This is a Renault 4CV.
…’scuze me, a Renault 4CV Special. Beyond that, I know just about nothing about this model beyond what Wikipedia says. These were made from 1947 and 1961, and its design brief appears to have overlapped considerably with that of the Volkswagen.
The overall shape is similar, especially from the rear. There’s a louvred cover panel over the rear-mounted engine, though this engine is water-cooled. Ah well, it is better to have louvred and lost than never to have louvred at all.
Ne pas de frills, but nothing here looks chintzy, cheap, or flimsy.
Renault logos sprinkled here and there.
Stop-tail lights down here…
…turn signals up here…
…and Cibié headlamps with yellow bulbs made of cadmium glass (a post soon all about those, I keep promising!).
Craftsmanlike upholstery work. These front seatbacks look uncommonly supportive.
A bit less Beetle-y from this angle. Sittin’ there trying to look all innocent-like. «Non, non, non, non, c’était pas moi; c’était un autre!»
I’ve seen lots of these in Europe, and I’m sure they were sold in the US, but I’m not sure I have a definitive memory of ever seeing one here, even as a little kid. Not quite as memorable as childhood sightings of Isetta or Messerschmidt “bubble cars”, or Fiat 600 Multipla’s.
PACarHauler on Flickr has a pic of a load of them on their way to the dealership to be dropped off, still with empty headlight sockets waiting to be filled with the then-mandatory sealed beams. Apparently this was fairly standard for import cars back then, it wasn’t worth it for anyone but VW to stock them at the factory in Europe.
VW headlamp assembles were not interchangeable, separate bulb to sealed beam, so it had to be part of the factory build for export.
Neither were Renault 4 headlamps—the US 7-inch round lamp was much larger in diameter than these what we see on the pictured car. So not only different mount/aim hardware, but also different sheetmetal. Many early non-Japanese imports had their headlamps installed after they arrived in America, because the makers reckoned that was less expensive than importing sealed beams from the States, then sending them back to the States. Japan had its own thriving sealed-beam industry, but there was none in Europe.
off topic, but what happened to the Cibie Co.?
Hey, Rocky, watch me try to be succinct about this!
Cibié (and Marchal) were bought by French-based diversified auto parts supplier Valeo in the 1970s. The Cibié and Marchal names and their hefty brand equity were thrown away when Valeo decided to just go with “Valeo” instead in the ’90s. Existing Cibié products were gradually discontinued and mostly not replaced, as they’d done with the Marchal products in the ’80s. From time to time they dust off the Cibié name and apply it to an auxiliary lighting product or two, usually with an initial attempt to coattail on the (now rather less than wholly existent) memory of past greatness, then they fail to market it in any kind of a coherent, rational, workable manner. Nobody buys it, then they discontinue it.
They more-or-less recently applied the Marchal name to a discount line of windshield wiper blades, of all the ignominy.
French gonna French!
I remember Stanley brand sealed beams on Japanese vehicles, I believe a local brand.
Yep, Stanley are still one of the Japanese big-3 lighting suppliers. The others are Koito (who also made a lot of sealed beams) and Ichikoh (whose sealed beams were branded “IKI”). In the past, Toshiba also made sealed beams.
So that’s where Valeo stuff came from! This weird new brand name appears out of nowhere…..
…and has to start alllllll over again at the bottom of a tall mountain, with zero brand equity, zero name recognition, zero loyalty. Don’t even get me started (oops, too late) on their scornful aftermarket business practices: parts they make and sell, but don’t catalogue—shhhh, it’s a secret! You have to know the code! Parts they catalogue, but don’t make or sell—psych! Fooled you! Parts they catalogue, make, and sell, but don’t stock. Parts they stock, but don’t catalogue, make, or sell (this one shouldn’t be possible, and yet). Parts that have never existed, once existed but have been discontinued for nine months/ten years/one year/three weeks, haven’t yet entered production, are manufactured but are not offered for sale, are available but only with a minimum order in the tens or hundreds of thousands of units, or are in stock for purchase of as many or as few as desired, depending on whom you speak to in which office at what time of what day. Single parts with multiple different part numbers. Multiple different parts with one single part number. How are they even still at it? The only thing I can figure is they made some kind of a compact with the devil shortly after WWII.
