By on October 5, 2010

Despite being in sensual Paris, no one is going to accuse me of shameless sexual exploitation by posting this ugly little R4, or the woman behind it. I was late on the draw, and just missed a gaggle of cute girls who just walked behind it thirty seconds earlier. Why do they all have to smoke, though? Back to the subject at hand: I know many Americans may barely know know of the R4’s existence, and would be quite happy to go their graves without being enlightened to its Gallic charms. But it does represents one of the most important milestone in the development of the modern car: this lowly little box created and defined the whole genre of the compact hatchback. And it has a few other significant honors in its resumé. So put your anti Frenchy-car bias aside for a few minutes, and I promise to make it quick. And I have a bit of sexiness for the end.

Everyone recognizes that quintessential French small car, the Citroen 2CV (TTAC review here). Although it became an evergreen as well as an icon, in reality it also became outmoded for the rank and file French drivers pretty early on. By 1960, it was already looking dated, and its tiny two-cylinder engine was noisy, slow, and didn’t generate any real heat in the winter. Renault recognized this, and wisely decided to develop what essentially became the 2CV’s successor as well as competitor.

Introduced in 1961, just as French incomes were rising, the R4 was a significant step up: a water cooled four, a roomy body with a rear luggage area accessible with a lift-up hatch, more comfortable seats, and of course that famous French-car cushy suspension, which Renault blatantly stole from Citroen. By recycling the engine and transmission from their rear-engined 4CV, Renault saved development time and money. That did mean the engine was behind the front wheels, which explains why they’re so far forward.

It’s the “classic” fwd layout, as pioneered by the Miller racing cars of the twenties and the Cord L-29, and the Citroen Traction Avant. It’s not as space efficient as the transverse engine configuration, but it got the job done, as long as you found a way to get the transmission linkage past the engine to that tranny sticking out front. Renault used the “umbrella handle” approach, with the lever sticking out horizontally from the dash, and the linkage running right over the engine.

The R4 started out with the 4CV’s 747 cc mill, but most versions used an 845 cc version.  And starting in 1978, the GTL version came with a whopping 1108 cc motor. That was what my cousin had, when he took us on a few hair-raising rides through the narrow roads of Vienna at night in 1980. European city cars don’t need big engines to “win” the urban battles; their drivers just need big balls.

As mentioned earlier, the suspension was largely copied from the Citroen set up, with enormous amounts of wheel travel and very soft springs; that’s why the rear end sits up so high. This arrangement allowed for a remarkably soft ride over the roughest cobblestones and bad pavement. In curves, these cars lean crazily, and look like they’re just about to flip, but never seem to actually, their skinny little Michelin radials seemingly stuck to the pavement. Bob Lutz would have been frustrated. On oddity of the Renault is that its wheelbase is different on each side, since the rear torsion bars are transverse, and run the full width of the car. It had no effect on the handling.

The R4 gave birth to several offshoots: the very similar but more upscale R6 shared the same platform frame, and the very popular R5 (Le Car in the US) was also derived from the R4, sharing its drive train and suspension, but now attached to a new unibody. And although the van-version Fourgette (above) also imitated the 2CV version, it became the definitive vehicle of its kind, and spawned what is now a huge category throughout Europe and other continents.

Before you slam me about there being other hatchback cars before the R4, yes, technically, there were a few. But they weren’t in the class, size and popularity of the R4. It was a fairly radical new step in the small car’s evolution, and one that was soon adopted almost universally, especially in Europe. IKEA owes its whole existence to the R4.

The R4 was a huge hit for Renault, and it was built throughout the world (USA excepted). And it was a hard car to replace, as it still sold very well into the eighties. Production finally ended in 1994, after a thirty-three year run. But it’s been immortalized with cult status, including a kit to transform a Suzuki Lapin into an R4 look-alike.

Renault left a bad taste in Americans’ mouths, with a reputation for fragility. There’s no question that Renaults, and most European cars back then were designed for different conditions: short trips, and some weekend outings. Americans punish cars, and the Renaults withered in their hands. Lousy dealer service was the final nail in the coffin. European cars have of course dramatically improved since then, but the R4 and its ilk is considered a quite robust car here. And R5s are still very common on the streets.

And here’s that sexy ending I promised: a delicious Alfa GT Coupe. How’s that for a contrast?

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57 Comments on “Le Curbside Classic: Renault R4...”


