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Our 25-year love affair with Renault Clio... and Nicole and Papa

19:40 21 February 2016

Nicole jumps for joy with a facelifted Phase 2 of the original Renault Clio.

Nicole jumps for joy with a facelifted Phase 2 of the original Renault Clio.

Renault

It’s 25 years since we first fell in love with the Renault Clio and Nicole and Papa. Motoring editor Andy Russell was so smitten at its UK launch he bought one.

Jittery first date but I was sold on Clio’s charm

I nearly didn’t keep my first date with the Clio when it was first launched in the UK.

The launch was in Wiltshire and involved motoring journalists collecting the new Clios from a car park near Heathrow Airport. It was at this time of year but in 1991, East Anglia had severe snowfall. I set off with a colleague and twice we came close to turning back in the appalling conditions. Eventually we reached Heathrow, got in a Clio and... the sun came out.

By the time we were clear of the capital, the snow had disappeared and the sun was beaming out of a blue sky like a glorious spring day.

It sold me on the charms of the Clio and I knew I had to have one. And a bonnet with hinges at the front, so it was forward opening, was a novelty if a little awkward to get to the engine.

The following year Renault added a 1.9-litre diesel engine, alongside the 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol units, and I duly bought a range-topping diesel RT – K187 PBK – in silver. At that time it was truly loaded with standard kit including a tilt/slide sunroof, electric front windows, front fog lamps and Renault’s fingertip remote control stalk on the steering column for the radio cassette player.

We ran it for around five years, until our two young sons outgrew the space in the back, but I still remember if fondly as, at the time, it led the way for small cars getting bigger – a true supermini.

The Renault Clio, one of Britain’s best-loved cars and one of the most iconic small cars ever made, is about to celebrate the 25th anniverary of an Anglo-French love affair.

Throughout its illustrious career, spanning a quarter of a century, Clio has become one of the highest-selling superminis of all time, notching up more than 12 million sales worldwide in more than 100 countries, including well over a million in the UK alone in a 25-year Anglo-French love affair.

The original Clio launched in the UK in 1991 – also winning European Car of the Year for 1991. The second-generation Clio arrived in 1998 and the third generation in 2005 – the following year it again won European Car of the year, the first model to win twice. The current, fourth-generation range was launched in 2012.

With sales success through four generations, the trend-setting French model continues to blur the traditional supermini boundaries by appealing to every type of buyer, young and old, through its wide range of versions and body styles – from first-time drivers to performance enthusiasts with potent Renaultsport models, Clio has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.

It would be impossible to chart Clio’s success without recalling its award-winning TV ads, some regarded as the most memorable and successful car advertising campaigns ever.

The Nicole and Papa story, played by Estelle Skornik and Max Douchin, began on April 1, 1991 to coincide with the UK Clio launch.

Over seven years and eight episodes, the father and daughter stole British hearts with their alluring French charm as they dashed around Paris, Provence and the Alps in their Clios. The series culminated in the final 1998 ad one Friday night with 23 million Brits glued to their sets for the cliff-hanger wedding of Nicole to comedian Vic Reeves, only to have her ‘elope’ with Bob Mortimer, the other half of the Reeves and Mortimer double act.

At the time, the ad attracted six million viewers more than Coronation Street. According to the independent Car Advertising Research Study by Sofres Automotive, the Nicole and Papa saga was the most successful car advertisement ever.

Fears that Renault would not be able to replicate the same kind of success with future ads proved groundless when the immortal words, ‘Va Va Voom’, were uttered for the very first time in 1998. The now legendary phrase was heard as part of seductive French actress Hélène Mathieu’s ads in the ‘Size Matters’ campaign, for the launch of the first Clio Renaultsport, the 172.

Three years later, French football striker Thierry Henry, pictured above, built on the phrase’s cult status in his series of ads which ran from 2001 to 2004. Still leaving people guessing as to the true meaning of ‘Va Va Voom’, the series left a more indelible impression when the phrase entered the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in 2004.

Clio has been at the forefront of safety. In 2000, it was the first car in its class to secure a maximum four-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, followed in 2005 with sector-leading five-star status. Exacting build quality has also seen it emerge as one of the most reliable cars in its class.

With Renault’s strong links to motorsport, the hot-hatch versions have been consistently honed over the years. The critically-acclaimed Clio Williams was succeeded by a host of Clio Renaultsport versions as well as two versions of the muscular mid-engined Clio Renaultsport V6.

The road might be its usual domain, but Clio also has a spiritual home on the track – the Clio Cup race cars are the biggest-selling one-make motorsport cars.

However you look at the Clio, it has been a winner for Renault.

Are you a Clio fan? Tell us why you fell in love with it by emailing motoring@archant.co.uk

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