(first posted 5/11/2016) I know many Americans may barely know know of the R4’s existence, and would be quite happy to go their graves without being enlightened to its Gallic charms. But it does represents one of the most important milestones in the development of the modern car: this lowly little box created and defined the whole genre of the compact hatchback, one that has become one the most popular classes globally. And if that’s not enough, it has a few other significant honors in its resumé.
Everyone recognizes that quintessential French small car, the Citroen 2CV (CC here). Although it became an evergreen as well as an icon, in reality it also became outmoded for the rank and file French drivers pretty early on. By 1960, it was already looking dated, and its tiny two-cylinder engine was noisy, slow, and didn’t generate any real heat in the winter. Renault recognized this, and wisely decided to develop what essentially became the 2CV’s successor as well as competitor.
Introduced in 1961, just as French incomes were rising, the R4 was a significant step up: a water cooled four, a roomy body with a rear luggage area accessible with a lift-up hatch, more comfortable seats, and of course that famous French-car cushy suspension. The basic concept of the leading/trailing arm long-travel suspension Renault largely cribbed copied from Citroen, but used torsion bars. By recycling the engine and transmission from their rear-engined 4CV, Renault saved development time and money. That did mean the engine was behind the front wheels, which explains why they’re so far forward.
It’s the “classic” fwd layout, as pioneered by the Miller racing cars of the twenties and the Cord L-29, and the Citroen Traction Avant. It’s not as space efficient as the transverse engine configuration, but it got the job done, as long as you found a way to get the transmission linkage past the engine to that transmission sticking out front. Renault used the “umbrella handle” approach, with the lever sticking out horizontally from the dash, and the linkage rod running right over the engine, connected to what would be the gear shift coming straight up from it. It looks like a very homebrew arrangement, but its one that’s been used by millions of cars with this type of engine-transmission configuration.
Here’s the other end of the umbrella handle sticking out from the dash. The R4 started out with the 4CV’s 747 cc mill, but most versions used an 845 cc version. And starting in 1978, the GTL version came with a whopping 1108 cc motor. That was what my cousin had, when he took us on a few hair-raising rides through the narrow roads of Vienna at night in 1980. European city cars don’t need big engines to “win” the urban battles; their drivers just needed gumption.
As mentioned earlier, the suspension was largely copied from the Citroen 2CV set up, with enormous amounts of wheel travel and very soft springs; that’s why the rear end sits up so high. This arrangement allowed for a remarkably soft ride over the roughest cobblestones and bad pavement.
The R4’s distinctive exhaust pipe, which runs under the driver side doors, exits just ahead of the rear wheel. On of those rational, cost and space-saving ideas which French cars were famous for. Like the wheels with three lugs nuts instead of four.
In curves, these cars lean crazily, and look like they’re just about to flip but never seem to actually, their skinny little Michelin radials seemingly glued to the pavement. One minor oddity of the Renault is that its wheelbase is different on each side, since the rear torsion bars are transverse, and run the full width of the car. It had no effect on the handling.
The R4 gave birth to several offshoots: the very similar but more upscale R6 shared the same platform frame, and the very popular R5 (Le Car in the US) was also derived from the R4, sharing its drive train and suspension, but now attached to a new unibody. And although the van-version Fourgonnette (above) also imitated the 2CV version, it became the definitive vehicle of its kind, and spawned what is now a huge category throughout Europe and other continents.
Before you slam me about there being other hatchback cars before the R4, yes, technically, there were a few. But they weren’t in the class, size and popularity of the R4. It was a fairly radical new step in the small car’s evolution, and one that was soon adopted almost universally, especially in Europe. IKEA owes its whole existence to the R4. As does the Simca 1100,the VW Golf, and…
Since we’re on the subject, let’s do a quick survey of the hatchbacks that preceded the R4. The 1949 Kaiser-Frazer Vagabond often gets credit for being the first hatchback. Well, it’s close, but not really a true hatchback, since it also has a fold down tailgate. K-F built it because they couldn’t afford to tool up for a real station wagon, so this was an expedient solution, of sort.
Anyway, the French pioneered that concept over a decade earlier, in the 1938 Citroen Traction Avant Commerciale.
And by 1954, the Citroen TA was sporting a genuine hatchback. Now that’s the real thing. But these Commerciales were not built in large numbers. It’s technically the first, but not what really started the modern compact hatchback.
