For A Few Pesos More

A Renault that came close to making it to market, and one that actually did. Some may prefer it to have been the other way round….

Image: Forocoches.com

IKA Renault 40: Argentina

When Varig flight 820 crashed just a few miles from its destination of Orly airport on 11 July 1973(1) causing 123 deaths and only 11 survivors, there naturally was widespread grief among the families and relatives involved. The air disaster also derailed a promising project by Renault Argentina owing to the fact that Yvon Lavaud, the president of IKA Renault, was among the victims.

In 1967, Renault became the majority shareholder of IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina). Lavaud was sent to Argentina to lead the newly acquired company and coordinate the restructuring. At that time IKA’s car range consisted of Renaults (the 4 and Dauphine) and the Rambler Ambassador built under license.

In addition there was also the Torino, an interesting 2-door hardtop coupé and 4-door sedan partly styled by Pininfarina – an amalgam of two old Rambler models – the American and the Classic. Exclusively powered by large inline six cylinder engines of Jeep origin but augmented by IKA, the Torino was a much loved image car in Argentina, enjoying a lengthy (1966-1981) production run.

IKA Renault Torino and Renault 40CV. Image: Postwarclassic.com

Lavaud admired the Torino but was not blind to the fact that its Rambler origins were already well over a decade old when he arrived to lead the French carmaker’s new subsidiary. He therefore received permission from the head office in Paris in 1971 for work to commence upon a successor, initially known under the name Torino IV.

The CEO of IKA Renault had ambitious plans; not only did he want to market the new Torino across South America – why not also bring it to Europe? This planned new car could give Renault something it had not offered (or been allowed to offer) since it was nationalized: a large prestige vehicle with a big, powerful six cylinder engine.

Renault 40. Image: Carscoops

This ambition was made visible by the change in name of the planned car from Torino IV to Renault 40, likely in a nod to the famous 7.5 litre 40CV Renaults from before the second world war. At Renault’s Parisian styling studio, a full scale model was built, and from this template around twenty prototypes; some but not all of them fully functional, were constructed. Nothing is known about who was responsible for the styling, but as several details predict the later 14 and 18 models it is more likely to have been of French rather than Argentinian origin.

Renault 40. Image: Motor.es

The death of Lavaud, no doubt on his way to Paris to discuss among other things the progress of the 40, cost the project its most ardent supporter. A few months later there was also the small matter of the oil crisis which did not help the 40’s case either.

Development did continue for a while, but it had lost its drive. In the end Renault bit the bullet and decided that a more frugal, cheaper and simpler car would better answer the needs of post-oil crisis Argentina. Their solution was to bring the 18 to South America, leaving us to ponder what might have been.

Renault 4S Mini: Uruguay

Image: Petitherge com

In Uruguay, wedged between Argentina and Brazil, Spanish is spoken. Therefore Uruguay gravitates towards Argentina for trade, especially when it concerns automobiles. Renault has been present in Argentina since the end of the 1950s in association with IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina), and after 1970 as Renault Argentina SA.

Renaults were imported and distributed in Uruguay by a company named Santa Rosa Automotores. In the late 1960s the bosses of Santa Rosa tried to find a way around the high customs duties on imported fully finished vehicles. It transpired that the only solution was becoming a full-fledged manufacturer.

Since the tax was applied only to finished products, Santa Rosa purchased semi-completed R4s (essentially rolling chassis) and front bodywork from IKA-Renault and created its own in-house version of the R4 : The 4S (Mini).

From the front to the b-pillar it is just like a regular R4, but from there on backwards definitely not. Few people would put the R4 in their top ten of best looking cars, but compared to this Uruguayan variant it is beautiful!

Image: Petitherge.com

Almost all stylistic relation between the front and rear of the car is gone, only the longitudinal ridge along the bodysides is continued. The only Renault 4 Coupé ever, it also lost the practical hatch which was replaced with a crudely executed bootlid. In a few rare later cars however, the hatchback was reinstated.

