When people talk about classic cars, the typical images evoked are of splendor and style, chrome, speed and sleek design.
We rarely think fondly of the soccer mom van, the family sedan, or the homogeneous hatchback still being made in the factories of China, India or Brazil.
Automotive dreamscapes rarely consist of cracked plastic dashboards and PVC seats, or the lawnmower roar of four cylinders barely outpacing pedestrians, or a feeling of dread at the sight of a looming incline.
Yet these designs have survived the harshest critical gauntlet of all: time. These cars are the cutting edge of longevity. While a few are still being produced under an entirely different badge, these models are the real international classics.
17. Renault Clio
The history of Renault stretches back to the 19th century, beginning in France in 1899 as the brainchild of three brothers. The name was primarily developed as a racing brand, when car makers would race their offerings from town to town at breakneck speeds not much faster than jogging. This served to demonstrate the lusty power of the first 24 hp Renault engine, and the brothers would take orders from spectators at the finish line.
Despite the lack of speed, Marcel Renault actually managed to get himself killed in a wreck in 1903, which gruesomely increased the reputation of the brand in an era when being overtaken by pedestrians was a serious possibility.
Renault were in the doldrums in the eighties. After being nationalized in an attempt to stem the hemorrhaging of a billion Francs a month, the new government-appointed chairman, Georges Besse, was assassinated by the communist terrorist group Action Directe, for laying off 21,000 workers as part of his downsizing plan to turn Renault into a profitable enterprise.
Unperturbed, the French government installed a new (and probably quite nervous) figurehead in Raymond Lévy, who, nervous or not, continued to trim down the company until it was finally financially stable. The introduction of the Renault Clio in 1990 turned things in the other direction for Renault; so much so by 1996 it was decided to privatize once more to promote the growth this successful model required.
The Clio was voted European Car of the Year in 1991 and 2006, one of only two cars to achieve the award twice: the other being the Volkswagen Golf. It’s currently on its fourth generation. Renault also added a trunk to the hatchback to the Clio II in 1999 and called it the Renault Clio Symbol (or Thalia in a few markets), and aimed at developing countries where sedans are usually preferred over hatchbacks: predominantly Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Gulf States.