Ashtrays: Renault 4

We are very proud of our focus on this aspect of car design: ashtrays.

Renault 4 ashtray- closed.
Renault 4 ashtray- closed.

This one serves in a Renault 4. The quattrelle had a three decade production run; it’s not fanciful to wonder if it could have endured as long as the Defender had it been marketed as slightly separate to Renault’s modern range.

Better sited than in a Bristol?
Better sited than in a Bristol?

That’s a pretty big receptacle. It’s a flip-over top hinged lid.


I saw this car (maroon, below) on the same day as the Peugeot 604 I tested recently. The dealer’s feeling is that more people are turning to the Renault 4 as Citroen 2CV prices rise. What people get is a car subtly different from the Citroen although they are often lumped together by dint of their utilitarian image.


In fact, the R4 is larger, heavier and comparatively more comfortably trimmed. The chairs are proper ones, broad and deep and the car really seems to start as a pared-down normal car. The 2Cv seems more to be the result of starting from zero and reluctantly adding car until there was just enough.

Renault 4 imterior: series 2?
Renault 4 interior: series 2?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

20 thoughts on “Ashtrays: Renault 4”

  1. Love that steering wheel and neat rectangular instruments blended into the horizontal strip running across the dash panel. Having experience of both the Renault 4 and 2CV I wish we had equivalent products available today but this will never happen due to safety expectations. The no nonsense cars of that period are now unfortunatly relegated to history only to be enjoyed by a few enthusiasts.
    I have always been drawn between extremes where motor cars are concerned, from the sublime to the ridiculous with the middle ground infrequently visited. This flexing of the senses enables one to absorb every little detail and nuance of the chosen mode of transport without being dulled and diluted with middle market products.
    Alas, I too am going the way of the 4 and 2Cv since there are no products in this category today.

  2. As I’ve grudgingly come to admit over the years, the 4 lives forever in the shadow of the 2CV but, viewed objectively, it is the superior answer to Pierre Boulanger’s original brief for the Citroen.

    I have a firm memory of that ashtray from my one drive of a 4, 20 years ago. And, as a non-smoker, I didn’t even use it.

    D Gatewood is of course correct that nothing as light and simple as either could be made today, but I am sure there is still room for cars more in its style than those of today’s bloody boring hatches. Of course there is, but they are made in Japan.

    1. Very true. The Suzuki Wagon R was more of a true R4 successor than in-house pretenders like the Twingo 1 and 3 and Modus.

      My love for the R4 is limitless, but it was better left to rest. By the early ’80s, when La Regie was taking costs seriously as they readied the 9/11, it was worked out that the 4 was not much cheaper to make than the 20/30, and far costlier than any of their other cars built in-house. It’s not difficult to work our why: platform chassis, bolt-together body, torsion bar independent suspension, manufacture in an antiquated factory in western Paris.

      Some sort of 21st century Clio-chassised pastiche would have been plain wrong. I wouldn’t even have trusted Renault to do the job as well as Fiat did with the 500. As the 2007 500 went on sale, Renault replaced the worthy and long-lived Twingo with a mean, pointless little car.

  3. As you say Richard the R4 is almost always mentioned in association with the 2CV but rarely is the association the other way round; I think the R4 is a superior car which has never achieved the cult status of the 2CV. It has an exceptional level of practicality with a proper tailgate and flat load bay, sliding rather than flip up windows and a mechanical layout that was sufficiently (but not completely) conventional for the average mechanic. The flaps on either side of the ashtray open to provide superb ventilation, the hand brake is under the dashboard as is the gear lever giving an unobstructed flat floor front and back. The gear change was push-pull for 2nd and 3rd making town driving a pleasure while the less commonly used 1st and 4th were off on dog legs. The excellent ground clearance and narrow tyres provided a useful ability off road. Your observation about it being a proper car but without anything that is unnecessary is spot on. I suspect that even if it had been developed by Renault, legislation would have brought about its demise. The excellent “La Renault 4 de mon pere” is available on Amazon at very high prices, I got mine cheaply at FNAC in Paris. The one thing I can’t comment on is the ash tray as I never opened it.

  4. Thinking about my last reply I suppose there still are some basic cars produced if not of the same quality engineering wise certainly basic, what you may ask? the French voitures sans permis range.
    Has anyone covered these in a previous report?
    A few years ago I had a desire to relive a prior experience of an Isetta but without the high purchase price they currently demand, the solution was a French Axiam the two seat open beach buggy type.
    One summer season was enough not because of the car but cost of tax and insurance for just in my case a frivolous plaything.

