Renault had already tried direct competition with Citroen’s 2CV. The company believed it could go one-better in 1961 with the Renault 4 a notionally more up-market car with very real improvements in power, space and capacity.
Renault’s chairman declared its first front-engine, five-door, new runabout to be ‘an everyman’s car a woman’s car, a farmer’s car, a city car . . . suitable for motorists round the world’. He got that right, then.
Hindsight tells the story of global, enduring success. It was based on common sense practicality, logic and simplicity, but it took some getting used to. Though the rear door revealed plenty of boot space, seats tipped, folded or removed to create room for unfeasibly large loads, making the Renault 4 the first true hatchback. You could look directly at the bonnet lid through the mesh over the face-high fresh air ‘vent’ (a hole in the car’s skin).
Economy dictated rubber mats, press-down flaps fashioned from the cutouts in the door panels instead of handles, sliding windows (no winding machinery) and heating with four controls all positioned out of useful sight. The biggest economy of all was continuity. The Renault 4 was barely developed throughout its long production run. Its size and shape never changed at all. The engine was perked from 747 cc to 845 cc from 1963, and only replaced with a smaller version of Renault’s 1978 new 1108 cc engine in 1986.
The Renault 4 was basic and proud of it. It was remarkably comfortable to ride in. Its dash-mounted gear lever (thanks to 2CV) made much more space available; and if it might roll on cornering, it certainly never wallowed. It was classless, and it still is, though descendants like the Dauphine and Clio might argue otherwise. No wonder it sold over eight million, the fifth biggest-selling car in the world.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1961 (until 1993)
747 cc OHV Straight Four
Top speed of 75 mph (120 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 38 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Renault 4 is also known as the 4L – pronounced Quatrelle, which in French sounds like “Four Wings”. In France the car is also called ‘the hen coop on wheels’. In Colombia, one of 16 countries where the Renault 4 has been produced, it is affectionately called Amigo Fiel (“Faithful Friend”). In Argentina and Chile it’s the Renolata – a play on the Spanish camioneta (“truck”) and a dig at the 2CV, known as the Citroneta in consequence.