  • avatar
    marjanmm

    Paul, it’s Alfa GT (there is no Alfa 156 coupe though GT is on the same platform). Though it is not rated as high I prefer its looks to the Brera.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Damn, I should’ve known this one, we had one in the family until the mid-80’s. A very funny and lively car. Essentially, you just floored it on the higway, and ran it flat out, it didn’t go above 120 km/h anyway. I’ve actually been looking for one now, but they are kind of sparse. Sadly, it doesn’t have the same cult appeal as the 2CV, and as a consequence, there aren’t many left. Almost 8 million of them were made, to some 5 million for the Citroen, but I’d bet there are more 2CV:s on the road nowadays, than there are Renault 4s.

    It is the quintessential anti-establishment car. Whatt DDB made for Volkswagen in the US in the 60’s, Renault did with the 4 in Europe in the same time. It was hailed as the car for everyone, from farmers and up to the bourgoisie. It was also heavily pushed as the perfect anti-car for the intellectuals. My mother, who was heavily involved in politics in the 60’s, told that Renault was the only car maker that dared to advertise in the communist newspapers, and as a consequence, many leftists bought their Renault 4s. I think it’s interesting, because it actually was a conscious effort to push the car in progressive circles. Perhaps a first with such a specific demographic?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    This is the kind of car that, in Paris and if you drive something nice, you don’t want to park anywhere near.  Those dents speak to the owner’s likely disregard to incurring further dents in the future.

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      Have you ever been to Paris? ALL cars are dented. It’s their way of saying hello…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      When I go, I try to park near something really expensive.  I figure there’s at least a fighting chance that someone in a new 607 or S-Class or what-have-you won’t be quite as deliberate as the fellow in a clapped-out Clio.

    • 0 avatar

      A new 607 will have lost so much of its value in the time between the owner parking and returning that he’s likely to prang you just to celebrate!
       
      Funny breed the 607 owner, a family friend persisted in buying them until recently and called them the most entertaining way of losing money he knew.

    • 0 avatar
      Slow_Joe_Crow

      It may also reduce the risk of it being set on fire when parked in the suburbs.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      Have you ever been to Paris? ALL cars are dented. It’s their way of saying hello…
       
      In Tehran all cars are dented too. Dunno if it’s their way to say hello.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Bench seats are the bomb.
     
    The US LeCar was horrible, and anyone who designs a car with 3 lug nuts ought to learn a lesson about being franc wise and dollar foolish.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    R4s are a luxury car compared to a Dauphine.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Recognizing that the R4 has many packaging and handling advantages over the Dauphine, nevertheless, Dauphines are very cute, and this thing definitely is not.

    • 0 avatar
      bugo

      There’s something about the Dauphine that is very appealing to me.  I think it’s the name. It has to be because the car itself isn’t anything special.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I got carted all over Karlsruhe in a red R4 as a kid.  I thought the horizontal shifter was crazy-cool!  And despite how spartan they looked, they sure were comfortable.

  • avatar
    Tricky Dicky

    Had a wind-surfing girlfriend with one of those in the 80s. It was bulletproof. Not literally. Happy times.

  • avatar
    Dr Strangelove

    For a while my brother disappeared almost completely under the hoods of a string of these cars; his trade was to make 1 working one out of 2 wrecks.

    Most of them had rusted floor panels. Apparently, standard baking trays were the right size, and my brother always used them as a replacement.

    I used to hitchhike a lot in the late 70s / early 80s – I think the R4 was the single most common car model I got a lift in during those days. I never thought the R4 was ugly – seeing one coming my way while I was standing at the road side always made my heart jump with excitement.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I must be more asertive next time. Somehow the R5 pic and yours reminded me of the Renoleta as it was known here. Only I couldn’t remember those rear holes.
     
    In Colombia there are a lot of those. Here they are almost non-existent now.

  • avatar
    tklockau

    Does anyone else remember that Danny DeVito drove one of these in Romancing the Stone? It fell off of a waterfall as I recall.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    That’s a nice find, Paul. I like the turquoise truck especially. The design of the front end reminds me of the old bull-nosed semi-tractors back in the 50’s and 60’s that were everywhere. That was back when semis were REALLY noisy!

    Please give us more old European iron. So different from what we take for granted as what a car should be/look like here.

