The versatile Renault 4 platform lent itself to many variations on a theme.
Over the years, la Régie Renault has followed Citroën’s lead on a few occasions in terms of car development; the Méhari for instance was quickly followed by the 4 (and later 6) Rodéo. As with the Méhari(1), quite a few similar variants based around the same theme would be offered, of which a selection will be presented here.
To be fair, Renault had introduced the Renault 4 Plein Air exactly one day before Citroën unveiled its Méhari, but it proved to be not very popular and was discontinued in 1970 after only about 600 were sold; by that time Citroën had already shifted almost 20,000 Méharis. Renault realised it would have to change its plan if it was to come up with an effective competitor for the little plastic Citroën and turned to the Courpière based company ACL (Ateliers de Construction Livradois) to design and build such a vehicle, which resulted in the 4 and 6 Rodeo. Although they were similar in concept to the Méhari and performed better saleswise than the 4 Plein Air, neither would come close to the Méhari’s popularity and both were discontinued in 1981.
5 Rodeo, 1982-1986
The mediocre sales performance of the Rodeo 4 and 6 hurt the business case of ACL, renamed Teilhol after its founder Raoul Teilhol in 1978, and the company started development of a new and better version. This would become the 5 Rodeo which, although looking more modern than the two cars it replaced, was still based on the platform of the trusty Renault 4 and powered by the venerable ‘Sierra’ 34bhp 1,108cc engine. Unlike its predecessors, the 5 Rodeo had a tubular understructure onto which the polyester bodypanels were mounted.
The 5 Rodeo was available in a ‘four seasons’ version with doors and wind-down windows, or as a more rudimentary variant without doors. Interestingly, from the body colour one can determine the year a 5 Rodeo was built: first-year cars were orange, the 1983 vintage was green, the year after it was ochre(2) and finally white in its last two years, 1985 and 1986. Despite its contemporary appearance, the 5 Rodeo never sold very well. Teilhol lamented that Renault never put enough effort in publicizing the car but it was also the case that sales of the Méhari were sharply declining from 1981 onwards(3), indicating that this kind of vehicle might simply have fallen out of favour.
The worsening financial situation of Renault, its costly misadventure in the USA and the shocking assassination of CEO George Besse caused the company drastically to change course. One effect of this was the discontinuation of contractual ties with Teilhol, in effect sealing both its fate and therewith that of the 5 Rodeo. Teilhol attempted to survive by offering the Tangara, a conceptually very similar vehicle but based on Citroën mechanicals. It failed to save the company however, which went out of business in 1990.
Renault Farma, 1979-1985
Founded by the Maniatopulous family in 1926, Mava, based in the Greek port city of Patras, started importing Renaults in the 1960s and became its exclusive importer for Greece in 1976. The domestic popularity of the Citroën-based Namco Pony prompted Mava to develop a similar vehicle based on Renault mechanicals and take advantage of the Greek tax rules that applied at the time.
Georgios Michael, a Greek industrial designer who had previously worked for Coggiola and Ghia, was recruited to design the new car, which was ready in prototype form by 1979. As Mava very much desired their car to be allowed to wear the Renault rhombus, a prototype was shipped to France and assessed by Renault. La Régie approved of the car and Mava could go ahead and sell the car badged as a Renault domestically.
In late 1979 the Renault Farma was officially unveiled. While it wore a face very similar to the recently introduced Renault 14, the vehicle was actually mostly based on the Renault 4 and powered by its 845cc engine. A facelifted Farma with a front end that more resembled the Renault 4 followed in 1983. With a socialist government rising to power in Greece in the 1980s, tax rules were changed, making vehicles like the Farma and Namco Pony no longer viable: the last Farma was built in 1985, after a total of approximately 3,500 had been built.
Marland Plus, 1972-1978
The Marland company in Issy-les-Moulineaux built buggies on VW platforms, marketed the BSH kit-sportscar and produced a small roadster named La Jorgia based on the Citroën 2cv. In 1972, following the success of the Méhari, Marland studied the possibilities of building a similar vehicle on a Renault platform. Its styling credited to a certain Donald Waslander, the Marland Plus featured a body of fibreglass reinforced polyester, a material with which Marland was already familiar because of its buggy business.
