Dauphine was a hugely successful product of Renault's Flins plant, and its renown went well beyond the French frontier, to reach right across the Atlantic. The state of Florida holds particular significance in Renault's history. When Renault chief Pierre Dreyfus went over to the States back in 1957 to sound out how Renault sales were going with Uncle Sam, he took design director Fernand Picard along with him. Over in Florida they met up with Renault's main dealer, Wendelle Jarrard, who spoke in glowing terms about the highly specific US convertibles market. The prospects for a cabriolet version of Dauphine were looking bright.
Fernand Picard's team had already done some preliminary work on the matter, and by 30 May 1957 they'd come up with sketches by Ghia for coupé and cabriolet Dauphine derivatives. Pierre Dreyfus, still over there in the 22nd state, said that if the project came to fruition then the new model would go under the name of Floride.
Back in France, Dreyfus set out the project onset conditions: Where would the new model be made? What market would it address? And how much would it cost? Cabriolets were considered pretty much a niche market, so there'd be convertible (hard top) and coupé variants too. In the customer mix there'd be a high proportion of women and youngsters, so the new cars would be in bright colours, and sport white-wall tyres. The economic equation was balanced by using the Ventoux engine that powered the Dauphine. That made for a price tag of 870,000 French francs at the time (around €13,000 in today's terms), which was 60% less than the competition. Success proved immediate, even before the production line had started up.
The Flins plant was so busy with Dauphine that there was no room for its little sister. So Floride would be made at the Chausson and Brissonneau & Lotz facilities. Even here, the situation proved tricky, as orders greatly exceeded expectations, meaning demand would greatly outstrip supply. Whereas initial forecasts had pointed to 75 units per day, production actually ended up at 250!
Floride, initials BB
The Caravelle (formerly Floride) made a much heralded appearance at the1959 New York Auto Show. The name change was in honour of the twin-engined jet plane considered to best exemplify French engineering know-how of the epoch. And the ambassador for the occasion was none other than Brigitte Bardot herself. The orderbook swelled at 13,000 units, the only hitch being that the cabriolet version was alone in finding real favour with the US public.
Production of the Floride (which became the Caravelle in 1963) totalled 117,000 units over its decade-long lifespan, across all versions: Floride (S, Type R 1092) and Caravelle (Type R 1131, 1100 Type R 11331, 100S Type R 1133). The model was eventually discontinued in 1968.
Though Renault's American adventure was relatively short-lived, it held much more than mere curiosity value. In epitomizing the French sense of glamour (the famous “French touch”) backed by the best in French technology, Floride earned immense appreciation among the American public. Half a century later, in 2011, Renault paid tribute to its illustrious transatlantic success story by releasing a special-edition Mégane Coupé Cabriolet in a magnificent ivory finish, with luscious red and ivory leather upholstery. The name? Floride: what else?
To learn more about it, click here.
Thank you to Jacques Faucon for writing this nice article.