Today marks the first of Alan Bradley's TWO submissions, with the car for tomorrow something that will make all of you German roadster enthusiasts 'squee' with glee, or…the opposite.
I should also mention he owns a VehiCROSS. In the UK. Boom.
Follow him on Twitter: @ufarrochil
In the 1990s, the changes in organizational structure pushed though Renault with the hiring of French-born, British-educated Design Chief Patrick Le Quément meant that design was king—Le Quément reported directly to the then-chairman Raymond Levy.
Such a structure meant that, whilst Citroën was being strangled of innovation within the PSA Group, Renault became the “Frenchest” of the French auto manufacturers with a range of innovative road and concept cars.
The 1992 Renault Zoom was a concept car radical enough to make even the then-new Twingo (they were both launched at the Paris Motor Show that year) seem fairly pedestrian. Ostensibly, the Zoom was a two-seat electric city car that, according to the press photos, could carry two silver-suited ladies from the future in funky, futuristic fashion.
Oh yes, and it folded.
Designed in a time when what would become the smart fortwo was still being developed by Volkswagen and Swiss watchmaker Swatch—and was 6 years away from launch—the Zoom was 2.65m long when in “driving mode” but folded to 2.1m so it could park perpendicular to the kerb or “two-up” in a normal European parking space.
The longer wheelbase meant that the driving dynamics would be similar to those of a larger hatchback but without any loss of in-town practicality.
It’s worth noting that the extra length had to go somewhere, so the car was 23cm taller when the wheels were retracted. To make getting in and out easy in tight spaces, the Zoom had concept-spec, beetle-wing doors that rotated upwards to reveal the entire side of the cabin dominated by a patterned mauve, pink and turquoise bench seat best-described as “of its time.”
The cabin also included the futuristic luxuries of satellite navigation and a built-in hands-free telephone.
The car itself was developed in association with long-term Renault supplier and sub-contractor Matra, who at the time were building the Espace and would go on to built the Avantime as well, so the bodywork was plastic. The entire car weighed only 800kg, allowing the 25kW electric motor (which was reported to be “90% recyclable”—I imagine that’s the copper content!) to propel the Zoom a maximum range of 145 km (90 miles) and to a top speed of 121 km/h (75 mph) with power from its nickel-cadmium batteries.
Giles Chapman’s, “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Automobiles” declares that only one car was built, however there are more recent photographs of both a metallic pink example in the Musée Matra as well as the blue and grey one used in press photographs. Personally, I’ve seen the (a?) blue/grey one on display at the Futuroscope in the early to mid 90s so I deduce from that that there must have been at least two examples built.
Overshadowed by the production Twingo, the direct impact of the Zoom has been quite small, with the “always short” Smart dominating the two-seat city car market in Europe, although Renault are starting to make a little ground in that market with the looks-like-a-concept Twizy.
That said, varying-geometry cars are still with us: the “MIT Car” concept seems to have spawned the Basque-built Hiriko CityCar in limited numbers, and with Toyota showing further development if the iRoad and FV2 concepts enter production then you may soon be able to drive your very own shrinking car.