Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)

The Renault 4 celebrates its sixtieth birthday. We salute a French automotive icon.

1961 Renault R4 Image: weilinet

Certain cars seem perfectly to encapsulate a vision of their country of origin. It is easy to imagine a gleaming black Mercedes-Benz S-Class carrying a German government minister or plutocrat along an Autobahn at great speed and in discreet, sybaritic luxury. Likewise, one can dream of a pastel-coloured Fiat Nuova 500 driven by a strikingly attractive olive-skinned young woman, nipping adroitly through the narrow twisting streets of a sun-baked Italian hillside village.

Less romantically, one can readily visualise a metallic grey Vauxhall Cavalier sitting at a steady 80mph in the outside lane of a British motorway under a leaden sky, its driver grimly contemplating another difficult meeting with his boss about his failure to meet quarterly sales targets.

What of France? For me, it has always been two quite distinct countries: Paris, and everywhere else beyond the Périphérique. The former makes me think of impossibly elegant and sophisticated couples sweeping up to the doors of the Garnier Opera House or through the gates of the Élysée Palace in a chauffeur driven Citroën CX Prestige or Peugeot 604. The latter makes me think of a battered Deux Chevaux lolloping along a rutted farm track while loaded to the gunwales with agricultural produce.

These are all, of course, rather lazy stereotypes. Moreover, the last one would be rather more accurate had the 2CV been replaced by the Renault 4. While the latter might never have possessed the captivating charm of the former, it easily outsold it. Over eight million R4s found buyers in 33 years, more than double the number of 2CVs that were sold over its 42-year lifespan.

Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding the R4 is why it took Renault thirteen years to launch it as Billancourt’s answer to the 2CV. That said, the interval allowed Renault to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the 2CV thoroughly and address the latter effectively. The R4 was nominally a replacement for the rear-engined 4CV, but Renault had much more ambitious plans for it.

Development work on the R4 began in 1956 under the Project 112 code name and on the instructions of Pierre Dreyfus, the recently appointed President of Renault. One person who was critical in the design and development of the R4 was Yves Georges, an engineer hired by Dreyfus in January of that year to work alongside Renault veteran Fernand Picard, who had designed the 1947 4CV and 1956 Dauphine. Picard was to some extent sidelined by Dreyfus, who found Georges’ rigorously scientific and analytical approach better aligned to his technocratic background.

At leisure: 1961 Renault R4 Image: carsinvasion

No doubt influenced by the 2CV, Dreyfus envisaged a simple, practical and economical car that would be easy to assemble, even locally in overseas markets without the benefit of sophisticated production equipment(1), and equally easy to maintain. He wanted it to appeal to rural drivers, recognising that this was an underexploited potential market for the company, as well as residents of the fast expanding suburbs.

It was to be a dual-purpose car, equally suitable for work and leisure activities. The R4 was designed to be a World Car long before some other manufacturers (re)discovered this concept. Dreyfus set a strict price limit for the new model of 350,000 old French francs(2), equivalent to about £360 or US $990 in 1956.

When development work on the R4 commenced, the 2CV had already been on the market for eight years and its limitations were becoming more apparent, notably its tough but noisy 425cc twin-cylinder air-cooled engine, which produced just 12.5bhp (9.3kW) and gave the car a maximum speed of only 50mph (80km/h). As French roads improved and motorists travelled further and faster, this was an increasing handicap. Access to the boot was fiddly, requiring the rear end of the fabric roof to be rolled up. The highly effective suspension needed regular maintenance and lubrication.

The R4, although 200mm (8”) shorter than the 2CV, had a roomier body thanks to its boxy design, and improved access with its full-height tailgate. The 747cc inline four-cylinder Billancourt engine produced 26.5bhp (20kW) and gave the car a top speed of 65mph (105km/h). This engine was taken from the 4CV but modified with a steel (rather than aluminium alloy) inlet manifold and a new sealed-for-life cooling system. These changes were driven by the desire for lower production costs and easier, cheaper maintenance.

