Renault and Chrysler: The untold story of the origin of the minivan modern


Announcement of the then revolutionary Dodge Caravan, the first version of the Chrysler Voyager.

The interminable debate, Renault Espace or Dodge Caravan (Chrysler Voyager), what was the first real MPV modern?. What is certain is that officially both were released almost simultaneously, the first copy of the american model came out of the factory in November 1983 and the first unit of the French model came out of the factory of Matra in the spring of 1984, but that date only tells us what came first to the market.

so that we can get to deception, as any of the brands could have spent more time in development, or have delayed its launch, the question that is really important is who came first?.

The answer to that question is the most interesting and unknown part of the history of these models, since the original responsibility of the same it must not be neither Chrysler or Renault, but Ford and Peugeot, precisely your rivals. That had to attend as spectators to the huge success of the projects that had been rejected above.


Renault Espace mk1, the first MPV sold in Europe.

In the first place, we must clearly define the term minivan, since for many a panel van Volkswagen Kombi classic already fulfilled that role many years before. True, but who fulfilled that role does not mean that it was. The Kombi was and is a van, not a tourist, and therefore, the differences of frame and construction are clear and obvious.

The term minivan was coined in the market in the 80’s to define those cars body high, great ability, and above all, those whose profile was composed by a single master volume. Being able to be drawn in a single stroke. Volkswagen has always had rivals for these, but they were still vans adapted for passengers.

The history of both of these models dates back really to the decade of the seventies. In the case of the american, this was a project called Maxivan who was born in Ford in 1974, but was rejected by the company. A few years later, the employees involved in the project, Lee Iacocca and Harold Sperlich, he stopped at Chrysler, where they put into practice the original idea, starting with the development of the project T115 in 1977 that came on the market in the form of the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, helping to rescue the then-ailing Corporation Chrysler.


Prototype P18 with elements Peugeot..

in Parallel, although in a way more far-fetched, in England was brewing a similar project, but not on Renault or Matra, but in the facilities of Chrysler UK. Chrysler had purchased the Rootes Group in the United Kingdom, Simca in France and the Group Barreiros in Spain, merging at the end of the sixties, to form Chrysler Europe, which it marketed different brands on the old continent.

this project joined Matra, which at that time was a member of the Simca, and the original intention was to marketed under the brand Talbot, signature disappeared in the fifties and owned by the Rootes Group. During the development of the project, the PSA group acquired Chrysler UK and Simca, in addition to the rights to the brand Talbot. so the project continued under the umbrella of PSA and were passed to create prototypes with elements Peugeot in substitution of the created with pieces from Simca.

we don’t know exactly when, but at a given time PSA did not welcome the project and deleted it, cediĆ©ndolo to Matra. The small French company, which until that time only manufactured weapons and sporting niche offered the project to Renault, and the rest of the story as we know it.


One of the prototypes final developed before that happen to Renault.

Matra was responsible for the manufacture of the first 3 generations of the Espace in your factory, until 2002, and was also Matra the responsible of the fiberglass body original, given his experience with this material in their sport and in competition.

, was Matra in charge of the manufacture of the Espace F1. A functional prototype will be created from the Espace and the engine of Formula 1 champion employing the unbeatable Williams-Renault of the beginning of the decade of the nineties.

At the beginning of the TWENTY-first century, Renault moved production of the Espace in its own factories and Matra was commissioned to manufacture the critically acclaimed but reviled in the dealers Avantime. A minivan, sport loved around the world, but they did not buy anyone, which forced to close the factory of Matra, or at least your division automotive industries, as the company was composed of multiple divisions, the divisions of aerospace and weapons part of the conglomerate EADS, and even the company manufactures bicycles and scooters under the brand Matra.


Renault Espace F1 engine Renault Formula 1.

Although we are still without answer. we don’t really know who came up first with the idea. If someone knows, we will be happy to hear it. For the moment, at least, we already know that the true origin of the models is more extensive than what their manufacturers spent decades proclaiming.