A Renault press release once declared, in relation to its beloved 4 model, that it had the ability to carry “children, prams, wives, groceries, husbands, dogs, bags, baggage, with room to spare”. It was a proud boast, indeed, for a car that became a true automotive icon.
The 4 broke new ground for Renault, as the company’s first front-engine, front-wheel drive family car.
Amazingly, for a car now largely forgotten, in its day the Renault 4 comfortably outsold all others in its class to become the best-selling French car of all time, with more than eight million sold.
Introduced in 1961, the Renault 4 sold consistently for almost 40 years. One million were sold in its first five years alone. Even the rugged byroads of Britain and Ireland didn’t impede its progress and in fact, many of its unique features endeared it to these exacting motorists.
Without doubt the most outstanding feature of the Renault 4L is its behaviour on very poorly surfaced roads
Autocar magazine thought the Renault 4 would not grab the British public’s imagination, but the magazine was in no doubt of its ability to conquer poor-quality roads.
Its report glowed: “Without doubt the most outstanding feature of the Renault 4L is its behaviour on very poorly surfaced roads and cross-country tracks. It is almost impossible to make the suspension bottom, and the car can be driven at incredible speed over severe undulations and through deep potholes while remaining almost on an even keel.”
As well as being cheap to buy, the Renault 4 could return between 45 and 50mpg, making it cheap to run, as well. Dubbed the “blue jeans” car by their then-CEO Pierre Dreyfuss, the Renault 4 was designed to appeal to a diverse motoring public. The 4 has become widely recognised as the world’s first hatchback. Another first for Renault was the front-wheel drive layout which, combined with a dash-mounted gearstick, offered massive interior space. The Renault 4 was a basic car with a simple dashboard and sliding windows.
It was smooth, light, dependable and its funny gear stick made driving it a novelty; like sitting inside a petrol-powered toy
My own experience of the Renault 4 dates back to working in the west of Ireland in the early 1980s. For a period of time, I drove a 200-mile daily delivery route in the 4’s van version. It was the most enjoyable driving experience I have ever had in my entire life. It was smooth, light, dependable and its funny gear stick made driving it a novelty; like sitting inside a petrol-powered toy (which rhymes with joy). True, it wouldn’t pull the socks off a sleeping giant but as a handy deliver van on demanding roads in a floundering economy, it was perfect. They rusted badly, but what matter?
The Renault 4 was assembled in Ireland from the mid-60s. In a converted Wexford factory, sheltered under a leaking 80-year-old roof, a strike-ridden work force of up to 200 men produced up to 35 cars a day from kits provided by the parent company in France. The ailing economy of the 1980s saw the trusty Renault get many leading roles in Irish society. In van form, the 4 was used by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, the army and even by An Garda Síochána. The Minister for Justice at the time stated in the Dáil records: “A Renault 4L car equipped with radio was allocated to Ardee station on 29 June 1983 to replace an Avenger patrol car which had been withdrawn from service. The garda authorities consider the car is adequate to meet the present needs of the area.”
The last Renault 4 rolled off the production line in December 1992
Given the border area was experiencing a lot of political unrest, this was high praise indeed for the little Renault, with its blue light on top.
The Renault 4 even had a sporty side to it; a four-wheel drive version was entered in the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1980 and finished in third place.
The last Renault 4 rolled off the production line in December 1992 but, according to recent reports, the cult classic is set to be revived as an electric city car (to be released in 2025). How lovely it will be to drive it once again.