1963 Renault R4 engine bay. Image: classicdriver.com

The R4 was also Renault’s first front-wheel-drive passenger car(3). Unusually, the new gearbox(4) was mounted ahead of the engine, with the gear linkage passing above it and through the bulkhead. This gave rise to the dash-mounted umbrella gear lever and allowed a flat floor in the passenger cabin. Suspension was by maintenance-free torsion bars front and rear. The rear pair were mounted transversely, one behind the other, which caused the right-hand rear wheel to be positioned 45mm (1¾”) further back than the left-hand one. This difference was cunningly disguised by semi-enclosed rear wheels behind flat-topped wheel arches.

Simplicity was a keynote of the R4’s design. The glazing was all flat, not curved. The door windows were of a sliding rather than wind-down type. The interior door handles were simple anodised metal plates, accessed through holes in the inner door skins, which also provided the pulls to close the doors. The handbrake, which operated on the front wheels, was a simple ‘pull on, twist off’ L-shaped metal rod under the dashboard to the left of the steering column.

This, and the absence of a floor-mounted gear lever, allowed the front deckchair-style seats to meet and effectively create a rudimentary bench. In pre-seatbelt times, this could accommodate the driver and a couple of (slim) front seat passengers.

Rudimentary: original Renault R4 interior. Image: adrianflux.co.uk

The upper door and tailgate hinges were exposed and the seams between the bolt-on wings and main body were simply filled with a flexible sealant. The tailgate was supported when open by a simple two-part pivoted metal rod that locked automatically in an ‘over-centre’ position (but had to be released manually before closing) while the rear-view mirror was mounted to the top of the dashboard. The exhaust silencer was located under the left-hand front wing and the tailpipe was sited ahead of the left-hand rear wheel. This, and the car’s flat underfloor, long suspension travel and high-tailed stance, gave the R4 exceptional ground clearance.

The R4 was extensively tested before launch to ensure its durability in all conditions, from the heat and dust of the Sahara to winter snows in Minnesota. Pre-production test cars racked up more than three million kilometres (1.86 million miles). The R4 had been given the affectionate nickname ‘Marie-Chantal’ by the test drivers. Postcards and telegrams would regularly be received in Billancourt from far-flung corners of the globe, happily reporting on her continued good health.

Part Two follows shortly.

(1) This is why the R4 was built on a separate chassis and was not a monocoque design, unlike other post-war Renault models. It also allowed for easy conversion to different bodystyles such as the Fourgonnette van version.

(2) On 1st January 1960, President Charles De Gaulle introduced the New French Franc, which was equal to 100 Old Francs. This was done to restore prestige to the previously devalued currency.

(3) But not Renault’s first FWD vehicle: that honour rests with the 1959 Estafette forward-control panel van.

(4) Surprisingly for a new design, the gearbox had only three forward speeds, with no synchromesh on first gear. In this respect at least, the R4 was inferior to the 2CV. After just a year in production, the gearbox would be altered to provide synchromesh on all three forward gears.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

57 thoughts on “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)”

  1. I never realized the R4 outsold the 2CV, let alone in that ratio. Obviously my perception is highly biased, but I can think of several people who owned 2 CV’s back in the day and only one who had an R4. Not much has changed: I know of 5 2CV’s in my area, but can’t recall when I last saw an R4.

    1. R4s have become rare, but I do see them occasionally. There is one that hardly counts, located in the window of a Renault dealer that I pass by train on my way to work. But there was also one I saw regularly on the streets of my town some years ago. Not sure if it’s still around.
      One of my aunts had an orange R4 in the 80s, and I was a regular passenger in it. I don’t remember much of it besides the smelly seats (some sort of rather cheap leatherette, I suppose) and the tinny noise it made. There also seemed to have been plenty of defects and, of course, rust.

  2. Good morning Daniel – you’ve made my day! The R4 was without doubt a wonderful device and entirely fit for purpose. My father had three of them, all bought second hand, which served him without any problem whatsoever. After years of constant spanner work on a succession of Hillman Imps, all he now had to do was adhere to the very simple servicing instructions and they delivered. I inherited his last one, a late example assembled in Ireland (Wexford?) and would have it still, had it not developed terminal tin-worm as a result of having apparently spent time on the quayside in sea-spray before being painted. Or so the story goes. No doubt you will have chapter and verse on the subject in part two.

    One of many delights encountered on our first visit to Ireland some years ago, was the number of R4 vans still in service as post vans and with the electricity services; I shall always associate Eire with R4s, just as I shall always associate Paris with green petrol-engined Renault buses with open platforms at the back…..

    1. Good morning gentlemen. Yes, the attrition rate of R4 seems considerably worse than the 2CV, possibly because the former didn’t have quite the quirky charm of the latter.

      John, I thought it more appropriate to feature a picture of the Fourgonnette in French postal service livery in Part Two, but this is just for you:

    2. JTC: While that particular story has gained currency over the years, I strongly suspect that the root cause was simpler. Rust-proofing, or lack thereof. This was a common factor amid Irish-assembled vehicles of all makes. By way of example, Toyota carried out a scrappage scheme during the 1990s for Irish-assembled first-generation Starlets, where they essentially bought back these cars and promptly sent them to eternity, owing to serious structural corrosion. This scheme did not apply to Japanese-built models, which were considerably more durable; my mother’s early (circa-1979) example being almost rust-free at that juncture.

      My memory of Renault 4s was of rust, which started very early in life. Our next door neighbour bought a brand new 4L in the late 1970s. It wasn’t long before the inevitable bubbling paintwork became apparent, and moss began to grow and fester in its nooks and crannies. Then the paint faded. It ran and ran, but once its owner retired, it ended up sitting immobile on their drive for years. By the time it departed it was only good for scrap.

      The 4 was cheap and cheerful. Very popular over here, but the bodies gave out far too quickly. The old Posts and Telegraphs vans lived long lives however, well after they had been retired from civil service. They must have been better protected.

      Additionally, my dad’s 1980 Talbot Avenger (one of the last of the series, assembled in Ireland) required a full strip-back and respray, owing to rust issues within a year of delivery. Fortunately, this was a company car, and was gone within another year. It was his third Avenger, the previous two (Linwood-built I believe) being fine.

    3. Eoin, could the vans have been imported direct from France, rather then assembled in Wexford? I remember lots of ex-post examples lasting for many years ( and even got to drive one briefly ).

    4. The vans had a considerable afterlife too: once the front of the vehicle had reached End Of Life, it was often cut off and discarded, the gap plugged with some sheet metal, and the cargo area recycled as a closed trailer. I suppose the separate chassis would have made this conversion easier. For some reason trailers of this kind are particularly associated in my mind with rural Wexford, but I daresay they were just as common elsewhere in Ireland!

    1. That’s a lovely period piece. Thanks for posting, Charles. The opening couple of minutes looks a bit sinister and clandestine!

  3. vous venez d’ouvrir la boite à souvenir avec ce chouette article, j’en ai les yeux enbués.
    Mon grand-pere avait une 4L dans les années 70, mais je devrais dire ma grand-mere car c’est elle qui la conduisait tout le temps.
    Je me souviens de tout, des bruits du moteur, des portes et meme des …sieges !
    Aussi de la petite tirette pour bloquer le coffre, que ma grand-mere me disait de me mefier dans il fallait fermer le coffre.
    Quelle nostalgie…

    Votre remarque, Daniel, sur les 2 stereotypes des Français marche encore aujourd’hui !
    Il y a une sorte de guerre entre les Français de ville et les Français des champs.
    Paris et vient d’annoncer qu’il sera interdit aux voitures de + de 6/8 ans.
    Dehors les banlieusards sans trop d’argent !
    Ca concerne 5 millions de voitures …
    Si vous venez visiter Paris, je vous defis de trouver une 4L 🙂

    Translate google:
    you have just opened the keepsake box with this nice article, my eyes are soaked.
    My grandfather had a 4L in the 70’s, but I should say my grandmother because she was the one who drove it all the time.
    I remember everything, the sounds of the engine, the doors and even the … seats!
    Also the little zipper to block the safe, which my grandmother told me to beware of; I had to close the safe.
    What nostalgia …

    Your remark, Daniel, on the 2 stereotypes of the French still works today!
    There is a kind of war between the French in town and the French in the fields.
    Paris and has just announced that it will be prohibited for cars over 6/8 years old.
    Out the suburbanites without too much money!
    It concerns 5 million cars …
    If you come to visit Paris, I challenge you to find a 4L 🙂

    1. Hello Alain. Thank you for your kind words and I am glad you enjoyed the piece. It is a few years since we visited France, but we must do so again when we can.

      Bonjour Alain. Merci pour vos aimables paroles et je suis heureux que vous ayez apprécié la pièce. Cela fait quelques années que nous avons visité la France, mais nous devons le refaire quand nous le pourrons.

  4. Excellent piece, Daniel.
    I was born in 1944 in Paris. My mother had a couple of 2CVs in the 50’s and 60’s. I hated them from day one. It was noisy, uncomfortable, uninviting to drive and, worst of all, you just couldn’t pass a lorry. At that time lorries were just a tiny bit slower than 2CVs but not enough to make you able to pass them on flat roads. They would lose more speed than you in climbs but then you had not enough time. Yet you would try and then, once at the middle of the trailer, you had to give up. You were stuck for hours watching the rear end of what the lorries were dubbed: “gros cul” (big ass). I was certain lorry drivers were looking at me in their mirror and laugh. They were probably counting the number of times I tried and failed. No, the 2CV had no charm at all. It was punitive to drive.
    With a quatrelle you had a real car and you could easily pass lorries. Even though it was significantly more expensive, it out-sold the 2CV from day one and was the best-selling car several years in a row. As I said in the discussion New Frontier (Part Twelve), the 2CV was the poor man’s car. It was as if there was a sticker on it “I am poor, I can’t afford anything better.” It certainly did a great service to the 4L: even though the 4L’s design was done on the cheap it never took the seat of the poor man’s car, occupied by the 2CV. I am certain that if Citroën had discontinued the 2CV in the 60’s and replaced it by a better car than the 4L, therefore leaving the poor man’s car seat vacant, then the 4L would have taken this place and its sales would have dropped. A major strategic error on Citroën‘s part… well, just one of them.
    The underpinnings of the 4L were a copy cat of the 11CV’s:
    • Front mounted engine behind the front axle.
    • Gearbox mounted ahead of the engine.
    • Front wheel drive.
    • Double wishbone front suspension with torsion bars.
    • Trailing arms rear suspension with torsion bars.
    The road holding was excellent at that time and I am sure it would be considered quite decent today. It was reasonably comfortable and silent. As opposed to the 2CV it was a real car:
    • It had homokinetic joints on the transmission whereas the 2CV had universal joints that made you feel you had a hiccup in tight curves.
    • In a 2CV the heater would be able to heat only when it was hot. In a 4L you had a really heating heater.
    • The cargo area was huge and extremely convenient.
    • It was closed whereas the 2CV, with its fabric top, could be opened with no tool.
    The 4L had certainly no charm. It was just banal and inconspicuous. It was just a vehicle. It just served a purpose, transporting you on the cheap.

    1. Good afternoon Nicolas and thanks for sharing your memories of the 2CV and R4. It appears that, despite their practicality, neither managed to charm you sufficiently to overcome their limitations. The same applied to my first car, a VW Beetle.

  5. Hello Daniel,
    Thank you for rekindling many fond memories of traveling in a Renault 4; my oldest and best friend whom I have known since I was about 16 years old had three of them (not at the same time, mind), of which we traveled the most in his blue 1978 4 GTL that we dubbed the “quattro”. Armed with sandpaper and red spray paint we decorated the lower part of the car in Audi-style lettering using cutout molds we made ourselves. The Quattro brought us to friends all over the country and was even used to visit the 1989 Frankfurt Motor Show although that was pushing it- the brakes got noisier and noisier and the engine was never the same again after that long Autobahn trek and we were overtaken regularly by lorries whenever there was any kind of incline, especially on the way back loaded with brochures and press kits….
    Such a charming machine, with an industrial kind of “beauty”, reassuringly simple and yet quite comfortable if not fast.
    Unfortunately I have only one poor quality scan from a photo album made a few years ago but here is the Quattro:

    1. Hi Bruno. ‘Quattro’ was a just brilliant idea, and well executed too. I’m sure you got plenty of smiles as you drove along!

