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….
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.