For reasons that are known only to the designers the thick C-pillars and rear window combine to form a sort of buttress treatment that does not appear to aid rear 3/4 vision. In some cars the taillights are Renault 8 items mounted vertically, others have units of unknown origin.

Image: Rivera Notario

All things considered, it looks more like something a DIY enthusiast with a blowtorch and a batch of sheetmetal made out of the remains of a rear-ended R4 than the product of an official car manufacturer.

Image via pinterest

The first R4S / Minis rolled out of the factory in 1970. It was a success in the sense that the ploy to avoid the custom duties worked, but sales were only lukewarm. Could it be that the 4S’ looks were too much (or maybe we should say too little) for most Uruguayan car buyers? Perhaps they thought it worth it to save up a few more Pesos for a normal Argentina-sourced R4, which was also available through Santa Rosa Automotores.

Image: ripituc-blogspot.com

Verifiable information is sparse, but Santa Rosa likely halted R4S production towards the end of the seventies. If today one crawls the backstreets of Uruguayan cities and villages there is still the odd R4S to be spotted however, at least testifying to their durability.

(1) The cause of the disaster is believed to have been due to an out of control fire which started in the rear lavatory.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

15 thoughts on “For A Few Pesos More”

  1. Good morning Bruno. What a contrasting pair you bring us this morning! The mutant R4 seems completely pointless, unless a secure separate and lockable boot was an absolute priority. It really was a horrible lash-up.

    The R40 is intriguing, and its a shame it didn’t make production, but it was probably the right decision. Isn’t the Torino a nice looking thing?

    1. Hi gooddog and Charles. It’s interesting how the relatively minor changes (removing the chrome strip along the waist line, fitting shallower bumpers and a deeper grille with inset auxiliary lights) successfully ‘de-Americanised’ the Rambler*. The only downside (but not for me) is that the Torino looks like an older-generation model.

      * We’ll have to agree to differ on this point, Nick!

    2. The transformation was more than skin deep, by the way. Apart from the different engine (the Kaiser-Jeep OHC six) and a ZF-licensed 4 speed manual gearbox, the Torino had a revised front suspension layout as well as a completely new Alfa-Romeo style coil spring 4-link rear suspension.
      The unibody was also revised and strengthened to cope with the harsh environment the car was expected to operate.
      Later versions also got an improved engine with 7 main bearings and a different valvetrain.

  2. This Urugayan R4S is hilarious! I saw versions of the 2CV built with local content in countries like Peru and Colombia that were rather special too but at least they seemed to be practical.
    The profile of the Renault 40 in the first pic looks good. I am rather underwhelmed by the different front ends and rear ends: too Renault for me. The model in the pic posted by Daniel looks pretty much American, a bit like the Simca Chrysler.
    Nick

    1. Like Nick, I was immediately reminded of some 2CV variants when I saw this R4. I don’t know about those from Peru or Colombia, but the Chilean ‘Citroneta’ is quite famous (and conceived in a very similar way as the R4S):

      However, there was also a more practical 4-door version, where the angular roofline and the original 2CV door form an interesting C-pillar:

  3. The picture in the main text, shown again below, shows that Robert Boyer was involved with the R40, which confirms the theory that it had French input.

    1. What on earth was it doing on the rooftop of the PEUGEOT design centre???

      Very careless on Renault’s part, or excellent industrial espionage by Peugeot!

    2. Hello Daniel, it happens to us all. These days, we’re used to seeing Peugeot’s and Citroën’s names next to one another, with Renault being quite a separate entity; it seems odd when previous arrangements are mentioned. Context also matters – the names look odd when presented bluntly in a short piece of text.

      Another thing struck me – that picture doesn’t look very ‘1972’ to me (although it is definitely of that date). It could easily be 10 or more years later.

  4. I understand why small local companies who assemble knock-off models from mainstream auto makers sometimes do quick and dirty mods to meet a specific demand but this R4S design does look dirty but certainly not quick. It’s not just an easy DIY job like the 2CV.
    Nick

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