    1. Wouldn’t a Dacia Logan be quite basic? The sans permis cars fall into another class and I think have quite a lot of trim *and* a tiny engine.
      My question is this: how much of the trim is related to safety? The argument goes that people would not want a car like the R4 because of safety. But the R4 is chiefly less crashworthy because a) its metal structure is not designed for this and b) it lacks airbags and c) ABS. Refining my question: how much mass do crash performance requirements add to a car? How much of that weight is made up of the kind of trim that makes a Logan (1050kg) plusher than an R4 (600 kg)?
      Sam the Eagle is probably correct to say that even if you did sell a safe but stripped-out car too few would buy one. I’m curious and would love to test that proposition. I think we discussed this re: the Pandas I saw in Italy in June.

  5. The last photo shows the dashboard. It looks like the kind of thing you’d make if you had a very basic CAD programme. Renault pioneered CAD – so could this IP be one of the first modelled on a CAD system? It certainly looks that way to me.

  6. If safety only adds 4% then why does a Dacia Logan weigh so much more? Well I suspect the Logan is somewhat larger than the R4 was and just on wheels there must be a reasonable difference between 135×13 ans 185×15. Add in sound proofing, emission controls, engine management, HVAC, even the extra layers of paint and rust proofing and things will tot up. I think the over riding virtue of the R4 was its practicality as it was probably not much simpler than the average car at the time and was not especially cheap. Regrettably I think a simple modern version would fail as image and performance have replaced practicality as desirable features. The MINI takes up a huge amount of road space in relation to its interior space and yet is extremely popular. I feel that the cars coming closest to the ethos of the R4 are the Skoda Roomster and the Honda Element and I am not sure if either was a great sales success.

    1. The Logan weighs more because of non-safety related things, I suppose.
      Robertas – that Renault ceased producing the R4 on cost grounds is telling. It wasn’t that people didn’t want it at all so much as it wasn’t cheap enough. I agree a nouvelle quatrelle shouldn’t be a retro style vehicle. Presumably there is room for a simple vehicle which could be personalised. Lots of such vehicles are personalised without harming their Mininess, Beetleness or 2CVness.

  7. “The 2Cv seems more to be the result of starting from zero and reluctantly adding car until there was just enough.” That made me smile!

    The most fun R4 I’ve been in was a Renault 5 Turbo equiped R4. Outwardly, it looked like a bog standard R4, but it was “somewhat” quicker….Huge grin factor!

  8. Richard, this piece brought the memories flooding back as this is the car I learned to drive and passed my test in. It was a later GTL model with a larger 1.1 l engine and a standard H layout for the gearbox. Definitely a better more practical and bigger car than the 2cv and better looking in my (biased) book. 3 six foot plus teenagers fitted in the rear bench (no seat belts admittedly) and when not fully laden there was an alarming amount of suspension travel when turning with any degree of verve. If you wanted the fan and rear demister and wipers on simultaneously you needed to keep constant pressure on the accelerator to avoid the wipers slowing to almost nothing. It certainly taught you how to heel and toe (the pedals were perfectly placed for this!) albeit for a different reason than usual. Luckily it didn’t rain on my test.

  9. As for that ashtray, it was really brilliant! Very practical, big enough… Our summer house neighbour had Renault 4, always praised it’s ashtray and used it often, even when taking bunch of us kids to the beach in it…:)

  10. Surely the Cactus is the next best thing -0r maybe just a cynical marketing exercise (but what isn’t now?)

    1. Might I suggest the Dacia cars? However, they are still a bit too nicely detailed. The Cactus is also obviously “designed”. I’d want a car with a jerry can aesthetic. It must look straightforward but also be comfortable. A Transit van has this feeling.

    2. Dacias are more styled on the outside now than they initially were, but the interiors still remain fairly crude by anyone’s standard. But if you want utilatarian in a compact footprint then Transit Connects, Kangoos and the likes are the next best thing.

    3. But from my own experience of Kangoos, they now try too hard to be ‘real’ cars. There are few of those satisfying utilitarian touches to them. Of course, their creators are justifiably pleased with themselves that they have put in those extra touches that are supposed to stop the owners from feeling that they are slumming it. But I’m hardly alone in actually liking the simplicity of the 4, and this is something you could recreate without compromising safety.

    4. Maybe so, but you also know that like-for-like comparisons are somewhat futile. Here’s a modern equivalent of the R4:

    5. Laurent. Yes. That’s the sort of thing I had in mind. Obviously bare metal and toggle switches aren’t going to happen, but if the prospect from the driver’s seat of our work Kangoo was more like that, I’d want to drive it more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: