Thursday, November 19, 2015

1951 Renault 4CV Four-door Sedan

"This new Renault '51 is the only foreign car built especially for American roads. Before it was placed in production in Europe's largest automotive works, at Billaincourt, France, it was tested and re-tested by crews of engineers over every kind of American road — and at every temperature from Maine's 20° below to Imperial Valley's 120° above zero. With the engine in the rear (where it should be) this newest Renault travels 40-50 miles to the gallon. Only two quarts of oil fill the crankcase. Roll-down windows and improved wind deflectors provide ample no-draft ventilation. Its carburetor has been improved. Monocoque welded steel body construction provides greater safety and eliminates squeaks and rattles, while independent four wheel springing makes even the longest drive a pleasure. Get behind the wheel of a new Renault '51 sedan and you will soon see why it won the International Grand Prix! An authorized Renault dealer near you — with factory service and ample spare parts . . . is waiting to give you the ride of your life in the Renault '51!"

Here's one of the many rather exotic vintage cars that co-exist with the common American land yachts on Cuban roads. Meet the Renault 4CV, pioneer of the French mass motorization.

French car design traditionally seems to be driven by eccentricity. The engineers at companies like Citroen or Panhard apparently enjoyed "reinventing the wheel" every time they developed a new car. Renault, albeit being generally a fair bit more conservative, wasn't an exception to the rule, and the 4CV is a product of that unorthodox mindset.

Renault engineers developed the 4CV covertly during the times of the German occupation. Thus, already half a year after the liberation from the Nazis, prototypes of the little Renault ran, and the finished car bowed to the public in October 1946. The public soon nicknamed it "motte de beurre", lump of butter, because of its cream-yellow paint: during the wartime occupation, Renault had built trucks for the German desert warfare in North Africa, and a big inventory of unused camouflage color was left over. Painted solely in that color, the first series of 4CV stood out from the average black and grey cars of the era, and effectively drew the public attention to the little Renault.

In true French spirit, the Renault showed some peculiar design details. Ready for some trivia? There was, for instance, one easily accessible filler cap on the car. Be warned, though: it wasn't meant for fuel but for radiator fluid. To refuel the little Renault, you had to open the engine bay because the fuel cap was hidden under the bonnet. Imagine which one you needed more frequently. Another detail: because the four doors were hinged at the B-post, access to the rear bench was a breeze. Access to the front seats, however, wasn't nearly as comfortable. "Suicide" doors and a wide rocker section that was hidden underneath the front fender extension guaranteed that your trousers got dirty quite regularly.

Perhaps most notably, the engine was placed in the rear, just like in the German VW Beetle. Like the German car, the Renault had a modern monocoque body with a flat floor pan, resulting in a pretty spacious interior. When they began developing the 4CV, the French engineers sure knew about the VW Beetle. French authorities even "invited" (read: forced) the Beetle's constructor, Ferdinand Porsche, to look after the Renault development after they arrested him as Nazi collaborator in December of 1945, and kept him imprisoned in France for the following 20 months. It's not quite clear, though, how much influence Porsche's opinion had in the final design of the 4CV. Quite likely, the french engineers wouldn't accept substantial critics from the former enemy, anyway.

Just like the Volkswagen in Germany, the 4CV was instrumental in the mass motorization that brought many a French people in possession of their own car. When the production ended in 1961, more than 1.1 million 4CV had left the factory. Although the company was busy to feed the tremendous demand in France, a number of cars were exported to the United States, and quite a few, like this one from Havana, found their way to Cuba, too.

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