The 1952 Aston Martin DB2 beats that by two years, but realistically, it’s not much more than a lift up rear window. A proper hatchback goes down to the floor level, to maximize access to the cargo area. That was not the brief here.
And the R4 for making it widely available on a small and very affordable car. It really was the first mass-produced hatchback, and it managed to make such a utilitarian vehicle chic. And soon everyone was copying it.
The R4 was a huge hit for Renault, and it was built/assembled in no less than seventeen countries throughout the world. And it was a hard car to replace, as it still sold very well into the eighties. Production finally ended in 1994, after a thirty-three year run. But it’s been immortalized with cult status, especially in Japan, where there was a kit to transform a Suzuki Lapin into an R4 look-alike.
Renault left a bad taste in Americans’ mouths, with a reputation for fragility. There’s no question that Renaults, and most European cars back then were designed for different conditions: short trips, and some weekend outings. Americans punish cars, and the Renaults often withered in their hands. Lousy dealer service was the final nail in the coffin. European cars have of course dramatically improved since then, but the R4 and its ilk is considered a rather robust car here in Paris, and can still be found on the streets. And it’s always fashionable, no matter what company it finds itself in.
I have a French five door car its by Citroen on a Peugeot Chassis but it can trace its existence back to this R4, its a very handy configuration plenty of room for passengers a couple of seat folds and its almost a van and can swallow an amazing amount of freight, I have a 59 sedan roughly the same length and width that has no room in it at all compared.
The underhood picture caught my eye. All the pieces look just like my late lamented R8, but turned around. And the front fenders look suspiciously similar to the R8’s rear fenders, turned around.
A flipup hatchback is OK for a coupe with minimal trunk, but it was never a good idea for a station wagon. It interferes with loading. Side-opening doors, or regular down-opening tailgates with roll-down window, allow you to pick up or put down a heavy object without leaning over and bumping your head.
I had the honor to drive one of the R4’s direct descendants, the upscale Renault 6. They were built in Spain until 1986. It was my uncle’s car and it was one of the first ones that I drove when I was really a child. It was like the one in the picture, except that the one shown has Renault 5 TL alloy wheels.
The umbrella gearchange was the most complicated thing about these cars.
Spanish versions, built in Valladolid by FASA Renault had usually larger engines and more robust suspension components.
If you can read Spanish, here’s a 1983 magazine speaking about one of the last versions of the Renault 4 TL: http://www.pruebas.pieldetoro.net/web/pruebas/ver.php?ID=822
Very common in Israel in the 70s and 80s, these were bought by the public as well as the IDF (as its junior officer staff car), and now have a following by old car collectors as a sort of “Israeliana” – everybody remembers owning, knowing someone who had or drove one during his or her military service. I also used a 4 in the UK (a van) and it was dead reliable and not that dreadful on the motorway with the 1.1 L engine.
Neat car. The picture with the modern Golf in front gives a sense of how much extra ground clearance was built in. When this car was being planned, the state of rural travel in France must have involved more dirt roads than motorways.
The tiny engines have always made me wonder. Did the engineers think 747cc was enough, but then once in service realize bigger engines were necessary? Was there a 1400 cc ohc engine in their mind but economics dictated reusing the old engine.
Incomes were on a steady increase in Europe during the 50s, 60s and 70s. Thus cars were were initially designed for small, cheaper engines. Engines were taxed on their displacement, and gas was expensive. As incomes rose, engines naturally got bigger and more powerful.
The same thing happened in the US during the 50s and 60s, just on a larger scale.
If the R4 was designed to entice 2CV owners/customers, does this mean it cost LESS than the rear-engine Renault Dauphines/R9/R10 back in the the day?
Yes. By the time the R4 got rolling, the Dauphine was pretty much history. The R8/10 were more powerful, and had much nicer interiors.
I na quick search I could find that the goal was to keep the car below 350000 old Francs, whatever that means. I could not find a figure for the Dauphine.
Even though: the rear-engined Renault simply could not offer the functionality of the R 4. They were offered because they had their following. That following waned rather quickly after the R 4 rang in the era of FWD Renault.
I think the old franc to new franc conversion was to divide the old franc figure by 10.