  • avatar
    Jim Zellmer

    Stranded one night on a beach many years ago on the Spanish/French Border (Port Bou) due to a SNCF rail strike, my Provençal friends arranged a ride across the border with an old gentleman. His price: I, the Anglo, had to sit in front on top of the booze he wished to transport into France.

    Somehow, the rickity R4 managed to traverse the coastal roads and land us in France, where we later caught a Swiss train to points east.

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    I wouldn’t mind being in Paris right now at all…but sorry, but it’s tough to get excited about this little mishapen tin can…so this was an upgrade car for a newly emergent French middle class? God, was the USA  really “king of the world” at that time or what? Kinda hard to imagine us ‘having the world by it’s balls’ like that ever again.

    Compare this little frog buggy with an early 60’s Impala, or a Ford Fairlane (or some other middle class American car of the time)…heck, compare it to a Falcon or a Corvair, even those bare bones econorides provided an unbelievable standard of luxury in comparison….ooh, roll down windows…wow, an automatic transmition…Mon Dieu, even your economy cars can go 150 kph? etc, etc…
     

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting comparison… how many of those 60s Corvairs and Falcons are still in active service I wonder?
       
      I’m not sure the comparison really holds water though: if you’re picturing this as the new family wagon in a French speaking French equivalent of the Wonder Years you’re a fair way off base. Europe just didn’t work that way back then. For the most part (thankfully) it still doesn’t.
       
      Start picturing one of those Corvairs doing double duty as a light farm wagon, or crossing a ploughed field in a Fairlane and you start to see how comical the comparison sounds. This is the kind of car 1960s France needed.

    • 0 avatar
      sfdennis1

      Agreed that an “apples to apples” comparison is difficult, but on seeing the R4, I was just struck with ‘how seemingly good’ the American middle class had it in that era (including vehicular choices) when compared to other first-world countries.

      If I was a French teenage boy at that time, would the R4 inspire a lifetime of car lust in me? Not so much…Say all you want about Detroit’s chromed, finned, more-is-more flash (rather than innovative engineering, Corvair excepted) creations of the time, they evoke way more emotional involvement from me.

      And I’m also just ‘giving it back’ a little to Paul N., a GREAT blog writer who never met an oddball little furrin’ runt car he didn’t love…while dissing big, bombastic American iron pretty frequently ;->

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      R4 was the cheapest Renault and when it was introduced WWII was only 17 years ago in which Europe suffered a whole lot more than America. If you compare it with Trucks than it was the Ranger and not an F150

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      sfdennis1, given that I grew up in Austria in the fifties, and we couldn’t even afford a car at all, I was intensely infatuated with all cars, European and American, big or small. I can assure you I wasn’t the only one. It must be a gene or something, but it didn’t matter how grand or finned the car was, or not.
      Yes, I was impressed by the big American cars when we moved there in 1960, but my love for small and eccentric cars has never diminished. And don’t forget, some of these cars had qualities that Detroit’s finest couldn’t touch: take an R4 and a Fairlane down a rough rutted road, and you’ll know what I mean. No US car could touch these French cars for their remarkable suspensions.
      Ask me about an Opel Kadett…that’s a different story all together.
       

    • 0 avatar

      >>>Say all you want about Detroit’s chromed, finned, more-is-more flash (rather than innovative engineering, Corvair excepted) creations of the time, they evoke way more emotional involvement from me.
      I felt the same way living in France at age 12 in 1965-66. However, while today’s American cars certainly are competent, they don’t evoke any emotional involvement in me.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I left the USA driving Mustangs and was stationed in Italy where I owned Fiats, Lancias and Beetles. My Mom wouldn’t let me buy a Beetle stateside b/c it was a “deathtrap” to her. When they came over to visit she realized that the Fiat 500 of the 70s redefined the Beetle as a mid-sized car and very safe. That’s what I picked them up in the Rome airport.
      It was during this era that I took up wrenching at every chance I got. I took two Beetles and made one that I traveled the peninsula many times in with only one break down – a worn out clutch disc. Did the fix in a parking lot.
      Dad jokes Europe ruined me but I had a very warm spot in my heart for those little cars like the Citroen, Fiat, Lancia Autobianchi, Renault, Mini, etc. The bigger touring cars were nice too and I also would own a dozen different ones if I could. It’s the cars like the Fiat 500 and the Beetle though that I could afford to own and drive. They became like faithful friends who I could trust to get us to and from the snowy mtns when we wanted to ski, down into Naples and back when we wanted to shop or eat, or carry visiting American relatives on sightseeing tours when they came to visit.
      The more modern cars we drive today are so much better in every measurable way but few evoke the same emotions in me. I suppose some of the emotion was actually arriving without a mechanical failure of some sort. Like I said though – we rarely had any problems. Some new noise or vibration would signal a worn part and we’d deal with it in the driveway one afternoon knowing that part would outlast my time in Italy and my ownership of the car. I wished I could have brought home the 500s, the Citroens and the Renaults we drove but import restrictions hampered that. When I asked the vehicle office what i could take home I got alot of incomplete answers. I certainly could have brought home my Fiat 500 I know now (25 year limit). Instead I brought home and still have my ’65 Beetle.
      Were I to live there again I’d buy up a half dozen working man’s cars to fill a shipping container to bring home.

