Thursday, March 12, 2015

Renault's 4CV Non-Beetle

Before World War 2 as well as in recent decades, Renault offered extensive product lines ranging from small, entry-level cars to standard-size models to, on occasion, near-luxury automobiles.  But in the aftermath of that war, the newly-nationalized firm focused largely on one model -- the 4CV.

This Wikipedia entry discusses the development of the 4CV.  It was a clandestine wartime project that neither the Germans nor Louis Renault would have approved of, though it seems both got wind of it -- but didn't squelch it.  I won't go into the revanchist government takeover of Renault and the death of Louis, but the entry does, and further mentions the strange episode where Ferdinand Porsche got dragged into the 4CV situation and might have paid for it in terms of jail time.

As for the 4CV itself, its engineering designers got caught up in the rear-engine fad of the 1930s that spilled over into the postwar years, so the 4CV had its motor placed in the rear.  The car was about the same size as the pre-war Juvaquatre, and so was to that degree in line with previous Renault practice.

The slightly earlier in terms of design, if not market entry, Volkswagen Beetle had its engine at the rear, but it was air-cooled, whereas the 4CV motor was water-cooled.  The Beetle had two doors, but the 4CV yielded to the strong French preference for four doors.  Aesthetically, the Beetle had aerodynamic pretensions, while the 4CV featured cramped conventional styling on its small layout.  The 4CV sold well by prewar French standards and the Beetle was a fabulous marketplace success.

Let's take a closer look at the 4CV's styling.


These publicity photos are from 1948 or thereabouts: note the Dior-inspired "New Look" dress on the model.  The other model is demonstrating the 4CV's sun roof with Paris' Notre Dame as backdrop.

The 4CV featured contemporary styling touches, the main one being front fenders that flowed into the front doors.  This potentially created hinging problems that Renault avoided by installing "suicide doors" hinged on the centerposts.

The front "grille" was artifice, as there was no radiator behind it.

Rear three-quarter view showing the rear door's awkward shape, sliding window panel, and the rain channel that doesn't do a good job of tying the roof to the rear end.  The car would have looked nicer if it had followed the upper door opening instead.

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