  6. Oh yeah, the R4. Great car but rusty as hell.

    I had a R4 in dark green, which must have been in 1980. Bought second hand – or third, or fourth, I don’t know anymore.
    The car was built in ’71 or ’72 (Series 2 radiator grille, 845 cc engine and 34 hp).
    Not exactly the sporty car a teenager in his early 20s dreams of. But it was cheap to run and fun to drive. And it had a beige plastic dashboard and a matching beige steering wheel – very stylish.

    But the joy didn’t last long, not even a year, when the brown death came for it. The suspension/fixing of the torsion bar on the body was irreparably rusted through.

    (The first half of this decade was marked by my own vehicles with a lot of rust – but a lot of style. My mobility was usually ensured by the vehicles of my grirlfriends – all brand new thanks to their dads.)

    1. Hi Fred. Isn’t it strange that, on a cheap car, Renault went to the trouble of offering two different colours of dashboard, black and beige? Here’s the beige version, with a contrasting translucent steering wheel for added, er, luxury:

    2. Great memories, my father had a yellow TL bought new in 1979, with beige dashboard, too. He part-exchanged it in 1988 for what I considered then “a proper car”, a Fiat Regata.
      I have the fortune? to live in the south of Spain and very rarely I see any rust on a car. Well, our R4 , nine years old when we sold it, was rusty. And the 1.1 engine, after 120,000 km, had lost compression considerably in every cylinder. Perhaps some memories are rather better than the reality.

    3. Damn, I only had a “simple” beige steering wheel, so not even the luxury version.

      Yes, it’s interesting that Renault offered several interior colours for such a simple car. That’s how times have changed. A few decades later, this option didn’t even exist in the luxury class.
      And above all, it’s fascinating what was understood as “luxury” in those days. Colour and material. Nowadays, one has the feeling that luxury is “only” defined by gimmicks. (But maybe that’s also the limited view of an old man and a translucent steering wheel was the same gimmick as the ones that are so disparagingly despised today).

    4. Oh, not true.
      You have encouraged me to rummage through the old photo boxes once again.
      What can I say. My memory has deceived me. I had the luxury version with the translucent steering wheel!
      Thank you Daniel.
      Here you can see today’s Mr Alzheimer in his earlier days in an attempted Elvis-Costello-pose in front of his R4:

    5. Brilliant photo, Fred. I’m delighted to have helped bring back some good memories for you with the R4 piece.

  7. I remember, soon after Autocar had printed a full description of the R4 launch, the head French teacher at school turned-up in a pristine white R3 – the stripper four-window version. Most of the teachers drove modest cars, but I thought this was a bit much….

    1. Hi Mervyn. It sounds like a passive-agressive demand for a pay-rise on the part of your French teacher!

    2. Hello Mervyn, I recall seeing some early British toad tests, and they didn’t seem to understand what the R4 was. Some thought it was a kind of off-road van, while others later referred to it as an ‘estate car’.

      Renault 4 Road Test 1962 (1)

  8. Thank you for the memories. My parents had a 1976 white 4TL. My father must have confused the dealer on the test drive; he thought it had stalled at some lights as, “The engine is so quiet.” That we had a VW Microbus previously goes some way to explaining this.

    One journey is etched in my mind: my parents, my adult sister and my 13 year old self plus luggage (including roof rack) going to mid Wales on holiday. When we arrived, he announced that he wouldn’t have been more comfortable in a Jaguar. There was stony silence from the rest of us.

    Many years later when I had a Jaguar, he was good enough to admit that he had been incorrect!

