It took me close to four years. I kept bumping into all manner of Mitsuokas, mock BMC Princesses, shrunken VW vans and the like. Heck, I even found yet another of those extremely odd (and very rare) Mitsubishi Flying Pugs recently. But the one I always really wanted to see up close was the Suzuki Lapin that pretended to look like a Renault 4. It was almost worth the wait.
So what’s all the hubbub? I assume we’re all somewhat aware of the Renault 4 (1961-93). Millions of them were made, although few found a home in North America. But the rest of the world, especially South America, Europe, North Africa and Japan, took to it in a major way. Plenty are still puttering about Tokyo.
But what of the Suzuki Alto Lapin, then? That side of the equation is a kei car, essentially a re-bodied Alto. Suzuki has spent most of the ‘80s and ‘90s turning the Alto into a turbocharged hairy-chested sporty little rocket. As a result, they found that women were not overly keen on them. To address this, Suzuki designed a cutesy (or kawaii, in the local vernacular) variant called the Lapin (French for “rabbit”), which hit the dealerships in January 2002. The model was a huge hit with its intended audience and is currently on its third generation.
When he saw the new Suzuki, the CEO of kit-maker DAMD (Dream Automotive Development & Design) thought it reminded him of the Quatre, i.e. the Renault 4. They started selling kits in late 2003 and have continued ever since, though they only fit the 1st gen Lapin (2002-08), not the subsequent ones.
It’s a pretty extensive body kit: a very convincing Renault 4 hood and grille (complete with a period-correct version of the marque’s rhombus-shaped logo), GTL-style plastic cladding for the side, a worthy attempt at aping the R4’s distinctive taillights, chunky gray bumper with black overriders and, for a reason I cannot fathom, a tailgate window appliqué that bisects the screen in two, à la early VW Beetle or split window Corvette. The Renault never had that, so what is the justification for it?
Nothing out of the ordinary inside, except that aftermarket steering wheel, but that’s not part of the DAMD package. A 4-speed auto on the tree is standard for all 1st gen Lapins. It’s mated to a 54hp (or up to 64hp with a turbo) 660cc DOHC 3-cyl. – not a millions miles, size-wise, from the Renault’s little 4-cyl.
You have to admire that DAMD attention to detail…
They even re-created Renault’s late ‘60s / early ‘70s badging. Adding another carmaker’s logos on a JDM product seems to be completely fine for the authorities. Just as putting a great big divider on the rear window is. They say that Japanese motorists must follow strict rules – and they absolutely do, but they clearly also have a lot of leeway on certain fronts. None of this would fly in places like Australia, Europe or the US (and many others), I should think.
I was never a huge fan of Renault 4, for some reason, but I quite like this nipponized version. It’s kind of like the way Japanese restaurateurs interpret Italian, French or Spanish cuisine: incredibly genuine techniques and ingredients are coupled with completely alien adaptations to suit local tastes and supply chains. That can lead to some major uncanny valley moments, but the end result can also be outstanding in its own right.
I liked it!
Another cool Kei Car .
It’s certainly Kawii .
That is a new one for me. As you say it looks quite decent and quite an extensive kit. The old school, steel (look?) bumpers really help.
DAMD if you do, Damd if………..
Having grown up with those Renaults all around me, I frankly don’t see anything in this car that truly reminds me of them. Of course, the grille and badging are indistinguishable from the original, and the rear light pods could be the same as the last series, for all I know. But the car itself doesn’t FEEL like a Renault 4 would…
Thanks Tatra for all you bring to us!!
100% agreed. It doesn’t feel like a Renault 4 and it does not evoke nostalgic sentiments like seeing a real Renault 4 would. At the same time I don’t mind the retro styling. The problem with retro styling is that the historic context is lost. You can bring back styling cues but history is water under Pont Neuf.
As for the legality of putting Renault badges on a Suzuki, not a lawyer but I’m not aware of anything in the US preventing individual car owners from doing this to their own vehicles (Type R badges on a non-Honda or ///M ones on non-BMWs are almost a meme). Certainly not anything a traffic police patrol would care about.
Doing it commercially – a third-party upfitter putting one automaker’s branding on another company’s product and selling the result as a consumer product – is a trademark violation that would inevitably lead to a civil suit. That would not affect the owners who would likely be offered debadging, maybe even paid to do so by the upfitter as part of the judgement or settlement against them, but would be under no obligation to follow through.
My first reaction was that it was a Nissan Pao front end and I see a lot of first genration Scion xB/Toyota bB in the overall shape. It’s not a Renault 4 but it’s a cute looking alternative. I think the intent of the rear window applique was to give the look of a van with double doors, which makes no sense in a Renault 4 context because the vans had a single rear door, although it does evoke a Fiat Furgoneta.
I’d still prefer my Suzuki Kei car cosplay in the form a of Dream Factory Blow 69 Suburban on a Wagon R
Wow, neat! I had no idea these exist. I’m not shocked, I just didn’t know.
I am about 99 per cent sure those are actual R4 taillights; compare for yourself.
Oh, I do. And I want a set of those repeaters. –
No idea how to chase them down, though; I can’t quite read the lens markings to figure out whence they might originate– Never mind; found ’em. I should’ve had a little more faith in myself. They were used on the Italian-market Renault 4, as it seems.
I like this better than the ADO16 look a likes, but I can’t explain why
Thats a really neat little lookalike Renault,I wonder how long it will be untill I see one live,
True the Japanese will happily use any badge name they like this is why I see Toyota Isis and Toyota Vanguards on a regular basis both are well known British model names, an Isis is a Wish with sliding rear doors electric naturally and 7 seaters, A mate of mine drive as Toyota Wish one of his daughters has a Toyota Isis Latana.
Nice to have you back Tatra87. Looking forward to the new finds in the land of Japan!
I like this! Since I have little exposure to Renaults, I found the front end to be very Renault-like to me. These types of vehicles absolutely amaze me. Looking forward to whatever you found these last few months.