15 August 2011


To celebrate the Renault 4’s 50th birthday, there is a really nice collection of them in the “auto, moto, vélo” museum in Chatellerault, along with posters from its hey day.

renault 4L3 

I have never owned a 2CV, the iconic car of France, but I did once have a Renault 4.

renault 4L1

 renault 4L4

I actually had my first driving lessons in one.  You may justifiably question the sanity of someone who tries to learn to drive in a car with only three gears, a gear stick sticking out of the dashboard and a tendency to lean alarmingly on the slightest bend, but that’s what I did.

Until the occasion when I was overtaken by a milk float going up a slight hill in Leeds.  Then I decided that if I was going to get anywhere (literally) I needed proper driving lessons in a proper car.

renault 4L6

The posters in the museum showed how the Renault 4 was everything a car should be, appealing to everyone; it was a shopping trolley, a workhorse and a cool set of wheels all in one design.  Pretty clever. 

Mind you, from the experience of owning one, I would think it might have trouble keeping up with those skateboards in the poster !!

renault 4L5

I had to arrange a bank loan to afford it, which in itself was a huge step in the 1970’s – having to be interviewed by the bank manager to borrow £300.

renault 4L7 

As it turned out, it was the most awful car I have ever had.  It wouldn’t start at all in winter and I had to use the starting handle or bump start it down the hill outside my flat.  The heater was almost non-existent and those windows were not the best design for keeping the draughts out.  It was really slow and almost died on the slightest uphill slope yet leaned as if you were on race track on every bend.  I had to choose my passengers carefully – there was no room for anyone who suffered from motion sickness or was afraid of getting frostbite.

renault 4L8

But I loved it.  It was fun, quirky and none of my friends had one so it was unique.  They were all burbling around the countryside in their done-up VW Beetles, or posing in their MGB’s and I would lurch round the bends in something like a cross between a small van and a blue brick.  It was also all I could afford and my very first car, like a first love, always remembered with fondness, forgetting the annoying bits.

renault 4L2

In my mind it will always be on a pedestal.  You can keep your 2CV’s.  I will be getting another Renault 4 as soon as I can.  Just to see if it is really as bad as I remember it.


  1. Jean love this post and the first picture of the supermarket poster is hilarious. I went out for many years in Rhodesia with a guy that had a baby Austen. We were for ever being towed home, but oh we did have such fun with it. Some cars have so much character that you forget the bad bits as you obviously have done :-) Diane

  2. Did you know Ken had one - he will probably tell you in a comment if he reads this. Love R4s and 2CVs but my true love is the Traction Avant of which 5 or 6 have lived in my garages over the years - alas no more. Maybe Simon will let us ride in Celestine once again.
    It looks like we may do a return visit to Chateaurault next May.

  3. Ooops - mean Chatellerault. I always mix it up with Chateauroux. Did I get that wrong too?

  4. Lovely post - my first car was a sparkly blue stick shift Nissan my mom dubbed "the blue zipper" - now I am dying to trade my wagon for a sporty mini :-)

  5. Fascinating post Jean.

    I have to admit that I have never ridden in one, let alone driven one, but I do like the look.

    Perhaps there is scope to redevelop the model in the way that the Fiat 500 has been, as these are now really desirable.

    I love the posters though, and the exhibition looks interesting.

  6. A classic alright. Come on, all the classics weren't very reliable if we're being honest.
    I think Gaynor is on to something, if BMW can retro the Mini, VW retro the Beetle and Fiat the 500, then perhaps Renault are missing something with the 4. Love the post.

  7. Hi Jean, as Leon said, yes I had a 1973 R4 back in 1981-82. It was reliable except for the day the clutch went out on the Place de la République. Luckily I was right in front of a Renault garage, and the repair was fast and cost only about $150 — 750FF or so.

    Are you in France? If not when? I might drive down to LGP on Friday or Saturday...

  8. I had a little Mazda in the '70s. I would drive from NY to Boston regularly with some very steep inclines on the New England Thruway. I'd have to be going 75 mph at the bottom of a hill to still be going 40 mph at the top. I loved that car!

  9. My friends have an old Renault van, and I love it. But 2CV first! Am unlikely to get either, though, as Lester has his sights set on a newer car. But me! It's the oldies for me!

  10. I used to ride in Ken's R4 back in the day. The back "seats" were metal frames with some kind of fabric draped across them. Bouncing around the streets of Paris in that car was like a thrill ride!