and a black leather interior with seats that look fairly Volvo-esque. Yours for $12,000, but it’s only importable by a Canadian at the moment.

[Images: seller; Renault]

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