In 1956, Pierre Dreyfus, then president of the Regie Nationale des Usines Renault, wanted to produce a versatile, inexpensive car with a worldwide calling which could match the changes in society that were being observed as the 1960s approached.
Following a five-year incubation period, the Renault 4, the make’s first front-wheel drive passenger car, was unveiled to the press before going on display at the 1961 Paris Motor Show. A van and three saloon versions were launched simultaneously: the R3, which was dropped from the catalogue the following year, the R4 and the R4L (the “L” standing for luxury), soon to become the household name for a model that lost no time in finding a place in the French public’s hearts. Over the years R4 was equipped with different engines. The main engines used for were 603cc, 747cc, 782cc, 845cc, 956cc and 1,108cc. Its unrivalled interior, low running costs and ability to adapt to all types of use made it an instant hit. Just six years after its launch, Renault 4 production exceeded the million mark, and other records were broken as the car reached a total production figure of 8 135 424 in the course of its 31-year career.
The Renault 4 was just as successful outside of France and was produced or assembled in no fewer than 27 countries (in addition to France), some as far as Australia, South Africa, Chile and the Philippines. Six out of the ten cars were sold outside of Renault’s home market. In some countries, Renault 4 was sold under different name and the car also gathered some nicknames. In Spain it was nicknamed “Cuatro Latas” (four boxes). In the former Yugoslavia it was called “Katcra” (Catherine). In Tunisia it was referred to as the “R4 Monastir”, after the hometown of President Bourguiba. In Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) it was nicknamed the Noddy Car. In Argentina it earned the nickname “El Correcaminos” (path runner) and in Finland it became “Tipparellu” (droplet).
During the long period when it was available for sale, the Renault 4 was made in several different versions, including a van, a four-wheel drive vehicle and a cabriolet. Other variants, such as the Rodeo, and a long list of limited editions were also released, the best known of which in France were the Parisienne (1963), the Safari (1975), the Jogging (1981) and the Sixties (1985). In 1992, a numbered special edition farewell version was released to salute the incredible success of the model, which continued to be manufactured in Slovenia and Morocco until 1994, although only in small numbers.