The car belongs to a parent of a student of the French American School of Puget Sound located in Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle. I’m picturing the owner as a beret wearing Edith Piaf fan clutching a long baguette.
Bof, Now we weel seet awownd wayaireeng owair berets, dreenkeeng owair waahn, eeteeng owair snails, smuckeeng owair Gitanes—pair’ops seex or sevvan at a taahm—and shroogeeng owair shooldairs een a deesaffected mannair!
With a fancier body and suspension and engine tuning, you got an Alpine A106.
I’ve always been a Renault fan, owned an R8, but never saw a 4CV in real life. Thanks for the nice closeup pix.
The French developed this in secret during the war and were pretty incensed that anyone thought it was VW influenced – although clearly the idea of a rear-engined economy car could only have have come from Germany. Surprisingly, Porsche was employed by the French Govt after the War to give it the once over – which may have indirectly led to his incarceration in a Lyons jail as the new boss of Renault, Lefaucheux, was a Resistance hero.
Ferdinand Porsche’s rear-engined passenger car idea came from his Nazi comrades’ conquest, Czechoslovakia, via Tatra. The front of his KDF Wagen (VW beetle) even looks like the Tatra’s. His brilliant Auto Union thundering Mercedes Muncher was driven by the obligatory Aryans, but also by Italians. Porsche described Tazio Nuvolari, “il Mantovano Volante”, as the world’s greatest driver past, present and future.
WHOOPS! Nuvolari was unique on 4 wheels or 2, singular, hence “il MANTOVANO Volante”. My finger touched the “i” adjacent to intended “o” on my phone’s screen. “Mantovani”? NEVER! Illustrissime Tazio drove machines, not a syrupy, sentimental string orchestra
A fellow I knew from High School had one of these, post High School. One night while “cruising” the square in Madison, WI many, many years ago we encountered a ’62 389 Bonneville full of school kids. Moronic words ensued @ the 4 CV and the CHASE was on! We chased the 389 Bonneville with the tiny, LOADED 4 CV. Given the traffic (think American Graffiti) we actually got them to……….well we were all dumb kids. Think soaped windows-really-on the Pontiac….:)
However, the tiny French car on crowded streets (with teenybopper drivers) was a SIGHT to behold!! BTW…….no Wolfman Jack playing in Madison, WI in 1964!! 🙂 No stereo either, only the sound of the over worked tiny 4 CV engine. DFO
Behind the WA plate there should be a hole in the bumper for hand cranking if it is a model year with that feature. A demonstration:
Yes, it’s amazing how this platform lived on. Once the foreign car bug bit me in my early teens the 4CV was my favorite. I found it infinitely cute. I have searched and can’t find figures for how many they sold here.
The 4CV was followed in this market by the Dauphine, which was briefly (for a couple years in the late 50’s?) the top selling import, before the Beetle took over that title. I recall everything rusted in those days, but the Dauphine was really bad (as well as the Porsche 356 BTW). I’d say the Dauphine stigmatized the brand here.
In high school in the Toronto suburbs in the mid 60s, the parents of a student had one of these in black. I always loved the grill on the air intake behind the rear door. As I remember it was unusual but not extremely rare at the time. Dauphines were more common.
I remember dad helping push a black one minus a door out of a ditch some where in France helping a local long haired chap. Guess some one just dumped it….
Yellow head lamps were compulsory until the early 90s.. Less glare than a white light or so French defenses could tell the difference between their own or on coming invading vehicles. Which reason do you think?.
…a post soon all about those, I keep promising…
There are some cues as to the possible stage of the car in the 47/61 running production. We can´t see the wheels, but I think I remember some of the later models had these covers. Earlier cars had demountable rims a la early Beetle. I’m almost sure the taillights and the rear directional lamps are late in the model run, as is the Dauphine steering wheel and speedometer pod. I have no idea of the year, but I’d guess 58.
