The R16 was first imported into Canada in 1966 - a couple of years before the U.S.. In 1965 assembly of the R8 and R10 had started at the SOMA plant outside Montreal in Quebec.
In 1969 this plant started assembling the R16 too - model R1150. By 1970 it was assembling the TA and TS models too - R1151, R1152 and R1153. These were the only R16's ever
assembled or imported into Canada. In 1971 the Quebec government bought some R16TA's for use by the Department of Labour. While I have seen models of the R16 as a French
police car and as a pursuit vehicle in the Tour de France, I have yet to see a model in the Quebec Ministry colours!! In the early 70's some of the SOMA production was
exported from Canada to the States. But most of their R16's were imported from France, some from the Flins factory as well as Sandouville. Assembly of R16's ended
in Canada in 1972/3 and that was the end of the R16 over here.
Who bought them? You have to remember that the typical N. American vehicle at that time was a large engined, rear wheel driven, gas guzzling monster. And the average N. American was very suspicious of anything else. The rear engined R10 and front wheel drive R16 were regarded by most people as small, strange,amusing, and French. Some regarded them with outright hostility. Typical comments to me would be "is it front wheel drive?" or "are all the threads metric?".
So while there were a good number of them around at one time they were mostly bought by people with some kind of European backgroud. They were never popular with young people who were into the high horsepowered Mustangs and the like. As others have pointed out they were bought by those who appreciated their versatility, comfort, and engineering innovations. Disc brakes, cylinder liners, electric fans were essentially unknown in most domestic cars. It was the start of a series of copycat domestic small hatchbacks.
Service was another problem. R16's did not stand up to the climate and driving conditions very well unless given some understanding tender loving care and service. Typically N. American drivers were used to abusing their vehicles. Many mechanics working on them were not much better. Many did not even have metric tools in those days. So a lot of R16's did not last long.
Who drives them today over here?!! I thought I was the only person until
recently!!! But last year I learned of another being restored in British Columbia. There are several surviving on the western coast of the U.S. where the climate is a little easier on the R16 body. Have recently learned of another surviving in the interior of B.C..
When they were still around they were cheap to buy. I paid just $50 for several of mine. So they were, and still are for me, cheap transportation - so long as I can find the parts I need. I get lots of attention driving one on a daily basis - sometimes a little too much attention! There is an anti-French
sentiment among a small minority in Canada I am sorry to say - so I have on
occasion almost been run off the road. Many more come up to me with admiration though and just want to tell me about the R16, or other French car, that they once owned.
I don't feel that much out of place nowadays. If anything the R16 fits in more
easily with the typical car of today than it did with the typical car around
here in the 60's and 70's!
Good idea Bruno. I think I share a little of your passion. Hope to be driving
an R16 until I die!