Sunday, 25 Jul, 2021

Check out this soccer mom’s minivan that became the F1 car

The French word “espace” means “space” and is used twice as in English. It refers to a physical or hypothetical area, but it also means space: the..


Check out this soccer mom's minivan that became the F1 car

The French word “espace” means “space” and is used twice as in English. It refers to a physical or hypothetical area, but it also means space: the void outside our atmosphere that the ambition of French automaker Renault reached when it developed the Espace F1.

Not unknown with innovation and creative engineering, the car manufacturer from Europe had already given the automotive world the Turbo 5, the Alpine cars from the A310, various Renault Sport Meganes and of course the Sport Spider, to name just a few. The Espace F1 fell into this category due to its crazy design.

A minivan turned up to eleven

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The MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) was introduced in 1995 as a concept to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the large family car Espace and to promote Renault’s involvement in Formula 1. This is an interesting concept in and of itself as it would be impossible to build a car to celebrate both motorsport and an MPV unless you had created some kind of Frankenstein machine. That is exactly what was done, the only logical combination (if you could call it that) was the chassis of an F1 car under the shell of a car that you would normally use and abuse; Children, hauling furniture and shopping. The F1 car that the engine and more came from was the FW14.

The thing is, although the rolled up car looked vaguely like the original, the bodywork was just a heavily modified version that resembled the namesake in appearance. It looked like a monster – it was one – with a lowered stance, unique racing bikes, wide body, and flared arches and sides, not to mention the aggressive gaping mouth in the front and large wing in the back.

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An engine sent by the gods

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This large grand piano wasn’t there for aesthetic reasons either. It was important for stability when the car hit its top speed of 195 mph, which it would do after passing 60 mph in about 3 seconds. Remember, in the mid-1990s these characters were up there with the best, this Ferrari was fast and only the McLaren F1 would have left this minivan on a trip to the mall.

The engine responsible for this type of performance in a large, edgy, and aerodynamically challenged car was actually an F1 engine. The 3.5-liter V10 unit was thrown into the center of the car, not under the hood at the front. It was between the two rear passenger seats where you would normally leave your coffee in the drive-through after you picked it up. Sometimes you have cars with F1-inspired engines or technology, but this time the engine was unchanged. It was bolted in its normal racing condition, except that the power was increased to 800 hp over the Formula 1 specification. Torque was around 550 lbs.ft. Other parts of his racing sibling made it into the minivan as well, including the transmission that put all of the horses on the rear wheels.

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A near-saver for the minivan

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The minivan is colloquially known in the UK as the “Volkstransporter” which suggests its general use, it is a box that you can load several people in for transportation. For larger families or people who need more space, these vans were ideal, but rarely desirable. Most of the time, the humble minivan was rated for practicality and never for its dynamic capabilities or cool factor.

For those who wanted to lean on something for all tasks related to passenger transport and the family, but did not want to die of boredom at the wheel, there was a solution in Europe called the Opel Zafira VXR from 2005. In Canada and North America this would be called a compact minivan, but it had enough space for the driver and up to 6 additional superstructures. It was manufactured by the German brand Opel and also marketed in the UK under the Vauxhall brand. Although it was in no way equipped with an F1 engine or state-of-the-art racing design, it was a family car running at 145 mph and 7 seconds to 60 mph. A turbocharged 2-liter gasoline engine used the power under its short and steep bonnet.

Back to the Future

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Unfortunately, the legend of the minivan is slowly fading in the chunky shadow of the SUV – an evolution of the 4×4 with space to match its on-road and off-road capabilities. The MPV was capable if you didn’t venture too far off the beaten path, but considering the image, the buyer audience would be seen in a sporty crossover rather than a small van. Renault – and also Opel, by the way – was on the trail 25 years ago.

The Honda Odyssey might be reasonably desirable when you need space, thanks to the styling efforts that hide its shape with curves and kinks and those big wheels. But there are a lot less cool minivans than cool SUVs. Given that minivans are generally more spacious than their equivalent SUV, it makes sense to redesign the family van for people looking for space and image and not necessarily off-road, but likely taking a lot of IKEA folding boxes home with them and leave room for the dog.

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About the author

David O’Callaghan
(18 articles published)

Dave is from the UK, home of MG and Aston Martin, and is no stranger to sports cars. Or a little rain. When he’s not busy with his job or writing songs and pretending to be a musician; Dave indulges his obsession with cars by diligently writing and researching so he can make other people aware of the dark side and convert them.

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