I don’t know what taxation was when you left, but nowadays in the Alpenrepublik it goes by hp, pretty stupid as 120 hp even in a compact (sort of a watershed) is not enough. I said stuff it and got a 165 hp Mazda 3 – adequate, not stellar, hp for a car weighing 1.4 T – but I pay for it. I have bigger plans though…
Latent CC Effect. Caught this a few months ago; first one I’ve seen on Australian roads.
Great piece Paul. Never knew about the exhaust pipe placement. Sporty. Hehehe
It was built in Australia in the mid sixties at a place called Heidleberg.
Wow, so it was. Cheers.
Love all the dings in the bodywork on the driver’s side. I imagine the passenger side showed similar levels of careful motoring! Those skin-deep dents are a fundamental part of French urban driving. The car exists to do its job; it’s classless, and doesn’t need to be pristine, whether you’re a duc or a plongeur. And if the door whacks into a hydrant on opening – c’est la vie.
My father bought a yellow brand new R4 TL in 1979, and he had it until 1988. Good childhood memories, I remember how it leaned around bends but grip was very good. If you kept your foot down it could be rather swift in winding roads. Sort of.
Mechanicals were simple and easy to mantain, and the car was reliable. But bodywork was very fragile and it rusted even in the south of Spain where I live. So wobbly and thin was the body that the 4 L was dubbed in Spain as ” 4 latas”, or “4 (tin) cans”.
Few survive because they were used a lot in rural zones, where people ran them into the ground.
Unfortunately, those are bound to disappear from Paris thanks to its Mayor’s inept crusade against old cars (Air pollution in Paris comes massively from diesel engines, much less from gasoline engines…).
For any french-reader who might be interested :
Diesel engines and swarms of two-stroke motorbikes and scooters! Although I’ve happily owned and ridden more than my share of ring-a-dings, after a few days walking around Paris last year I swore I’d be happy never to hear another one. And they run in big packs …
So will the Mayor buy a replacement new car?. No just waste public money an a scrap-age sceem so every body will new Dacias!.
Couldnt this be registered as a collector/historic vehicle?.
Great piece, very educational.
I thought the most significant Renault was the R5 (LeCar), and Dauphine….
The French contributed much, oui. But why are so many French cars so ugly?
Because other priorities took precedence for these ultra-low end cars. They were effectively engineering exercises, with many clever solutions to the problems. And the French understood that, and accepted them for what they were. And by not trying to be stylish, these cars transcended the style of the moment and became somewhat timeless, which only added to their appeal.
The French cars being ugly was a rhetorical question….
Panhards? The Citroen featured here before (Ami?)?
Yes, and another thing is, the R4 was produced for decades without any major changes. And it was ubiquitous. It’s one of these cars that become part of the landscape, to the point that nobody wonders if they look good or not. They do everything they are meant to do, and they are just here for many years the way obvious things are. Kind of like the Land Rover or the Checker cab. Do these look good? Frankly I have no idea, but they are icons for a reason.
There is a certain beauty to engineering pragmaticsm. I’d say the French have a knack for quirky engineering solutions that may not be beautiful from an estethic viewpoint, but from solving a problem by its most logical tangent. It’s an extension of the 19th century engineering estethics, building bridges and towers like the engineer Gustave Eiffel. It’s also an estethic that got revived in the 70’s, with “Hi-Tech Architecture” like Richard Rogers “Centre Pompidou” with all its technical innards on the outside of the building.
Revolutionary, yes, and an icon. But an icon in spite of its styling, or lack thereof… It looks like the brief was “design a 2CV without separate fenders” and that’s pretty much all. The quarter windows not matching up with the domed door tops looks particularly off-kilter to me. A car doesn’t need to be beautiful to be good, but the 4’s charm is lost on me, at least visually.
And if a proper hatchback goes down the floor level (which I agree with, for the most part) why did so many in the 80’s not do so? I’m looking at you, Escort. Plus so many others of the era. Problems with structural rigidity with an opening that extended too far down?
If you look at the front door window frame, you see that it curves backward on the lower front end. If the moveable window pane would’ve had the same angle, it wouldn’t have been able to move forwards as much. The downward curve on the moveable pane makes it able to move just that extra inch forward. It may not be a beautiful solution, but it’s highly practical and very pragmatic, in true French fashion.
Chris , I wouldn’t try to defend the styling of any French automotive icon to anyone who “doesn’t get it”. It’s like Münster cheese: either you love it or you hate it.
