The Renault 4 is indisputably one of the most emblematic cars to ever come out of France. Launched in 1961, it was designed to carry its passengers from point A to point B while offering the bare minimum of equipment needed in a car. Against all odds, it fulfilled that task for over thirty years before heading to the chopping block.
In spite of its Spartan nature, the 4 was an innovative machine that featured a practical hatchback (a rare commodity in its day), a rear bench seat that folded out of the way and a closed-circuit cooling system. Visually, the 4 changed very little during its long production run and a door from a 1961 model can be fitted to a 1993 with no modifications. Renault made several changes under the hood, however, and the 4 progressively gained more powerful engines as time went on.
The example pictured here is a 1985 model that was purchased new by the Gendarmerie, the French military police. Apart from a now-faded specific shade of blue, the car is distinguishable from a regular 4 by its extra ground wires (reportedly to run radio equipment) and a hole in the roof where the siren used to be. Furthermore, the two front seats are not the same which leads us to believe that passenger one was added when the car retired from its career in law enforcement.
We will publish a full road test on this 4 before the end of the year but in the meantime, we’ve jotted down some thoughts that came to us while using the car to commute.
- The seating position is very upright, it’s more like driving a truck than driving a car.
- It has a significant amount of body roll when cornering but otherwise the suspension is pretty stiff, which creates an interesting ride.
- The steering is so light that it almost feels assisted.
- For a car that is just 143 inches (3,650 millimeters long), it is remarkably roomy. Four adults and their gear can comfortably fit in the car.
- The sound emitted by 845cc 30-horsepower engine makes it instantly recognizable as a Renault unit. Also, it is very loud at almost just about any speed.
- 30 horsepower is a small amount but the car can keep up with modern traffic around town. Steep hills and freeways are a different story, however.
- Mounted right below the dash, the shifter has a rubbery feel to it.
- Note to self: The speedometer is dead.
It is important not to forget that the 4 was Renault’s response to the Citroën 2CV. Since we own both a 4 and a 2CV, it would seem amiss not to make some basic comparisons between the two.
- The 4 is more usable than the 2CV, there is no doubt about that, but it also has about twice the engine (our 2CV has the smaller 435cc flat-twin) so the comparison is admittedly a little unfair. That said, the 4 still comes out on top when pitted against a 652-cc powered Visa.
- Both the 2CV and the 4 were designed for low-budget buyers so engineers improvised ways to remove the window mechanisms. The 2CV’s flip-up windows provide better air flow than the 4’s sliding ones.
- People smile and wave at the 2CV, whereas the 4 is almost invisible. This explains why a basket case 2CV that needs a full restoration often costs the same as a running and driving 4.
- The 2CV’s interior is more basic and features less equipment but it feels more solid.