    1. Hi Ben. As I recall, the R4 had a nice soft ride, which was particularly good over poor road surfaces. Perhaps that’s what influenced your father to make the comparison, however improbable it might have been!

    2. That’s certainly true Daniel. He also had a safety belt and steering wheel to hang onto! In steerage, we had to turn our knees into the corner and lean.

      Very fond memories nonetheless.

  9. In France during the early 80s R4s were everywhere.. And colour coordinated.
    Orange for the DDE road maintenance, blue for the Gendarme, White for ambulance, Red for Pompier fire service.
    My father had three of them over the years. He discoverers the hard way that not all Renault gearboxes were compatible as the replacement box gave us four reverse and one forward speed (must have come from a rear engine Renault or similar?). He also had a green one when back in the UK. He used leave the keys in it and one day it got stolen. We found it just around the corner where it had been abandoned by incompetent thieves who could not master the sliding gearstick poking out of the dashboard.

    1. Hi Thubbas. That’s a great story about the incompatible gearbox. Imagine the fun if the car thieves had stolen that R4!

    2. Ah, the infamous gearbox conundrum! It wasn’t really the gearbox, it was the engine that was the problem: the 845cc rotated in the opposite direction to the later 956/1108cc. Uprating performance on your early car by fitting a later, bigger engine only worked when you remembered to also fit matching gearbox & final drive.

  10. Many thanks – this one brought back memories of my 1972 R4 ( with beige dashboard). I took my driving test in it in 1984 and still remember the bemused look on the face of the examiner every time I changed gear! Unfortunately it was written off after 6 months. A 1979 Dyane replaced it, this one very rusty within a couple of years where the R4 was still virtually rust free at 22 years old. With hindsight the Renault was probably the better car, but lacked the charisma of the Citroen.

    1. Hi Roy. Thanks for sharing your memories. There’s a lot of love* out there for the Quatrelle. I guess it was an ideal first car, being cheap to buy, run and insure so, even if we didn’t own one ourselves, we all knew contemporaries who started out with one.

      * and other emotions, of course!

    2. I have an anecdote showing the reliability and serviceability of the 4L.
      One Friday afternoon we departed Paris for the week-end. The travel had been uneventful on the autoroute for a couple of hours when I heard a rumble in the engine bay that soon ended in “Bong! bong! bong!” like violent knocks on sheet metal. I shut off the engine, put it in neutral, puled over, opened the bonnet and saw nothing special: no smoke, no vapor, no sign of overheating. I checked the exhaust manifold, the valves cover, the distributor, etc. Everything looked normal. I started the engine, ready to cut it off: it was running just fine, with a normal noise. Then I noticed the fan was not spinning and that the belt was missing. The engine pulley had been literally torn apart and a chunk was missing. I found the missing piece and the belt in shreds at the bottom of the engine bay. The pulley was made of two pieces of pressed, thick sheet metal welded together and yet it had not sustained the strain of a small belt. It had made a little dent on the bonnet.
      Therefore I had no fan, no alternator, no water pump. I could do without the first two in daylight on the autoroute but without the latter I was not sure natural convection would be enough. We were about 10 to 15 kilometers from the next city, Auxerre. I restarted, took some speed and when I felt I was risking overheating I stopped the engine and let it continue on its stride until it was too slow. I would then restart the engine with the gearbox and redo the procedure. We made it to the city and found the Renault dealership that was about to close. The manager was kind enough to have a look but he didn’t have the part. Yet he said: “Hey, a client left an old 4L for me to dump. I will scavenge its pulley.” In about 15 minutes it was fixed and we could resume our travel.
      Some will say this couldn’t happen with a 2CV: it had no pulley and no belt and the fan was bolted on the shaft. One must admit a 2CV would work always… well, almost.
      Nick