    • 0 avatar
      d002

      Umm, sfdennis1, the salad days of the R4 were the 1970s.

      So the US equivalents would be the Ford Pinto and the Chevrolet Vega…

  • avatar
    V572625694

    I have an image of one of these burned in my eyes from 1988, when I was somewhere near Bad Kreuznach and finally found a long stretch of downhill autobahn so where I could do a speed run in my rented 3-cyl Opel (Corsa? Can’t recall the model). I finally got it near 180KPH when an old R4 appeared in my trajectory and I became afraid of what looked like a stationary object in my lane.

  • avatar
    obbop

    And ‘merican cars can fly through the air, land with a spine-shattering impact and continue on, successfully outrunning Smokey Bear as our intrepid duo blast away at their horn playing Dixie as they hurry home for their road-kill dinner.
     
    We’re numbah’ ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    dignotov

    I was stationed in northern Germany circa 1982-1984 and my buddy bought an early seventies version of the R4. It was red and fond of rust. I found it difficult to shift with that umbrella handle but as I recall it always seemed to start and pass ADAC inspection (somehow). It was better than a Citroen Duck but I liked my Series I Fiat 127 hatch better with 900cc’s of raw power!

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Almost bought a cheap R4 for my wife about 30 years ago. Then I had to walk away when I realised I could touch the brake pedal from outside the car, without opening the door.
    I haven’t seen one on the road for many years , they’ve all rusted away over here.

  • avatar
    gnekker

    In Croatia, where I live, it was considered as domestic car (they were made in neighboring Slovenia until 1994). So there are still plenty of those used as a regular transportation, especially in the coastal area. Some of those are also well maintained, still nice and fresh looking.

    I noticed that many retired people are still driving it, probably because they are now dirt cheap to buy and maintenance. Simple engine, no fancy-schmancy service diagnostic tools and bills, low insurance and road tax, but quite drivable car. And you can put full size washing mashine in the back (European full size that is :-)
    I am now driving a Berlingo, which I consider a spiritual descendant of R4.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      There are alot of good things a person can say about driving a car that doesn’t dominate your budget. I’d love to drive a $30K car but I’m happier knowing I’ve got $28K in the bank to vacation with or travel with or to buy nice things with.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Refreshing that in this topic people don’t seem to have the Detroit/domestic-inferiority-complex shown in others.

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    That R4 is SO Eugene!

  • avatar
    A is A

    Everyone recognizes that quintessential French small car, the Citroen 2CV (TTAC review here). Although it became an evergreen as well as an icon, in reality it also became outmoded for the rank and file French drivers pretty early on. By 1960, it was already looking dated, and its tiny two-cylinder engine was noisy, slow, and didn’t generate any real heat in the winter. Renaultrecognized this, and wisely decided to develop what essentially became the 2CV’s successor as well as competitor.
    A 1984 test in Spanish: 602cc Citröen 2CV vs 1108cc Renault 4.
    http://www.pruebas.pieldetoro.net/web/pruebas/ver.php?ID=2100&PORTADA=
    The Renault wins hands down: It was much easier to drive, it handled better, was more comfortable, more economical and even more economical. The 2CV was sold in the 1980s for purelu nostalgic reasons. The Renault 4 was a useful work tool.
    In fact the Renault 4 was so advanced for its time that was even competitie with much more modern Fiat Panda, as shown in this 1985 (also in Spanish) test:
    http://www.pruebas.pieldetoro.net/web/pruebas/ver.php?ID=2100&PORTADA=
    It is not uncommon to see 20-30yo Renault 4s (and 6s) still in service in Spain, a remarkable feat for a cheap-as-dirt car.

