Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a ‘Big Brother’, ‘Regie’, the Renault 4cv convertible, I thought it was time he got a bit of the glory and thought we’d tell you his story…
Regie wasn’t the families first classic, the human’s first car, when she was at college, was an A35 but we’ll keep that for another post. However with the A35 off the road a visit to a car show had introduced us to a Renault 4cv – the french equivalent of the A30/A35, Morris Minor etc and a love affair was born.
Now 4cv’s or 750’s as they were known in the UK were pretty few and far between over here so while on holiday in the South of France in 1993 we went to look at one for sale in the village near our friends house, where we were staying. It was OK but the owner wanted too much money so we left it. A few months later, just before Christmas our friends phoned and said they had found us a convertible model for sale, did we want it? So without knowing anything about it we said yes and sent a jiffy bag, with if I remember rightly about 8000 francs, in the post. We received back in the post these polaroid pics.
The car apparently ran but had been used by the wife of the local Citroen dealer as a beach car and as such had no roof at all! When we started researching the convertible – not as easy in those pre-google times – we discovered that the convertible or Découvrable as it was known in France was very rare, the factory only made 9518 convertibles compared to over a million salons. As Regie was built in Sept 1958 and factory convertibles were only made up until 1956 we believe that our car is an ex-factory conversion, done when the car was new, an option which was available at the time.
So in February 1994 we set off for the South of France with a borrowed estate car and trailer to collect the 4cv. We took along the now rather sad A35 to give to another friend of ours who had always wanted one, they are as rare in France as the 4cv is here. When we first saw the 4cv at our friends house we were very pleased that it was running and had fun driving it around the grounds and even popped down to the village for some fuel. It was very cold for the South of France and there was snow in the hills and mountains when we went to watch the Monte Carlo Classic Rally come through, no need to say that we didn’t travel in a roofless 4cv! We took the opportunity to use our friends pit to have a good look underneath and were pleased to find it was pretty solid. The Cotes d’Azure climate had been kind to it. We stopped off in Paris on the way back to go to the Retromobile show and pick up some bits and pieces for the restoration. We purchased a new badge for the front – the Renault diamond shape but in the 50’s the company was ‘Regie National Union Renault’ or RNUR which appears on the badge and has confused lots of people ever since! It is also of course where the name ‘Regie’ came from.
Once home we cracked on with the plans for Regie, this was ten years before James started his restoration business and so this was going to be a ‘hobby’ project. Initial work included the re-bushing of the suspension and completely overhauling the brakes. On my birthday on 23rd March, James surprised me by picking me up from the train in Regie, he’d secretly got an MoT and attracted lots of looks driving into the Station to collect me. By April we’d managed to sort all the paperwork and the car was registered in the UK… MFF 448 was born.
As James was working out of a small lock-up at home and he had no facilities in those days for body/paintwork, we set off on our first adventure driving round the M25 to Stevenage to our friend Mike’s who had a paint shop.To save money we spent a weekend striping everything off the car, removing all the glass etc ready for Mike to start on the bodywork. Mike soon discovered why the bonnet didn’t fit too well – the front was about 2 inches shorter than it should have been, having obviously had a front end impact at some time which had been bodged rather than repaired properly. Mike, a real expert, soon put that right, fabricated and fitted new foot wells and repaired other minor damage. Our initial idea for the colour had been French Racing or Gordini Blue, that lovely sort of mid toned colour, however Mike had other ideas and when we went back to Stevenage to put the car back together we were confronted by something much brighter! Mike had thought that the original choice was too dark and so mixed by eye some ‘Bugatti blue’ and sprayed the car. Once we’d got over the initial shock, put our sunglasses on and put all the brightwork back on the car we knew he was right and the colour was and still is to this day just perfect for Regie. The car had been missing it’s distinctive ‘Moustache’ bars from the front (6 on early cars, 3 on later) but we’d been able to retrieve some from a car that was used for filming ‘Good Morning Vietnam’. The original ‘old stock’ RNUR badge we had picked up from Neo Retro at Retromobile completed the look. The chrome wing piping was also a nice finishing touch. The dashboard, inner window frames and steering wheel were sprayed back to their original contrast colour. James and Mike had constructed the missing roof frame from some publicity pictures but they turned out to be from a pre-production car so a mark2 version had to be constructed later.