The Renault 4 platform and mechanicals (in this case the 782cc ‘Billancourt’ engine) formed the basis of the car, but other Renaults also donated parts to the Marland Plus: the headlights came from the 12 and the windshield from the 16. Although the gearshift lever was on the floor, it was connected to a standard Renault 4 gearbox.
The Marland Plus was displayed at the 1972 Paris Salon. One was sent to Renault for evaluation, but no further developments ensued. Renault already had a similar vehicle in the form of the 4 Rodeo of course, but la Régie was also in the process of phasing out models with a separate chassis. Marland offered the Plus itself for a few years but very few found owners.
JP4 / Frog, 1981-1991 and JP5 Baja, 1983-1989
Patrick Faucher and Gérard Maillard, respectively a car mechanic and amateur stylist, created their own roofless vehicles based on the Renault 4 and 6 for fun to use as transport on their summer holidays. The amount of interest the cars generated on their trips drove the duo to establish a company, Car Système, in 1981. Customers could bring their Renault 4 to the small workshop in Redon, where the chassis was shortened by almost 11 inches (279mm) and the R4 body cut and shorn of its roof and doors to fit on its new, shorter base. A rudimentary roll bar was also added.
Transforming your Renault 4 into a JP4 (for J-P or Jeep) cost 15,000 Francs which did not include the cost of a donor vehicle. This made it quite a pricey proposition and hampered its saleability. Maillard left Car Système in 1983, but residents of Redon who sympathised with the tiny local enterprise helped Faucher out with monetary donations to keep it going. The name of the company was changed to Car Système Style but it still had to declare bankruptcy the next year, despite the support from the locals.
Something surprising happened however: the laid-off employees re-launched the company by investing their redundancy payments and attracted an experienced engineer, Yves Rousteau, to lead the revived company. Rousteau set to work to obtain a European homologation (which he got in 1986) so the JP4 could be sold outside of France to expand the potential customer pool. Renault itself got on board also and allowed the JP4 to be offered through its dealer network.
Hence, things seemed to be looking up for Car Système Style, especially when Renault Italia placed an order for 600 JP4’s which would be rebadged ‘Renault 4 Frog’. Car Système Style had also created somewhat of a range of JP4 models starting with the ‘Belle-Ile’, the basic version, the ‘Noeud pap’ with bucket seats, wider tyres and a bodykit, and finally the ‘BeBop’ with a glassfibre body and larger taillights from the R4 F6 van.
In France, these JP4 variants were offered for between 53,000 and 65,000 Francs while a standard Renault 4 was around 35,000 Francs: these high prices continued to be an obstacle to sustainable business success and when Renault 4 production was wound down by 1991, it also meant the end for the JP4 after an estimated 2,500 (including the 600 Italian Frogs) had been produced.
The JP5 was offered starting in 1983 and could be directly ordered from Car Système Style the customer no longer being required to supply a donor vehicle. An improved version of the JP4, the polyester bodied JP5 was based on the chassis of the Renault 4GTL and its more powerful engine. A more sturdy roll bar, optional hardtop, wider wheels and a different frontal appearance with headlights borrowed from the Renault 16 completed the package. Being the most expensive Car Système Style offering, only a paltry 20 were sold.
4 Cabrio König, 1983-1984 and Heuliez Renault 4 Découvrable, 1981
At first glance looking like a JP4 but on closer inspection quite different, not much is known about this steel-bodied Austrian conversion offered by Renault dealer Autohaus König in Vienna around 1984. An estimated 25 to 30 cars are thought to have been constructed.
Displayed at the 1981 Geneva Motor Show, the Renault 4 Découvrable by Heuliez remained a one-off but may have inspired Citroën to enlist the Cerizay carrossier to build the Visa Décapotable for them a few years later.
Dallas (& Grandin Dallas), 1982-1998
The small Willys-Jeep inspired Dallas, presented at the 1982 Paris Motor Show, was developed by Jean-Claude Hrubon, an erstwhile Austin dealer. The Dallas was not his first brainchild: during his affiliation with Austin, he had already designed another leisure vehicle named ‘Phaeton’, based on a Mini.
The steel bodied Dallas was built on a Renault 4 platform shortened by a substantial seventeen inches (432mm), used the ‘Sierra’ engine of the 4GTL and was also available as a 4×4 version- the latter especially pricey at 55,000 Francs. As with the JP4 and JP5, a lofty price discouraged many a potential customer and Hrubon soon ran into trouble trying to keep his business going.