  • avatar
    Johnnyangel

    My son was almost born in the back of one of these as I drove through the English fens in the face of an oncoming winter storm. My wife was unable to sit comfortably due to the contractions so it must be said that she had to ride on all fours in the cargo area, with the rear seat folded down (thank heavens for the little mini-wagon).
    The baby arrived shortly after we arrived at the hospital, amidst thunder and lighting. And as I drove back to our village as the sun was coming up to collect the new grandparents, the R4 was hit by a massive gust of wind that, even though I steadily slowed to around 20, picked it up and slid it around sideways, completely blocking the two-lane highway (one where soon after, commuters would soon be proceeding at their usual frantic 60-70 mph pace).
    While the R4 never inspired the affection of my previous car (a green 2CV with a stripey green-and-white roof), it was quite the little workhorse.

  • avatar

    @ sfdennis1: Yes, it was an upgrade car. Compare it to the Renault 4CV (nice pics here: http://www.entmontage.de/renault_4cv.htm), or to the Panhard Dyna X (pic here: http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Panhard_Dyna.jpg&filetimestamp=20060117221004) and you will find that the R4 was the better car. Besides being more comfortable, it simply offered more space and versatility combined with affordability and low running costs. This is also true in comparison to the VW Beetle.
    For many it also was a first car, allowing them to enjoy Private Transport vs. Public Transport. For others the R4 was their first second car.
    With this design, there was no need for electric window lifters. They had sliding windows that were in reach from the driver’s seat. There was no need for automatic climate control, as there was an option for a huge sliding roof.
    It was a charming small car offering “joy to drive” on a budget. That’s why this car had dedicated fans both in rural and metropolitan regions, not only in Europe.

  • avatar

    Wow. I’m impressed that you found not one but several of these (I had trouble trying to find a Citroen Ami in Paris 21 years ago–same general vintage). I will read it with great interest

  • avatar

    A friend of mine has a very solid looking R4 that I could buy for a small amount. I’m always tempted but never made the jump. Perhaps some impending sense of doom that I bought it and couldn’t do it justice. Maybe next year.
    Here is a picture where you can sort of see it – http://www.flickr.com/photos/daveseven/465484871/  – a bit blocked by a Buick and a vintage Vauxhall.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    There is a practicality to this car which is both charming and suggestive of a different reality if America had taken a different path. But we didn’t.
    Today I almost got creamed by a kid in an Expedition.

  • avatar

    “There’s no question that Renaults, and most European cars back then were designed for different conditions: short trips, and some weekend outings. Americans punish cars, and the Renaults withered in their hands.”
    Why are you blaming Americans for rejecting badly made cars? I owned 2 Fiats, 2 Alfa Romeo’s and drove many other  European cars in “their” home country, these cars used to be very fragile, and some of them still are. Americans are pretty smart about one thing, if it’s not reliable they will not buy it.
    And don’t tell me that VW are more reliable in Europe than in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I dunno -we drove all these cheap cars in the early 90s when i was there and we didn’t have trouble with them. Stuff wore out and had to be replaced but these cars were so simple you could do it yourself. Parts were cheap in price and quality sometimes. If the job was involved enough that you didn’t want to do it yourself the corner garage would do the repairs for cheap. Some of those Italian mechanics were very, very good just lie here. When you found a good one you put out the word to your friends. My 100K mile Beetles were 20+ years old and we seldom had to do much except replace rubber stuff that crumbled from age. We occasionally rebuilt the carb or had it cleaned at the carb shop for $25. We might replace a wheel cylinder or shoes for $20. Even fi the engine died we’d replace the longblock and transfer the carb, intake, exhaust, etc over and install a $20 set of new gaskets and fuel lines. On the Fiats their worst sins were typically rust, weak ball-joints, and weak 2nd gear synchronizers.

      The great thing about these kinds of cheap cars – is that there isn’t much to go wrong.

      if you need a mechanic to repair every last thing for you b/c you aren’t interested in doing anything for you – just like here today – it’s going to add up quickly from time to time.

  • avatar
    Bruce the K

    I have to speak up about my Le Car (R5). It was my first brand-new car (I’ve only had one more since), bought just before I married my first wife. My relationship with the car was bittersweet (even more so than the one with my first wife).

