Most of us know that France has produced beautiful, charming, and strange cars. The fact that older French cars should NOT corrode is probably an argument that will make even the most naive car connoisseur dig his heels in. But in Spain, such as Andalucia, corrosion in old cars is almost unknown. Dents on the other hand….
My friend of many years, Jorgen, is 15 years older than me, thus wiser. So I listen carefully when he tells stories of the old days. He has lived on the top of a mountain in Spain for over 30 years; he loves Spain, his wife and the stars, in the Spanish night sky of course. He is bitten by astronomy, has his own telescope observatory and a bookcase filled with thick and strange books about stars, galaxies and supernovae. Thus, Jorgen is a wise man with a philosophical, quite scientific angle on life. When we talk about cars which we often do he turns out to be an incarnated Francophile. He’s actually not sure that real cars are made elsewhere.
For many years Jorgen drove a Renault 4TL in Tournesol yellow. He calls it his campo-car (campo in Spanish means countryside). For posh use he of course has a Citroën. Silver with air suspension for comfort in the mountains, and not least, a functioning air condition to ease travelling on the hottest days. Yes, nice car indeed but I’ve always liked Jorgen’s fine old Renault with the dull yellow original painting. Now I haven’t exactly run around and tormented him to take possession of the Renault, but a few wisecracks have been dropped when the occasion has arisen. Jorgen hasn’t even shown the slightest sign of having to divorce his yellow campo car, so in recent years my attempts have become rarer.
Then around New Year 2012 something happened; over dinner in Spain I spotted an opening in Jorgen’s defenses. I thought I heard a faint desire for the Renault to retire. Jorgen himself had now retired, so obviously the car could do the same. Of course I wasn’t slow to deploy my raid, ‘I wonder what a Renault like that would cost?’ Jorgen replied, ‘800 Euros I imagine.’ I jumped out of the chair and screamed “DONE!” Damn it, you can’t even get an iPad for that, and excuse me… I prefer a Renault 4 – without memory card and apps. The night passed using my iPad for basic research on the Renault 4 though.
So the big day arrived for the transfer of the yellow campo car. Jorgen and I had agreed to change ownership together in our city’s small law office and then enjoy a small lunch in the square. The change of ownership took place in Spanish style with several trips back and forth to our homes to pick up the necessary papers. So it was a very late lunch in the square. It took 6 hours, so the pre-ordered lamb shoulder in rosemary were godsend. After that Jorgen would then bring me the car and drop it off. His wife Tove had been responsible for probably history’s most thorough cleaning of the car and invested in new seat covers of the same kind as the Spaniards use to put on their mule saddles. That’s how she believed a campo car was to be delivered to the new owner. Jorgen arrived with the newly washed and very fine car in the afternoon sunshine along dusty dirt tracks to my house with a big smile, got out of the car with outstretched arms, ‘There you go, she’s all yours,’ and gave me the keys. Cool, I thought, I have gradually taken over a lot of old cars, but damn, this one was special. ‘It’ll be named Tournesol’ I said, ‘I think it’s the name of the color – and the previous owner has probably been a weird professor type’. Jorgen looked puzzled. ‘The heating system doesn’t work because the hoses have been disconnected, but there is a box of spare bulbs and a body suit in the trunk if you want to paint it.’ After a moment thrown off balance I managed to answer, ‘God forbid, paint it? Are you out of your mind???’
I’ve now driven around in Tournesol for a few days, and let me put it this way: The brakes are really nothing but speed reduction arrangements. An 1108 cm3 engine with as much as 23 hp doesn’t stress me. The now hardly present sunburnt door beading makes the doors rattle like crazy, and the dubious quality of the sliding windows makes fresh air in short supply. Yes it is a truly amazing experience. The automobile’s filled with all Jorgen’s stories about smuggling routes, Moors, Gypsies, mulberry trees and silk butterflies, when the city’s bars were divided between the Communists and the Falangists. Or the Guardia Civil who closed the local bar because of the statutory declaration on openings hours, then reopened 15 minutes later because nothing was written down about opening hours. All customers were invited back in with a ‘Good Morning’ and the police trudged off again. Or about Venus and Jupiter that very special year when they were placed really close to the moon. Yeah, all of that can be contained in an old Renault 4 in Tournesol yellow. Not sure it’s possible in a Ferrari 250 SWB at 25 billion.
So thanks Jorgen & Tove, I’ll take good care of it.
Renault 4 1961 – 1992
At the Frankfurt exhibition 1961 was shown a Renault 4 which replaced 4CV. Apart from the engine taken from the 4CV, the two models hadn’t much in common, as the R4 engine was moved forward in the vehicle and it had front wheel drive. The body was almost like a five-door station wagon, and the structure had borrowed a little from here and there, but also presented some new itself. From the 4CV standard the idea of cane chairs was transferred without padding, but with rubber strap, belt, band, harness, gjorde?? and loose cushions. From Austin/Morris the front wheel suspension with overlying triangle arm and underlying swing arms in connection with oblique reaction arms was borrowed. The gear shift came with a handle on the dashboard as the DKW and 2CV, but the rear suspension was Renault’s own little audacity. The suspension of both front and rear wheel was in fact done with torsion springs, which could easily be long enough for the front wheels, but as the wish was a soft suspension with sufficient stability, the long torsion bar by the rear wheels was allowed to remain in a parallel position in direct engagement with the rear swing arms. As a result, the wheelbase was not the same on the right and left side.
Not a soul could feel anything wrong with the vehicle’s driving properties; on the contrary, R4 was unusually track safe. A sprinter the R4 wasn’t, but once it had muscled its way up to an acceptable cruising speed, it drove great. Very quiet, complete direction- and crosswind stability and above all with an incredibly comfortable and efficient suspension. Even sharp-edged bumps it floated over, also quite horrible roads were settled in extreme comfort while you could be sure that all four tires had a good grip on the road. Driving semi-fast around a curve, there was of course a rather perceptible heeling because of the rear suspension, but at normal driving the heeling wasn’t annoying.
Renault 4 was created for drivers only willing or able to invest a modest sum in a car, but on the other hand, in the need of space. It was drivers who wanted to perform as much of the maintenance work themselves when they felt they had the necessary talents that is. This the importer had clearly recognized and in addition to an excellent manual a værkstedsbog in Danish could be acquired for a modest sum. Furthermore, there was no lubrication point underneath the chassis, so all in all the R4 kept running at a low cost. In Denmark the van version became incredibly popular, not least thanks to the postal service, as from 1962 and the next 20 years bought more than 8000 R4’s.