As readers are all too aware, I am a scribe of many ambitions. Of my two current goals, one is to wander the grounds of Chateau Bois de Giraud playing the theme to Touchez Pas au Grisbi on my blues harp while looking suitably world-weary and Jean Gabin-like. The second is to sweep up the driveway in a classic car such as a Renault 4CV, even though I am too heavy and too tall to fit in one.
The 4CV is a vehicle that dominates the background of 1950s and early 1960s French films and occupies a place in the public memory akin to the Morris Minor in the UK. The diminutive Renault was the first new car for many a family, and the Police Prefecture commissioned a fleet of black and white 4CVs known to the public as “Pie” (magpie). And back in October 1946, it was France’s first post-war new car.
As Renault was obliged to use surplus paint from the German Rommel’s Afrika Korps, their latest model became known as the “La Motte de Beurre” – the butter pat. The 760cc engine was mounted at the rear – a “first” for the company – and the 0-60 was not exactly rapid, but few prospective customers were interested in speed. Within just three years, the 4CV was the best-selling car in France, as well as being made around the world. One such overseas plant was Renault’s assembly operation in Acton.
Production ceased in 1961 and asides from a “Pie”, the version I really crave is the 1953 “Service”. This was a 4CV for motorists who regarded the standard version as far too decadent and so it lacked chrome decoration and hub caps, opening rear windows (!), internal door handles (!!) and direction indicators (!!!). The Service was available in any colour you craved, so long as it was Matt Grey and a popular joke was that the only way Renault could have made it yet more Spartan was to remove the wheels. But with a vehicle of such charm, who needs excess luxury… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUTjDIIn9TY