But I say this: they did work on the styling. Enlarge the pictures in this article: http://www.la4ldesylvie.fr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=222
…And you are right: the Escort and so many other hatchbacks had a high load over edge because of structural rigidity. The original R4 had no or not much concern about crumble zones.
Fair enough. And it’s not a derision of French quirkiness–I enjoy it in many forms and I’m even a fan of the 2CV–just the 4 in particular doesn’t work for me. I can still appreciate its importance.
That battle-weary old traveler caught in the wild like that is just such a great shot I’ve never had much real-world exposure to french cars, except for some seat time in a friend’s Peugeot 505 in the 80’s, but the more I see and read, the more intrigued I’m becoming. I’d love to get my hands on one of the more rudimentary (and elemental) examples of french motorcars, like one of these, or more likely in the US, an R5. I’ve long pined for a 2-door LeCar with the folding canvass top. I was smitten with them as a kid when they first arrived here.
Incidentally, what is that navy blue coupe parked behind the R4? It’s unfamiliar to me, but I rather like the lines.
An Alfa Romeo, I’m not sure of the model. Someone here will enlighten us.
An Alfa Romeo GT it is – all the way from Russia!
I’ve long pined for a 2-door LeCar with the folding canvass top. I was smitten with them as a kid when they first arrived here.
Most fun I ever had with 50hp. Mine was an 80, so benefited from the updated, reasonably normal looking, instrument panel and controls. Exhaust pipe ran under the driver’s side rocker panel, as did the R4’s. iirc, the European market R5s had the shifter in the dash, but US market models had a floor shift. Mine also had the radio antenna bracketed to the C pillar and sloping forward, though there was a plastic plug in the headliner where the European roof mounted antenna would have gone. I had the huge fabric sunroof, and loved it. Better than a/c, I would reach inside the car and release the clamp on the front bow and, by the time I had folded the roof back and tied it down, all the hot air had flown out of the car.
Once I got used to the controls and design, most of it was very effective, just different. Only thing I really question is having the horn on the end of the stalk that controlled the headlights. To turn on the lights, you twisted the stalk to light the parking lights, then pushed the stalk up one notch for low beams and up two notches for high beams, meaning where I had to reach for the horn button depended on if the lights were on or not.
As with the R4, the hatch opened at bumper level. Unlike other hatches of the time, the bottom of the rear seat folded up against the back of the front seats, so the rear seatbacks folded flat with the cargo floor. My Mazda and Honda hatches that came later had a molded plastic cover over the cargo area, which always presented a problem when it was in the way. Where to put the cover when I needed to take it out to accommodate cargo? In the R5, the cargo area cover was a flat piece of plywood piano hinged to the back of the back seat. I could fold the cover flat against the seatback to allow taller cargo, or, it laid flat against the seatback when the back seat was folded flat for long cargo.
Structural rigidity and suspension compliance were a revelation. Lots of wheel travel and efficient shocks are the hot ticket on Michigan roads. A Renault may corner on it’s door handles, but it will stay controllable on bumpy pavement when other cars are dancing a jitterbug. What torque the engine had was available where it’s most useful: 2500rpm, which came out to 35mph in 3rd and 45mph in 4th, ideal for point and squirt city driving. The engine had a unique, lopey idle, as if all four cylinders hit on one crank turn, then the engine coasted for the next crank turn. The exhaust had a wonderful sound, though you had to be standing outside the car to really appreciate it.
I had about 1 expensive failure per year with it, which was about the same as I had with 70s Detroit iron. What really killed it was rust as, in Michigan driving conditions, it was well on it’s way to dissolving in only 5 years.
Thanks for this writeup about the Renault 4. I’ve always wanted a chance to ride in and drive one of these Renault 4s since I first saw them during a trip to Spain in the early 1980’s. As I live in the US, it’s like a distant dream. I’ve wondered what it’s like to shift the transmission lever that protrudes from the dash with a pull and twist motion. I imagine the car does not have power steering but the tires are so skinny it probably doesn’t take that much effort to steer? These cars were also produced in Colombia and they were affectionately nicknamed as “amigos fiel”(faithful friend) there. I’ve heard they’re still used as taxis in Antananarivo, Madagascar. One thing, I think the van version is called the Fourgonette and not Fourgette.
If I squint I see 1st gen Scion xb with stretched nose.
Interesting observation. No wonder I’ve always had a soft spot for the R4.
