As Renault’s response to the utilitarian Citroën 2CV, the 4 was a long time coming, making its debut 13 years after the minimalist Citroën first delivered motoring to millions of French drivers. But for Renault, the car entered totally new territory on several fronts.
It was the company’s first front-wheel drive car, although its engine was mounted longitudinally rather than transversely like the Mini’s. It also pioneered the concept of a compact five-door hatchback with folding rear seats. It had several smaller innovations, such as a slightly different wheelbase on each side to facilitate a simple, cheap torsion bar rear suspension as part of the all-independent set-up. This meant the car had tight roadholding despite its propensity to lean alarmingly in any corner taken rapidly. A gearlever sprouting from the dashboard, offering gearchanges via a push/ pull action, gave a flat, uncluttered floor.
The frugal and friendly 4 eventually became the biggest-selling French car ever. But it was a basic “tin can” to the end in 1993, which meant it stuck with features such as all-round sliding windows. The 68ci (1,108cc) engined GTL, of 1978, was more tolerable on long trips with higher gearing, bigger drum brakes, and cloth seats. Its gray plastic trimmings set it apart from the millions of older, more austere lookalikes rattling around Europe. Anyone wanting a more civilized 4 could always choose the Renault 6, built on an identical separate chassis platform.
“Generous ground clearance is combined with soft, all-independent springing, which shows up magnificently upon the unmade, potholed roads sometimes found in new estates.”
Road Test Of Renault 4l In Motor Magazine, 1962
Video: Model Of The Car Renault 4
Specification: Model Of The Car Renault 4
YEAR REVEALED: 1961
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Paris, France
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: four-cylinder, 46–68ci (747–1,108cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 34bhp
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the front wheels
BODYWORK: five-door, four-seater sedan
TOP SPEED: 82mph (132kph)
NUMBER BUILT: 8,135,422