Nineteen ninety-six marked the 50th anniversary of Renault’s introduction, at the 1946 Paris Motor Show, of its rear-engined 4CV saloon.
Destined to survive until 1961, by which time over one million had been built, this milestone car was commemorated by the appearance at the Geneva Show of a concept car conceived very much in the spirit of the original.
Echoes of the Past
Created under the direction of Patrick le Quement, Renault’s vice president of corporate design, the Fiftie revealed clear echoes of the 4CV ehnaced by the use of modern materials. This particularly applied to the chassis that was based on Renault’s innovative Sport Spider extruded-aluminium frame. The power unit was thus mid- rather than rear-located. It was Renault’s new 1.1 litre, single-overhead-camshaft four that appeared simultaneously in the company’s top-selling Clio supermini.
This was mated to a clutchless five-speed manual Easy gearbox that perpetuated the Ferlec control of the original. The 432mm (17 in) Speedline wheels, shod with unique Michelin tyres, were also in the 4CV spirit.
There were also strong echoes at the front of the Fiftie, particularly in terms of its destinctive barred mouldings and bulbous bonnet. But unline the original’s steel structure, the body panels were made of light and strong (but costly) carbo-fibre.
The lights were fanciful in their execution, with ‘apostrophe’ shaped lenses at the front, while the appearance of the three-piece rear units was likened by Renault to ‘kites floating in the wind’.
Perphaps the most radical element of the Fiftie’s design was the use of a Targa-style roof. Unline the definitive Porsche version, in which one roof panel slid below the other, on this Renault concept car the four removable roof panels were stored beneath the rear window that, in turn, folded flat.
Inside, the Fiftie perpetuated the utilitarian spirit of its famous forebear: the floor and scuttle were covered in linoleum. The lack of an obtrusive transmission tunnel was on undoubted plus. The emphasis on simplicity was underlined by the use of two pedal controls that, along with the steering wheel, were adjustable because the seats were fixed.
The doors contained pockets and were lined with woven rattan, which is a high quality wickerwork. It made a pleasing visual contrast with parts of the aluminium chassis that were exposed to view. The theme was underlined by a period accessory in the form of a woven picnic basket.
Although the original 4CV enjoyed a 15-year life, Renault has no plans to put this latter-day version into production. That pricey carbon-fibre body was part of the reason why the Fiftie is reputed to have cost a cool £3 million!
Wood, Jonathan (1997) Concept Cars, Paragon, ISBN 0-75252-084-9.