    The car had the enormous canvas sunroof but was otherwise just a stock 1980 model. I had driven a late-70s model that my college girlfriend and I “borrowed” from a new car dealer’s lot in the middle of the night when we discovered it had the key in it! (That’s another story altogether.) I loved the supple suspension, the roominess, the excellent visibility, and the fully-reclining bucket seats. My girlfriend later moved back east and bought one for herself, thanks, I like to think, to our illicit joyride.

    When I decided to purchase one for myself, I thought I was doing the smart thing. They had been out in the states for about 4 years at that point and Renault had been making them even longer for Europe. All the bugs had surely been worked out.

    Alas, the 1980 model, while it still featured Renault’s immortal 1400 cc wet-sleeve 4-banger, had the most insane smogged carburator set-up I’ve ever seen. There was a sticker under the hood showing all the vacuum hoses, wires, and doodads that had to be hooked up for it to work and NOBODY in the states could figure it out (including me and believe me, I tried). I lived in constant terror of anything coming loose because there was no way to reconnect it correctly. It was just too complex for the mind of man. (I had previously kept a 1955 Volkswagen, a 1961 Renault Dauphine, and a 1967 Sunbeam Alpine on the road without any problem but this thing was beyond me.)

    Still, I enjoyed driving it so much that I was even willing to spend $1000 (this was in 1986) to replace the starter when it went. (Required pulling the engine and only REBUILT starters, at $600 a pop, were available.) When the replacement starter went a year later, I knew it was time to throw in the towel.

    Still, I courted my second, and still current (fingers crossed), wife in that car. I have very fond memories of taking the back seat out, replacing it with a bunch of pillows, and driving her up into the Santa Cruz Mountains. We pulled off the road (and out of sight of passers-by) when the odometer hit 100,000 miles, and made sweet, sweet love in the ginormous interior of that tiny car. Memories…

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      That kind of Americanization might have been the downfall for alot of imports. We had an ’86 Honda Accord which never gave us any trouble but the carb had literally dozens of vacuum hoses coming off of it. Same with an earlier ’83 CR-X. Never any trouble it could have been. Bought several cars over the years cheap b/c the carb went wrong and nobody could fix them. I’d spend a week of evenings putting it back together with a factory shop manual after somebody thought it would run better with have of the lines removed or capped. It didn’t. In fact it was usually some other unrelated “fix” that was causing the drive-ability problem like a bad thermostat or a vacuum leak or a bad sensor. Car’s running funky so pop the hood and start pulling hoses. The factory didn’t know what ti was doing… LOL! Got an early Hyundai Excel for free this way. Once I put all the sensors and vacuum lines back it ran poorly. Was the thermostat the whole time. Drove it for a while, cleaned it up well (looked good for what it was), and sold it for $850. Had time and a thermostat invested.

    • 0 avatar
      fastback

      Bruce,

      you should have your own column here! Awesome read. I must confess I attempted the same stunt in my 1980 VW Diesel Rabbit — but alas I was single and couldn’t attract flies at that time…… perhaps driving around in a rabbitt w/ the rear seats removed might have been a tad too creepy —- even for big haired, late 80s,  Jersey girls ;) 

      good read.

  • avatar
    MisterDriver

    This is the car of my youth. Or actually, three of these in a row. My father used them for his daily commutes and our family of 5 got to our holiday destunation with luggage. You may think that this was terribly cramped, but it definately beat going by train and having the luggage shipped separately. They rusted, but they were dead reliable. On cold winter mornings it always started, very much unlike the VW bug of our neighbours. Or most of our neighbours who needed sooner or later the help of the local car repair shop. In our street, the houses did not have garages so the cars had to stay outside. Cold damp nights were really hard for cars with 6-V electric systems and before electronic ignition became common. The local repair shop had fitted a Willy’s jeep with a special rubber front bumper to give cars a push and then rush to the next car in need.

    Actually one of the R4s ended upside down in a ditch after slipping from a frozen road. The whole family was on board and everybody walked with nothing more than some bruses.  This was in the days before safety belts! It is hard to believe, but appearantly the structural integrety was in the end not that bad. The car was repaired and served another year or so.

    The R4s finally got replaced by a Chrysler Sunbeam. Talking about a shitty car… It looked more like a real car, but that was about the only thing positive to be said about it. That got replaced bij a lemon Fiat 128, which got replaced by a Alfasud. A car with a really bad rap, but our one was running great. It was probably the car that was most loved. But that is another story.