  11. Good evening Daniel.
    As I said I hated the 2CV and I know what I am talking about: I did a lot of mileage with it. I did a lot of mileage with with 4Ls too and it’s a completely different picture.
    Yes both were practical, and the 4L much more so than the 2CV, but practicality doesn’t make a charm. It transported you and your luggage and that’s it. It was not pretty, it was not fun to drive, the amenities were just minimal. I drove 4Ls in many different environments: highways, speedways, dirt roads, mountain roads, in rain, in snow, etc. It never failed and it was very safe. IMHO it was the safest car in its category.
    I recall it as a good and reliable companion but not a buddy.
    Nick

  12. When I was young these were everywhere.
    In our neighbourhood somebody had a Parisienne with fake wickerwork except for the passenger door which had been repainted or replaced and nobody had cared for the luxuriouy stick-on decoration.
    I ‘repaired’ (using GRP) or replaced front wings on a number of these cars after a mere four or five years and after around six years the right hand rear wheel normally got a lot of negative camber when its mounting points had corroded off the underbody. Nowadays you can get zinc coated platforms which at least help to solve a part of the corrosion problems. For a French car the R4 was relatively easy to work on because the large bonnet and empty engine compartment provided good access to technical components.
    A guy I know converted his R4 to the mechanical bits of an R5 Alpine, resulting in a lot of fun.

  13. One R4 memory that came to my mind…
    In 2006 we went on holidays in Istria (Croatia). Besides spotting many Yugos, the standard car there seemed to be the R4. They were still everywhere, often driven at hilarious speeds, and overtaking us over solid lines despite oncoming traffic… I wonder if today, 15 years later, they are still around. Most of them didn’t look like pampered collectibles, rather like daily drivers.

  14. my parents were very fond of their R4s and had a constant succession of them since long before I was born. I remember a yellow one, then a blue, followod by a red and finally a green GTL. Officially, these where my mothers cars, but as much as she always preferred my fathers CXs, he was always happier hooning about in the R4s.

    The last (green) R4 was totalled by my mother, rolling it down a hill due to faulty breaks on a slippery road (no injuries, other than her pride). The real bummer of this was that the very last new German market R4 was sold off weeks before the incident, so to much dismay, it was Supercinq instead of Quatrelle afterwards.

    I don’t get the comments on the R4 lacking charm. It‘s got plenty!

    1. “I don’t get the comments on the R4 lacking charm. It‘s got plenty!”
      You are probably thinking about me concerning the charm of the R4. 😉
      On the other hand I am pretty much a DIY guy and I have plenty of tools, some dating back from the mid 1970’s. I have a close relationship with them. I highly consider some of them for being very well designed and practical but I don’t say they have any charm. They are tools and serve well their purpose.
      The quatrelle was a tool for me.
      My mother had several R6s (they were never dubbed sixelles 😉 ). It was a 4L that was “embourgeoisée“. In the late 1980’s my wife and I inherited her father’s R6 because he couldn’t drive anymore. We kept it for many years. It was a fairly good car in its category. I wonder why it had so little success. Yet I didn’t find any charm to it either.
      I don’t understand why Renault did only very limited upgrades to the 4L. They just replaced the ugly original grille with a decent to one and that’s it. With the success of the model and its long lifespan they could have afforded a more thorough reshuffle while keeping the same platform like they did with the R6 and the R5. IMHO, the complete front end of the 4L was particularly awkward. They could also have put doors with rolling down glasses instead of the sliding ones that leaked and rusted.
      VW made the Beetle evolve over the years with a curved windshield and a more voluminous bonnet that made it look nicer.
      Nick

  15. I recall in the ’80s Italy, R4s were much harder to get hold of second hand than 2CVs or the more popular (in Italy) Dyane. If you could find an R4 for sale, they had usually be thrashed and abused to within a mm of their life. The Italian climate meant little rust, but Italian driving & parking etiquette meant dents were many and often significant.

    I had the R4s bigger brother, the R6 when in the UK. That served me really well, was comfortable and reliable and hadn’t been infected too badly with tin worm. I even sold it for the same amount I purchased it for!

    The most fun in an R4 though was in NL, being passengered around a tight circuit in one fitted with an R5 Turbo engine!