In search of a replacement for his Méhari, chansonnier(4) Franck Alamo (real name Jean-François Grandin) discovered the Dallas in 1983 and visited Hrubons workshop with the intent to purchase one. Instead however, upon hearing from a despondent Hrubon about his difficulties, Grandin decided to buy the entire Dallas company! A car enthusiast and coming from a family with commercial experience (Grandin was a popular French brand of televisions and radios) Grandin believed the Dallas could become a viable proposition with some changes.
The most important change was replacing the steel bodywork with polyester: the Grandin appliances factory already had experience with this material as it was used for the casings of their TVs and radios. The polyester bodied cars were lighter and also cheaper to produce. They can be distinguished from the earlier cars by counting the vertical grille openings: seven for the steel cars, nine for the polyester ones.
As the end of the 1980s and the demise of the Renault 4 approached, Grandin made more drastic changes: he produced a galvanised steel chassis of his own design, switched to Peugeot engines and added a pick-up version named ‘Vescovato’ to the range. The Grandin Dallas would soldier on through the 1990s. Grandin himself sold the company in 1996 as he returned to the stage. It survived for two more years before closing its doors after almost 5,000 cars had been assembled.
4 Mireli, 1982- circa 1993
The Portuguese firm Mireli located in Bemposta built small boats, caravans and motorhomes and ventured into the automotive field in the early eighties with this open Renault 4, the 4 Mireli. Fibreglass bodies of Mireli’s own design were mounted onto platforms from Renault 4s produced by the Portuguese Renault plant in Guarda. There was a choice between two engines: 956cc or 1,108cc. The 4 Mireli was also available as a build-it-yourself kit. It is unclear when sales of the Mireli 4 stopped, or even how many were produced; the most often stated year of discontinuation is 1993.
APAL/Muschang Bimoteur, 1966-1970
As the buggy craze spread to Europe, the Belgian company APAL (Application Polyester Armé Liège) started to create VW Beetle-based buggies as early as 1962. Soon it was discovered that these light vehicles posessed good off-road capabilities, and it was not long before people started to enter them in competitions. Leopold Muschang, a Renault dealer in Arlon, was one such competitor and he would go on to design a unique twin-engined buggy in his search for success.
On a Renault 4 platform Muschang mounted two 845cc Renault engines, one in its regular place in front, the other at the rear. Muschang approached Apal to design a suitable polyester body for the vehicle. The result bore no resemblance to the Renault 4 nor any other buggy of the era. Only the grille gave away its origins. Other Renaults that served as donors for parts were the 12 (headlights), the 8 (taillights) and the Estafette van (indicators). A unique aspect of the Bimoteur was that while it had four driven wheels, the driver could engage only one of the engines at a time- the choice was thus between propulsion or traction only. Each engine also kept its own gearbox, so there were two gearshift levers.
Muschang achieved some good results with the car: victory on two stages of the tough Rallye des Cimes in 1966 and another one in the 1967 edition (He finished second in the overall classification that year.) and winning his class in the 1967 Belgian Rallye Championship.
The car was fitted with several different and more powerful Renault engines during its competition career- ranging from the 45bhp Renault 6 powerplant to the 90bhp job normally found in the quick Renault 8 Gordini. Together with Apal, Muschang tried to sell a civilian version of the Bimoteur, prudently equipped with just a duo of standard Renault 4 engines. Being this unusual, complex and specialised, it is perhaps not surprising the Bimoteur found few takers: only fifteen or so were sold to the public.
Marcadier Bamby/Savane, 1973-1974
André Marcadier made a name for himself in France shortly after the second World War by producing bicycles with ‘duraluminium’ frames which gained a good reputation for quality. As France’s economy improved during the 1950s, demand for bicycles fell as people could increasingly afford ‘better’ means of transport. Marcadier thus diversified his business and added metal furniture and motorcycle frames to his catalogue. His aluminium motorcycle frames were popular in racing competition and in 1960 the little firm started to produce racing go-karts as well, resulting in a Marcadier kart winning the European karting championship in 1961.
From 1963 on, Marcadier offered fibreglass bodied, mid-engined kit cars on a tubular chassis that took their inspiration from the Lotus 23. The gullwinged Barzoi powered by a Renault 8 Gordini engine followed in 1967.