Early examples were painted in desert beige from the German pantzer brigade.
The were made on the Renault island, ile Seguin in the Seine river near Billancourt, this island was one hughe Renault factory active till 1992 for the R5 production.
Although Louis Renault ( nicknamed le Seigneur de Billancourt) was not aware that this car was developed in secret right under his nose. After the war he was taken in custody where he died, accused of collaborating with the enemy. He never collaborated with the Germans, the choices wers simple back then: either you work for us, or we dismantle your factory and set it up somewhere in Germany and all your employees are left without a job.
It is a well known fact that Renault trucks produced for the Germans suffered from engine failure due to falsly indicating oil dipsticks.
Renault lost his factories to the French state and till this day the Renault family have never been compensated for this crime. A few years ago the Renault family gave it another try but lost, again.
If you can see that filler cap above the engine lid up close, and if you read French, then you’ll know the filler cap is for the radiator, not the gas tank.
Always thought that was strange – gas filler under the engine cover (cue Jeremy Clarkson, “What could possibly go wrong?”) and an external radiator filler (cue him again).
I mean, which are you going to need most?
First one I saw live was owned by a guy who competed in our Alaska Sports Car Club autocrosses, usually held in the parking lot of a bowling alley on Sundays, when they were closed. His technique was to get into second gear and leave it there, foot to the floor, and just steering! He beat a lot of much faster cars that way. Out on the street, he let me take it around the block once; it was pretty sweet, but as there was no caster angle worth speaking of the steering-wheel return was by spring loading. Sweet car, but not enough to engage me. The Dauphine I took out on the Seward Highway one weekend – my girlfriend’s family had it – was pretty nice, I thought. Drove a newly-restored one about 20 years later and it felt downright stodgy … but this was after I’d had two long-term Minis!
“This is a Renault 4CV” says Daniel.
So is this. Even a similar colour. 🙂
I’m not sure what year this Heller kit is supposed to represent. It’s not one of the earliest ones; they had more chrome strips on the nose. But it’s a 1970s tool, so they might not have been too concerned about year accuracy. I mean, it’s ‘only’ an old Renault – or was then. But they cared enough to tool up a model of it. Still available, I think.
From one of Dad’s old slides, this one an Agfachrome from 1962. The Renault was in the background, so the enlargement is a bit grainy. Just to the left of the pub sign (The Robin Hood) that distinctive louvred engine cover is facing us, parked next to a Vauxhall PA Cresta with an early Mini on the forecourt, while a Bedford CA Utilabus is about to pass on the roundabout.
The Renault would have been the exotic exception back then.
Great write up! I’ve never seen one before, but I like it. I particularly find the trim strips on the front that mimic a grill to be quite entertaining. 🙂
I think the chrome strips on the front add a big car look, which is cute on this small car. I think they were maybe also intended to give the impression that the car had a front engine.
There was a barebones “Service” model which was a poor seller. To my eye, the missing chrome strips make the car look unattractively austere. http://www.thepetrolstop.com/2011/01/renault-4cv-service.html
La Quatre Chevaux sold extensively in Australia. Well modified, including Gordini versions, it went well in class at Templestowe and Rob Roy hillclimbs in ye olde 1950s, and surprised a few in early Sedan car racing at Phillip Island. Add a Shorrocks blower and 4 into 2 into 1 balanced exhaust plumbing, with the right straight-through “(“silencer”? Yeah, sure!) and goodbye Customline! See ya later, Holden! Begone, dull calm!
Extensively? Not enough to make any real dent on the sales of a bunch of vaguely awful English clunkers from the time, surely?
By the ’70’s when I was a kid, these rather nice-looking little things were barely seen, and we had a froggy car garage in the middle of our suburb too.
Through to about the mid sixties they were fairly common. I think it would’ve been about ’70 when the off-white one on my block was replaced.
Back then you wouldn’t have folk asking “Why’d you buy one of them?”.
