Body style: saloon
Engineer Fernand Picard had designed the little 4 CV during the war, enabling Renault to offer a cheap, simple, easy-to-maintain vehicle to a very broad clientele immediately after the liberation of France. This car evoked the taste of freedom and still recalls the winding roads of summer holidays. Its friendly appearance chimed with the atmosphere of optimism, making it one of the stars of the first post-war Motor Show. Orders flooded in and up until 1950, customers had to wait up to a year to get their 4 CV. Even America fell for the little French plaything, widely seen as a grown-ups’ toy.
The advertising campaign in France trumpeted “A small place in your budget, a big place in your life”. It cost 280,000 old French Francs and consumed 6 litres per 100 km (39 mpg). Its little rear engine packed enough punch to take the car to speeds of 100 kph (60 mph). Although the interior was not massive, there were four proper seats, and four doors. The boot under the front bonnet, however, was largely symbolic.
The 4 CV was at the centre of an elaborate hoax, whose authors have never been identified. In around 1950, dealers in the North of France received children’s notebooks full of careful records of the number plates of all the 4 CVs that had driven past their school. Shortly afterwards, Renault Head Office in Paris received a flood of angry letters from parents, teachers and even local politicians, accusing the firm of misleading school children and failing to send them the prizes that had been promised in return for this extensive survey work. This imaginary competition gave the creative advertising team an idea, and a real competition was organised to mark the release of the 500,000th 4 CV.
In the early 1960s, the 4 CV was superseded by the Dauphine, which went on to become the first million-selling French automobile. In the French popular imagination, the 4 CV is associated with images of holidays, the little car valiantly dragging caravans or trailers to the beaches of the Riviera or struggling own the Route National 7 weighed down with luggage stacked high.