I’ve owned six seriously ugly cars in my time, and five of them were Renault 4s.
The other, if you’re wondering, was a Citroen 2CV van. Although many reckon the small-engined, soft-sprung, lightweight R4 was a shameless rip-off of the brilliantly eccentric Citroen, it was the better car. It had twice the cylinders, was easier to drive, slightly more robust and more civilised. That made it the more cheering of these two super-cheap cars.
The Renault was endearing because its character was so strongly flavoured, and that’s why I ended up with five.
A welcome change
The R4 makes most modern cars look so average, albeit a good average. Accelerating, braking, cornering, carrying and crashing to high standards whatever their class, but they’re so rounded that many of them become forgettable. And that’s regardless of the thoroughness in which they are created.
The Renault could do 45mpg, but needed 28.5 seconds to claw its way to 60mph and was out of oomph only 8mph later. It rode like a limo but bends had it tilting like a Parisians’ beret. But somehow this eccentric machine was the most popular French car ever made, with over eight million built between 1961 and 1994.
Its popularity lives on. The former Audi engineering chief Ulrich Hackenberg is a fan for instance, once admitting a fondness for the van version, the alternative rear suspension design he reckons provided particularly entertaining handling.
Handling? You’d think the R4 didn’t have any at all if you drove it today. Heavily self-centring steering, low-geared, six measures of understeer and a body that heaved at the first sign of any G does not sound like a recipe for back-road high jinks.
But you’d be amazed. What the R4 has loads of is grip, rain or shine, with the technique being to haul hard on the wheel, aim inside the apex and spear, rather wildly, through the bend. Passengers – and spectators – are likely to be alarmed, but that’s part of the entertainment.
I occasionally find myself musing over the possibility of enjoying a sixth Renault 4. But if you can find an R4 at all it will have done close on 100,000 miles, have rotten, gossamer-thin floors and mouldering front wings. Prices today start at around £2,000.
Reasons to want one: 1. Unexpected entertainment 2. it still makes sense today.
Why you'll run a mile:1. All the style of a plastic bag 2. people will think you have fallen on hard times.
Renault 4 production ran from 1961 to 1994, and was made in a vast array of locations apart from France, including Algeria, Australia, Argentina, and Ireland. Around 8m were produced.