Updated: Apr 21, 2019
A brief history
Produced between 1961 and 1994, the quirky Renault 4 was produced to combat the Citroen 2CV that was dominating the French family car market at the time. Replacing the hugely successful 4CV, the Renault 4 had a lot to live up to. Fortunately for Renault the 4 was a huge success with over 8 million examples produced, far more than the 5 million Citroen 2CV’s built.
The Renault 4 was launched at a time where families in France were starting to be able to afford a car and combined with the growing prosperity seen across Europe the 4 was launched at a perfect time. At less than 60 inches wide (58.5) and 144 inches in length, it certainly defined the hatch back that we know today!
The particular Renault 4 that I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with was originally a 1984 car however after being fully restored in this beautiful Ile De France paint and with a few extra additions it now has the aesthetics of a earlier generation 1968 example. The owner of the car has meticulously worked on it for the past 4 years, stripping every inch of it down and specifying it to his own taste. From every angle the car looked like it had just rolled off of the production line, it was even more impressive after finding out that he had very little external help on this project!
After heavy rain on the days leading up to the shoot, I was not looking hopeful however we were pleasantly surprised by the glorious sunshine that came out of nowhere. Travelling to the small Norfolk town of Wymondham, just a stones throw away from Norwich, I briefly met the owner and got straight down to business. It was my first time travelling to Wymondham and didn’t entirely know what to expect. I was captivated by the beauty and serenity of the quiet and rather stereotypical English town. With the owner of the car being a veteran to the area he proposed that we take the car first to a 12th century church and then to some private railway tracks for some stationary photos.
After a short succession of fly-bys, the owner very kindly offered to give me a lift back into Norwich and to show me the other gem he was working on: his 1934 Austin 7.
When asked why he didn’t choose to restore a more obvious choice, such as the Mini Cooper of that era, he replied “The Renault 4 is such a quirky looking car, the Mini Cooper has plenty of heritage and history but a small French car in Norfolk stands out”. Comparing the cost of a Mini Cooper and Renault 4 at current market value, the Renault is by far the more affordable option to buy as a whole and to buy parts for.
Womble, the cars nickname, was surprisingly spacious and I actually found the ride to be very comfy for the most part. I was also shocked by the fruity acceleration of the car despite having a small 1100CC engine. It started to become more apparent as to why they sold so well. The Renault 4 appealed to the common family. There was enough room for four people, a huge boot capable of fitting the shopping in and affordable for the average family or farmer of the era.
Despite the earliest Renault 4’s being over 50 years old the international community is still huge. Mainly made up of “a Worldwide spread of enthusiasts tinkering in garages”, the Renault 4 is mostly considered a project car now rather than a daily driver. Despite this, if someone wanted to daily one I'm sure they could!
After finishing up the last of the photos at the final location, I reflected upon a car that in its prime was the machine that revolutionised travel across continental Europe and North Africa. In the subtle shade of blue that this example was painted in, it’s difficult to find a fault in the aesthetic design of the car. Its rather iconic shape can be seen on all Renaults after the 4 and can even be traced to all other hatch backs that follow suit.
Sadly, many of the Renault 4’s that were built over the 33 year production period have been lost mainly due to rust. Despite this there is still an armada of cars out there, abandoned in garages in rural France, or on a hill-side in Tunisia, or perhaps even in a small town in Norfolk. Either way, the Renault 4 is not going anywhere in a hurry.