In the early seventies, Marcadier tries his luck at creating a Méhari competitor. In fact, he produced two: the Bamby, which was based on the Renault 4, and the Savane, which had the Renault 6 as a base. Oddly enough their fibreglass bodies were very much Renault 5-like! Unlike some of Marcadier’s earlier efforts, both the Bamby and Savane were resounding flops and only twenty are reported to ever have been sold.
(1) See Herding a dromedary’s lost siblings
(2) In 1984 there was also a ‘Hoggar’ special edition with ivory bodywork.
(3) The Méhari was discontinued in 1988.
16 thoughts on “Rodeo-ite Roundup”
The Citroen Méhari didn’t get a German type approval because its bodywork was made from inflammable material (no matter that in France it was used by the pompiers). Only in the Nineties when acceptance across the EU of national type approvals became mandatory was it possible to legally get a Méhari on the road.
The Rodéos were made from GRP and didn’t have this particular problem and they were available as 4WD conversions by Sinpar.
This would have offered Renault a sales opportunity but the cars’ quality was so bad that the only one ever offered to the German press for a test was returned untested because its quality was considered unconscionable.
Another weird and wonderful collection, thank you Bruno. For me, the 5 Rodeo is the most interestingly styled, with its ‘1970s ESV’ (Experimental Safety Vehicle) looks, although I wouldn’t want to be involved in a crash in it.
The APAL/Muschang Bimoteur is just mad! Imagine having to carry around the bulk and weight of a redundant engine drivetrain all the time and still not have true 4WD capability.
Styling the Marcadier Bamby/Savane to resemble the Renault 5 makes sense, I suppose, in that it facilitated the use of the 5’s grille, bumpers, head and tail lights etc. and have it an element of ‘styling’ absent from some of the others.
With an additional engine in the rear Citroen again was first with the 2CV Sahara
(Dave, I’ve taken the liberty of swapping your image, which couldn’t be viewed, with the one above. Daniel)
I’ll have a 5 Rodeo ‘four seasons’ in green, please; it might be slightly more resistant to tin-worm than the original Panda……
Thanks Bruno, your weird and wonderful collections are always appreciated.
A Renault 4 with Austin Allegro envy… who’d a thunk it.
I think a lie-down is in order, Tom…😁
I’m sorry, I just woke up, did I miss something? 😁
I very, very vaguely seem to remember either the Dallas or a vehicle like it. Much too vaguely to pinpoint when or where I heard or read about it, though. The rest, as usual, is unfamiliar to me.
Somehow the frontal aspect of the Farma (oh dear, here I go again) reminds me of the Fiat Uno. I can’t readily identify the headlights and indicators though. Should it have taken your fancy, a scale model (with the ‘other’ front end) is available:
Hi Tom. The grille, rectangular headlamps and outboard indicators on the original Farma are from the facelifted Renault 14:
Note the shape of the (superfluous on the Farma) chrome trim around the indicators on both.
Ah, thanks! In my haste I’d only looked up the pre-facelift version. I was indeed intrigued by the chrome trim, which looks quite spectacularly dissonant.
We hired a Renner 4 Rodeo when we were on holiday in Zante. It was entirely adequate for the conditions.
Nine cars in one article and not one I knew about. This must be a DTW record 😉 Weird stuff, especially the Bimoteur with the redundant engine.
Hi Freerk. Feeling more charitable towards the Bimoteur than I was earlier in the day, one could read “redundant” in the IT systems sense as “back-up”.
I wonder why one couldn’t engage both engines at once? Is it simply that a Bimoteur thus powered would be epically unstable and ill-balanced?
Actually the bimoteur as photographed above appears to be more sophisticatedly styled than most buggies. Perhaps the paint scheme helps, but it reminds me of an R12.
I’ve been wondering about that the use of the second engine too. Sure there were two gear levers to control, but some trucks in the US had three stuck shifts, so that can’t be the limiting factor.
They could have had a close look at the 2CV Sahara. Here you get two ignition keys for independent operation of the engines and a floor mounted gear lever working on the front gearbox and a coupling to the rear gearbox that can be disengaged, enabling the rear gearbox to stay in neutral with the engine switched off when only FWD is needed.
Maybe Citroen had patents for that.
Hello, you have forgotten the Uckermann conversion from Cologne. It looks almost like the König conversion in Vienna. If you need information about it, please contact me, I have one in the garage.