Sometimes, as with the Continental Mark II convertible, you track down a car. Other times, you walk out your front door and you see a caravan of two families of Norwegians driving Renault R4s (plus an RV) on their way from Oslo to Los Angeles via New York (and back). How they ended up on a residential street in a quiet Detroit suburb is due to the vagaries of navigation systems, but I don’t believe in coincidences. After all, if the Creator could be concerned with the Brownian motion of a mote of dust, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that He wants you to see these cars.
They were hard to miss. It’s not like seeing one R4 in the US is likely, though it’s about the only place where they are rare. The R4 is the third best selling car of all time, behind the VW Beetle and Ford’s Model T. Over the course of 33 years, Renault sold over 8 million R4s in over 100 countries, but not one in the US of A. So when I pulled out of the drive and headed down the street and spotted a robin’s egg blue R4′s headlights staring at me, I went back and got the cameras. When I got close I noticed that there was not just one but two identical blue R4s. On the sides of the cars were Norwegian and American flags with the words “Norway – USA” and “New York – Los Angeles”.
It turns out that two Norwegian families have decided to take a cross continental trip in their 1962 R4s to celebrate the car’s 50th anniversary. First they drove from Oslo to Gothenburg, where the old Renaults were loaded onto a boat along with a shipment of brand new Volvos. After flying to New York, they reunited with their cars and played tourist in the Big Apple, then rented a Class C RV and headed upstate to Niagara Falls. They then cut across Ontario to Detroit “the capital of cars”, as they say on their blog where the trip is being chronicled. Their navigation system had mistakenly told them there was a campground in my neighborhood, and when I found them they had pulled over and one of my neighbors was using his laptop to find them a motel.
There are a total of ten people making the trip, two families of five, with a total of 6 teenagers and four adults. The R4 is a four seater, so at least a couple of people have to ride in the RV. With only 747 cubic centimeters of displacement and a whopping 32 horsepower on tap, driving the front wheels through a three speed transmission (later R4s would have bigger engines and another gear in the tranny), the R4 is just not a suitable Interstate cruiser, so the Hagens and the Dahles are taking ‘blue highways’, mostly two lane roads. Which is probably another reason how they ended up on my street.
From talking to Trond Hagen and his wife Kari, it sounds like they are playing it by ear, choosing campgrounds or motels wherever they end up. Of course traveling with an RV makes that possible. They are planning on taking 5 weeks to get to LA and back and my guess is that they’ll get to see a part of America that most tourists to this country rarely, if ever, see. Judging from their experience in my neighborhood, they’re also going to get to meet a lot of very friendly Americans.
Trond’s son Martin had a pretty nice DSLR camera and like most photographers do, he glommed on to my 3D rig in a hurry. Both of the Renaults have GoPro camera mounts, so I told him about GoPro’s new 3D setup. Though they haven’t posted any videos to their blog yet, I’m sure that’s their plan.
So far the cars haven’t had too many problems. The Hagen’s car needed a brake adjustment and the Dahle’s R4 stalled while waiting to get through Canadian customs, so they had to push it through the booth and over to the side of the road where they made a small repair to the carburetor.
You can follow their adventures at the blog they are keeping, renault4.blogg.no, and see some of Svend Dahle’s comments while they were planning their trip here on a Renault owner’s forum. This is not Dahle’s first long distance trip in an R4. In 2004 he was one of three R4s that trekked from Oslo to Cape Town, South Africa. Svend is a serious car guy, with an impressive collection of historic Renaults and Citroens, including a number of restored Meharis as well as what looks like scores of R4s, 4CVs, 2CVs, Amis and many other French cars that I’m not familiar with offhand. I’m sure that as long as whatever mechanical problems they have aren’t fatal, Svend looks like he should be able to handle them.