    1. Good morning CX.GTi, Nick and Paul. Rightly or wrongly, I always regarded the R6 as Renault’s attempt to see if the R4 could be replaced by an updated car with improved features like wind-down windows and smarter styling:

      I regard the R6 as a really nice design. Had customers been willing to pay extra for the R6, then I imagine the R4 would have been discontinued, but demand for the latter remained strong and it outlived its putative ‘replacement’.

    2. Daniel wrote:
      “Good morning CX.GTi, Nick and Paul. Rightly or wrongly, I always regarded the R6 as Renault’s attempt to see if the R4 could be replaced by an updated car with improved features like wind-down windows and smarter styling”
      AFAIK the R6 was designed as a model in its own right to compete with the Ami 6 and Peugeot 204. I think the reason why it was not very successful is that its R4 descent was too obvious. OTOH the R5 was very successful in part because it hid very well its origin. Also the style was rather bland and a bit too “practical”. It became the well-to-do families wife’s car like my mother and the retiree’s like my father in law.
      Nick

    3. Hi Nick. I’m sure you’re right about the R6 and there was clearly a market for both it and the R4. The R5 was a clever repackaging of the same mechanical layout, and deservedly successful.

  16. I’ve been obsessing slightly over the asymmetric wheelbase on the Renault 4 and its larger siblings and found this interesting photo of the 16:

    This shows great attention to detail on Renault’s part. The additional bodywork between the trailing edge of the door and the wheel arch on the left-hand side of the car is evident, but notice how Renault has also taken care to balance this up by leaving a similarly extended space between the trailing edge of the wheel arch and the bumper. They have done so by making the side-return of the bumper noticeably shorter on that side. Lovely stuff!

    1. It’s this sort obsession (to details) that keeps me coming back to DTW!

  17. Daniel wrote:
    “I’ve been obsessing slightly over the asymmetric wheelbase on the Renault 4”
    This quirk got a lot of ink up to this day ;-). Needless to say it had no incidence on the driving of the car and its road holding even in tight corners. You wouldn’t feel it and most people just had no clue about it.
    Yet I always wondered why Renault dit it. It kept the torsion bars perpendicular to the trailing arms… so what? do they need to be? They could have been set in an oblique angle whether on a horizontal or a vertical plane. If needed there could have been an elastic link between bar an arm. Conversely the bars could have had an S shape like most of the anti-sway bars.
    Nick

    1. That’s a question for one of DTW’s more technically literate (than me!) readers, so over to Dave and/or Bob.

    2. Daniel wrote:
      “That’s a question for one of DTW’s more technically literate (than me!) readers, so over to Dave and/or Bob.”
      I remember the explanation from Renault was that with the torsion bar attached at the axis of the trailing arm the two arms couldn’t be placed right in front of each other.
      You can find an image here: https://www.r4-4l.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=40674

      (I don’t how to paste an image on this forum)
      You can see the trailing arm has two articulations:
      • at the exterior side its a bushing,
      • the other is the torsion bar itself.
      The other bar on the left belongs to the other wheel. That’s why they are side by side.
      I was a teenager at that time and I thought “Why didn’t they ask me? I would have given them a couple of solutions.” 😉 Well, it worked that for decades in half a dozen different models.
      This R4 has cast iron arms whereas others have welded, stamped, metal sheet ones. The former type has the reputation of being more durable and less prone to rust.
      Nick

    3. Hi Nick. Thanks for your comment. I have edited it to embed the image to which you refer.

      In order to embed images in your comments on DTW, you need a photo hosting app (or website) such as Imgur. You will find instructions on how to do this on the ‘Driven to Explain’ page above. Different instructions are provided, depending on whether you are using an Android, Apple or Windows device.

  18. Thanks for the tip Daniel.
    I saw the case of an R4 where the exterior support on the right side suspension was completely rusted and the arm was articulating on its bar only. The owner was complaining that when turning to the left there was some skid but, apart from that, he was noticing nothing special.
    I don’t remember which Italian maker of sports cars (ISO?) of the 60’s was using the R4 front suspension.
    Nick

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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.