Known in Oz as “the Renault Seven Fifty”. Not a capacity to be sneezed at. Australia’s first Grand Prix was won against competition including two Bugattis, by the maker’s son-in-law ex-Great War Aussie fighter pilot Capt Waite in a factory prepared supercharged 750cc Austin 7 special. Not bad for a sidevalve 4 with 2 main bearings. In 1950s & 60s, Australians like John Fleming raced Baby Austin specials, naturally aspirated, at up to 100 mph. Renault’s 750 had potential!
I’ve no real experience with a 4CV, but having owned and loved a Renault 12 wagon, and been around many other Renault models from Caravelle to 18i, I’m inclined to like this one by default. Smooth, compliant ride while maintaining roadholding ability, as well as very comfortable seats, are two virtues that come to mind.
And yep… The story on selective yellow lamps, cadmium glass, and wherewestandwithitalltoday will certainly be welcomed by me!
There was an R12 wagon for sale in the L.A. area recently, with a fresh engine. Saw it on CL
Ah yes, with just four puissances pushing le cart instead of pulling it, this wee French bestseller – so wee it was an available in-trunk option on post ’52 Cadillacs, for extraction and use in dense inner-city spots – was not keen on any gallop much over 60mph, or indeed, on any sprint to arrive at that speed or any other.
It led a long-term French misinterpretation of the VW idea, whereby they somehow missed the significance of low, 2-cyl-short-alloy air-cooled weights hung out back and instead inserted tall, watercooled, iron dungers of no better power, and yet did insist on attaching all this to the roadway by way of those VW pole-vaulter’s dream, the swing axles. Not a recipe to assist the average punter from the prevention of parking said Renault on its roof mid-way round le corners.
Still, each to their own (including driving upside down or vice versa), and for sure there’s quite recently been a blue one of these farting desperately around here in suburban Oz on full registration, the poor dear looking barely bigger than some mid-size SUV’s front tyre and accordingly terrifying, and I salute the owner for their faith.
Blast from the past: starting around 12:00 Abbott and Costello buy and drive a 4CV in “Flint Michigan”.
Costello is outraged when he does not see an engine when he opens the “frunk”.
I remember these .
Renaults are fine little cars -if- you know how to take care of them and don’t kill them going too fast on the open highway .
I have a buddy in So. Cal. who found one of these survivors, over time he restored it and uses it around town, comfy and fun to drive if not overly quick .
I liked the Dauphine’s looks better , also a bit too delicate for the average American .
Except for the reverse “suicide” doors, a very contemporary car for 1947, but by ’61 way too out of date. Sold in third world markets by then? Only VW got away with an antique design as long as it did.
I have a copy of a Consumer Reports Publication from 1959 – “A Small Car in Your Family”. It is a fun book to read. It has evaluations of most of the small cars sold in the USA . It divides the cars into 4 groups by price, with Group 1 (under $1500) including the 4CV ($1345) along with the Fiat 600 ($1398) and the NSU Prinz ($1398), all prices including heater. Among these 3 they prefer the Fiat, but say the Renault is a good choice for town or city use (less shifting required), especially for carrying passengers (4doors).
They also include descriptions of cars they did not test. In this price range they included BMW 600 ($1398), Lloyd Alexander TS ($1395). They also mention the Citroen 2CV ($1195) but say that it is not being imported, so you would have to pick it up in Europe.
For comparison, the VW is listed at $1565 and the Renault Dauphine is $1645.
Interesting. A $100 price difference was significant in those days, maybe as much as $1000 would be today? So the Dauphine MSRP was at the high price end of this class. So I guess the marketing plan was to sell it as a definite upgrade from the 4CV, and with more features than its competition? Of course the Beetle was not cheap either.
I seem to remember that a base Porsche 356 in those days cost over twice as much as a Beetle.
Didn’t VW continue pricing the Beetle high, against Japanese competition, and that priced it out of the market?
I owned one of these in the mid-1960s. The big chrome thing on the back is the radiator cap. In those full-service days, I had to stay alert to keep gas station attendants from scalding themselves or topping off my coolant with regular.