There’s no more efficient way to package four adults and some luggage than in a tall and fairly narrow box. That was the design brief for the R4, and on a more expansive note, the xB.
Now if only Toyota had injected some of the R4’s suspension compliance into the xB.
It would look really nice if the wheels were painted red.
In its day as great as the MINI was, perhaps even greater, this was just that bit better then a 2CV, stronger, decent heater you did not have to make the engine scream to get at speed and no sports ambitions at all.
Just 100% practical and utalitarian as a motorized form of transport.
You drove one, you scrapped it you simply bought a new one.
As a student I had two and compared to the 2CV these are Ferrari’s and we’d go out with five guys in the R4.
Rust was an issue but mechanics were rock rock solid with the lovely hum of the Ventous? engine.
My wife now drives its spiritual successor : The Twingo Mk I less,monsieur est sometimes more !
If I’d ever retire and choose to live in France, for sure I’ll buy another one for sure !
I posted several pictures of a pistachio green Renault 4 a couple years ago.
It was our family’s first car. Like any first car experience it left an indelible impression on each one of us. Still today I have a preference for hatchbacks. I am glad to see that they find much more acceptance in the US today than they did when I arrived here in the mid 80’s. Just compare the sedan version and hatchback version of some small cars. The sedans are just ridiculous. A car with a tiny footprint must make the most of it in terms of space. Renault 4 style!
Interesting to consider the genesis of the hatchback. Like with so many issues, there were so many little sparks that came close before anyone came up with something like we see today.
As you note, the Kaiser was a sedan with a 2 piece hatch/gate. The window was part of the hatch, but the sedan shape was unlike the typical modern hatchback. I am thinking of another oddity, the prewar Chrysler Town & Country that had more of the shape of a typical hatchback, but with barn doors and a fixed rear window. Also there were some prewar sedan delivery vehicles (like the Willys) with a one piece rear door, but those usually opened sideways instead of up like a hatch. And station wagons all through the 50s usually had an upwards opening hatch every bit as big as the lower tailgate. But as you say, each was different from this Renault in some significant way.
It would have taken a car as small and light as the Renault to make that hatch work. The weight of such a large panel (with glass in it) was an engineering issue that the bigger, heavier American designs stayed away from for a long time.
Yes. I could have expanded on the precursors at some length. The 1946 DeSoto Suburban also used its large trunk lid to access a multipurpose rear compartment.
The closest I can come is the liftgate used on the 1961-63 GM Y body station wagons, which is the earliest American application I can think of that involved a full lifting hatch. But as you note, we called it a station wagon and not a hatchback.
“But as you note, we called it a station wagon and not a hatchback.”
… because it’s a Station Wagon with a hatchback – there’s a Venn diagram in this I’m sure…
I didn’t know those wagons had a door like that!! Wow!
35 Plymouth Sedan Delivery
Re…Renault left a bad taste in Americans’ mouths, with a reputation for fragility. There’s no question that Renaults, and most European cars back then were designed for different conditions: short trips, and some weekend outings
That said, up until the 1990s, when the Greek Gov (probably prodded by car-making EU nations) instituted a sort of “cash for clunkers” to get non-catalyst cars off the road (essentially all cars on Greek roads sold before the early 90s) to help reduce air pollution, Greek roads constituted a rolling museum.
Because of price increase (inflation AND increased taxation) that were so big, from the mid-60s thru the late 80s, it was not uncommon for people to keep cars, with the original plates, for 15-20 years–or more.
Many European cars of the 1960s were robust enough to last. In Greece, people didn’t use their cars as often, and the dry climate minimized rust.
As late as 1997, for example, one could spot Citroen DSs, 60s Simcas, lots of older Opels, Mercedes, Peugeot 404s, and of course. Beetles…
Not forgetting the pretty little Austin A40 which predates the ugly R4 by some years.
The A40 wasn’t a hatchback. It had a fold down tailgate and a lift up rear window, just like most station wagons of the time. But it did somewhat pioneer the concept of a compact car with some features of a wagon, but shorter load floor.
Originally the A40 only had the drop down tail gate the later Countryman had both that and the lift up window I owned one of each, got em for peanuts so why not.
The Mk2 was a proper top hinged one piece hatch.
Not so, actually. The Austin A40 Farina MkII still had the same two piece rear opening: fold down tailgate and flip up window.
It was the Innocenti S40 Combinata, a license built A40, that got a hatchback, but not until December of 1962, so the R4 still was first.