    The standard of living in the US was (a lot) heigher than in Holland, in the late sixties. But having to live with an R4 is really not that bad as some of you seem to think. It was very sensible transportation for first generation drivers. A frugal and a very eficient package that was not uncomfortable. I would have liked a Mercedes, though.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    The side exhaust pipe is one of the best things about this car.  The exhaust actually ran out of the engine bay into the driver’s side wheel well, where the muffler was located (!), and then down under the driver’s side under the door(s) to its exit just in front of the rear wheel.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    The US LeCar was horrible, and anyone who designs a car with 3 lug nuts ought to learn a lesson about being franc wise and dollar foolish.

    Look at the current Smart cars by Daimler.

  • avatar

    Wow. Simply wow. This is the  car. Don’t care for no Mustang. Don’t care for no Beetle.

    This is the car. Having ridden in several of these (as a child in Colombia) I have my heart bent on them forevr.

    That’s why I like everyday cars. Oh, just give me one to ply the roads…

    The coolest CC ever!

    No, no Minis or 500s for me. This actually takes the family. Down that limited 100 km/h highway. But it gets there. With seating and space for 4.

    I guess I live where I should. Where any Palio, Uno, Gol and to a lesser extent Corsa, Celta  or Fiesta do the same. Take a family into modernity. With little room to spare, plus ergonomics for all. Mini, Smart? WTF???

    These cars rule. Not to mention thier sedan SW or pick up versions. I’m living in a Europe of the 60s. Thank God for it!

  • avatar
    Joss

    I thought the Renault 4 looked dated back in the 70’s when I was a boy.. they can still get parts for these things? Style-wise a forty year precursor to the Nissan Cube?

  • avatar
    wyoming

    wow, this is the car of my childhood! my parents bought one of the first R4 gtl in the late 70s, it was the 1100cc 34hp and that car was with us for about 25 years and 200 000km.
    we are not car collectors, we haven’t a garage and we don’t spend alot of money on cars. in my familly cars are used to go from one place to another and when they become unreliable we sold or send to the junkyard. no other cars in my familly lasted as the R4 did, it was used by my parents as first car and then as a second car.
    we used this little renault to go to the seaside, to ski, to school, to work and it did the job much better than my new mitsubishi colt does. once i could fit a 25hp outboard in the trunk and a inflatable boat on the roof.
    it was very reliable too, you only needed to clean the spark plugs sometimes and ceck the carburator…it cost really nothing to maintain the R4. at 150000km we had to rebuild the engine but it took something like 5 hours of work and costed the same amount of money that is necessary to change the tires of a new yaris.
    it rusted but come on in the 60s-70s it was absolutely normal, i can’t think of a pre-85 car that doesn’t get rusty. only porsches were protected in those days. my R4 lived 25 years parked on the road and the 88 mercedes we had got rusted sooner, to not talk about fiat, alfa, ford etc…
    i did  some long trip on the R4 and was quite good. once that you are on the higway you just push the pedal to the floor, the spedometer goes outscale but the real top speed of the gtl is 125km/h wich is good in italy were the limit is 130. the engine was underpowered so you can go 125 untill you run out of petrol, the top sped is also the cruise speed.
    with the soft suspension it was confortable and held the road really well.
    i think that this car was a real utility car like today no longer exist. the 2cv citroen was a fashion 3rd cars for the rich famillies, the beetle was very reliable and robust but tecnically old, the fiat 500 and 850 were prehistoric, the mini was more a richboy toy than a car. while the R4 was use as workhorse, it has a stong engine and the chassis was much stronger than the 2cv or fiat 850.

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    I remember when I first came to really appreciate the R4. I was in West Africa in the early 80s and traveling on very nasty mud roads in a friend’s Land Cruiser. We’d get stuck and work our way out, beaming and proud of ourselves that we had such a fine vehicle (and it was). After a few hours under these conditions one time, a little R4 drives right by us going in the other direction. Yup. No problem.

    For years after that, in West Africa and North Africa, I’d find R4s rambling along without worry wherever my fancy 4wd vehicles took me– desert, beach, rock roads, riverbeds. They go anywhere and, if they break, are tremendously easy to fix. Very hard to argue with that, especially anywhere money was/is much more of a consideration than it is to the average American.

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