I’ve spent a bit of time confirming this; if you can show me proof otherwise, I’d be happy to correct the article.
Below is the Austin A40 MkII.
And here’s the only image I could find of the Innocenti S40 Combinata. This link has a good article on that car: http://www.aronline.co.uk/blogs/cars/austin/a30a35/innocenti-austin-a40/
That would have improved the A40 Farina no end, typical of BMC to can the model instead. My first one was a 58 with a worked 1100 motor far more performance than brakes and handling, the second a 63 MK2 stock standard and slow.
Looks like early Vdub squareback.
The first European hatch I remember was the Hillman Husky, which sold in reasonable numbers.
When the R4 was introduced the entry-level model lacked rear quarter windows, as per your third pic, and had very minimal trim. I remember one of the French teachers at school buying one – at a time when few bothered with foreign cars. I think that side exhaust pipe was always a feature of the van, but was replaced by a full length exhaust on the cars. I’ve driven a van but not a car. The van usually had a hatch above the back door, so that you could leave ladders sticking out if the were too long to fit inside.
I tried to buy a used R4 for my wife in the 80’s – it looked OK, but I could touch the pedals from outside the car, without opening the door….
The Husky is actually an “estate,” or wagon; there is a somewhat longer version with four doors, but the Husky is my fave. I’ve had two and a half – went in with a friend on an Alpine-engined one that had too many problems, and we sent it back. Very sweet cars to drive. I’m waiting for someone to do an article here … and if one comes up on Bring a Trailer I might have to lose an Alfa.
Also, the Husky’s back door is side-hinged.
The Husky was a windowed version of the Commer Cob panel van yeah no tailgate it had a side opening rear door, I had a 60 model Cob great little car but gutless they only had the 1390cc engine. the floorpan went on to gain a sports clothes and a Ford V8 as the Sunbeam Tiger.
That was called the R3 and ad an even smaller engine.
These were not a success compared to the 4, for the price difference people preferred the more expensive R4 !
Both the R3 and R4 were available in a basic version without the rear side windows, but did not sell well. The R3 and the non-window version of the R4 were both discontinued in October of 1962.
This was the first popular car in Colombia. It was assembled in Medellín from 1970 to 1993. In the seventies, there was a famous commercial campaign calling it the “Amigo Fiel” – loyal friend. Look for the ads on Youtube. I learned to drive in one and remember it fondly. One time I stuffed eight in one, which is not as crazy as it sounds – three in front (thanks to the “Umbrella” gearchange), four in the back seat and one in the trunk. They are truly legendary – one cousin of mine lived in Manizales in a coffee growing farm,so she had to travel every day about 15 kms on unpaved roads. She had a Renault 4 and replaced it with a Fiat 131 Mirafiori. The 131 destroyed itself in less than a year, and she had to go buy a Renault 4 again. Also, I suggest you to look for a show called “Los Puros Criollos” which describes Colombian idiosyncratic things – they did a very good episode showing Renault 4s which still earn their keep in Colombia.
rode in one of these in strasbourg, fr in 1981. was impressed with how many people fit in it comfortably and then wowed by the shift that came out of the dash. the owner discussed it at length with me as a long-time production run classic french car. absolutely cool in my mind.
I spent a couple of summers working for a farmer who had a battered old Renault 4. The farm was spread over a few different locations and he basically used the Renault (and occasionally an old Mk1 landrover) for everything that didn’t need a tractor. It spent years and years bouncing merrily along rough unmade roads with tools, feed and whatever in the back, and never seemed to really get any maintenance. He was a very wealthy guy who could afford whatever he wanted, but I think he just appreciated that this was a minimal expense way to get the job done, that wouldn’t either suck up time or be a traumatic loss if it died. Good utility vehicle.
I never knew the Traction Avant had a hatchback version-was this a preview of the CX?
Re: “The R4’s distinctive exhaust pipe, which runs under the driver side doors, exits just ahead of the rear wheel.” – in the “top of the line” GTL version, the exhaust pipe exits at the back of the car.
My father bought a new R4 in 1984 and kept it for 10 years. By then, it developed a lot of rust, although mechanically it was stil mostly OK.
I got my driver’s license in 1993 and got to drive that car quite a few times.
Fun fact: a R4 GTL will do 80 km/h (~50 mph) in 2nd gear. On a gravel road. 🙂
Whenever I saw these as a kid the chrome front bumper over riders always looked like handles meant to allow you to pick the car up and carry it away.
Isn’t the third photo a Renault 3 and not a Renault 4 ?
The R3 and R4 were both available in a basic version with no rear side window. I’m not sure there are any external differences between them.
I was remiss in not including info on the R3 in the article, which was of course the same car but with the smaller 603 cc version of the same basic engine, for tax purposes. The R3 sold poorly, and was already discontinued in October 1962, along with the spartan four window version of the R4. Renault had aimed a bit too low in the market. .
Did not know that, never seen a R4 without the rear side window.
BTW, loved the article, mooi stukkie
I was wondering about the missing rear quarter window in the car in that photo, too. I read through all the comments to see if it had been brought up, and here it is, in what is (currently) the very last sub-thread in the discussion. I don’t have much familiarity with the Renualt 4 (I’m in the U.S.), but something about the car in that photo just looked a little off.
When I visited Korčula Island in Croatia last year I saw quite a few of these. Didn’t see them on the mainland so much.
A pity neither the Renault 4 nor the Renault 6 featured larger yet detuned 1.3-1.6-litre Cleon-Fonte engines at least for export markets.
An interesting Renault 4 based prototype that never reached production was essentially a Mini-fighter project known as the Renault 2 that had it reached production would have slotted below the Renault 5 in the same way the Autobianchi A112 slotted below the Fiat 127.
Another fascinating aspect to the Renault 4 story was that some within Renault (or one of the Unions) actively sought to produce a direct replacement to the Renault 4, which is apparently known in French language sources as the Neutral Project.
Just for history’s sake I’ll add my experience with Renault R4.
In Australia I owned the Aussie built 3 speed R4 and it was a good car, worked well but of course would be very fragile in a severe crash. The 6V headlamps were a bit dim so added heavy duty relays and heavy wiring and suddenly had headlights that were brighter than any other car at the time.
Next owned a 4 speed R4 van that was built in South Africa and somehow made it to Australia. That was better as the close ratio 4 speed box gearbox matched perfectly with engine torque curve, so nice to drive.
Have recently bought 1:24 scale plastic model kits of the pair so will have something to remember them by.
Saw an R4 while wandering in Kurashiki, Japan in November 2014, that was a surprise.
I’m a bit puzzled by calling this a hatchback. Given that Renault made small vehicles to begin with then why not call this a small French version of a station wagon?
Because it’s too short. Station wagons have an extended rear, like a sedan with a trunk. This is very short behind the rear seat, hence it’s a hatchback.
There are conventions to body styles, and Wikipedia has some good graphics on the subject. This on compares sedan, wagon and hatchback:
And this one compares wagon and hatchback. Click on the image to see it properly.
Is this clear now?
The Toyota RAV4, America’s best selling non-truck for years, is the modern R4. Even the name is somewhat similar.
Did the R4 ever get sold in the US officially? The only “American” examples I can find seem to have been imported.
It was sold in Canada, at least briefly. This is from July 1962.
I did not realize that they were ever sold in Canada. There certainly weren’t many around, but someone at my high school in Toronto drove a Renault 4CV, the predecessor to the R4.
My first car in 1959(?) was a Renault 4CV, rear engine, used to break rear axles until I added some extra support to the swing axles. Modified engine with twin SU carbies, went like crazy.
Later had the R4 “wagon” and also an R4 Van with the “loaf of bread” looking van back. Both great little cars to drive.
Along the way in Australia I owned also the Renault Dauphine and lastly the Renault R10 but spares were getting expensive so moved to Honda – then their spares started to get expensive….
That “vintage ad” ,about half way through the read, for the designer series “R4’s” is awesome!!
First time I ever saw one of these was in Pgh PA , close to “Pitt”. It was blue , as I recall. Had an ‘aged, tired, still going look to it. (like I look at this point in life) lol
Guessing I’d a seen that blue one about/ around 1973-4.
Wow, that ’54 Citroen has what must be the most inconvenient spare tire location ever. In the way much? The Continental Mark II spare at least as a carpeted cover and a dividing barrier between it and your luggage. Hope the R4 improved on both of these.
For a platform frame car, it isn’t awful. The beam depth is greater than a VW bug pan! Interesting to see the state of the art of production.
This is a great description of the platform frame phenomena and Renault thinking.