We took Regie home in his ‘half finished state’ and took a couple of weeks out to drive him around and have fun, this was perfect as long as the weather stayed fine as we still had no hood.
June 19th 1994 was our first big outing, James was away at Le Mans but I had a ticket for the enthusiasts car park at the 94 Goodwood Revival, this was inside the park on what is now part of the display area and I was determined that Regie would be on show. We still had no roof and the seats were held together with gaffer tape and then wrapped in tartan blankets but the bodywork looked cool and so with my parents and a picnic on board we set off for Goodwood. My Dad was convinced that the tiny engine wouldn’t make it up Goodwood Hill but it did, just! The car attracted a lot of attention even in it’s half finished condition.The most important thing was to make the car waterproof. The mark2 frame was correct and our Trimmer Jeff did a brilliant job working out the right lines for the hood. We had the hood made in some lovely BMW material which is dark blue on the outside but beige on the inside so the car interior didn’t seem too dark, this was possible thanks to a small inheritance I had received from my Grandfather, he was always very enthusiastic about old cars and taught me to drive, he would have loved to have seen the Renault but unfortunately died just before we got it so it seemed a very fitting thing to do to remember him by.
The trimmer also rebuilt the seats and covered them with some lovely authentic cloth and trimmed all the inside, door panels etc. The french cars only ever had rubber mats on the floor, so luckily we were able to get a repro set from France at great expense but they fitted perfectly.
Now the car was protected from the elements, the last thing was to sort the engine. Originally a 750cc, 3 speed it was rather low on horsepower and we had been given an 850cc Dauphine Gordini engine and four speed box by our french friend in return for the A35. James picked it up when he went to Le Mans and we were pleased to find it was pretty complete and so James rebuilt the Gordini head, inserted new pistons and liners and replaced the bearings. Then one weekend in August, with the help of yours truly and a crane we changed the engine in the car park at home. The old engine was out in under two hours, the whole thing comes out on the axle, you just lift the car body up over it and pull the wheels and engine out! The new engine went in as easily and it started first time! On the 7th September 1994, 7 months after collecting Regie he was back on French Soil. After an overnight ferry to Le Harve, breakfast in Honfleur and then an easy journey to Paris to get the MotorRail down to Fréjus in the South of France for the short drive to our friends in Grasse. We had a great time, Regie is the perfect car for cruising the Cotes d’Azure, we met up with many car orientated french friends and some english ones who loved a trip out in the glorious sunshine. In the 20 years we have had Regie we have been to Europe on many occasions, taking him to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, over the Alps and the Pyrenees, to the Monza Grand Prix twice and to some fabulous car shows. We have had ups and downs, broken 2 crankshafts and been recovered home, had overheating problems, a broken windscreen and had the engine out in a square in a small village and then had a blacksmith weld bits up. But it’s all been tremendous fun and we have many very happy memories. Over the years James has fettled and developed the car so it is reliable, with the Gordini engine it runs at a sensible speed and keeps up with modern traffic meaning it is safe and practical to take on long journeys across Europe. We have added a few bits of French ‘bling’ – chrome sills and shiny Robri end plates to the wings – in period there were hundreds of accessories available for the 4cv. Other than the mentioned crankshafts and the cooling system we haven’t had to do much to the car, in fact many of the parts are the same as when it was restored. After an incident at one Goodwood Revival when a wing got damaged, we did have the outer repainted as the paint had always suffered a strange reaction and used to form small blisters in the heat which disappeared in cooler weather.
Reggie attracts attention wherever he goes and many times in France we have had to ‘park and run’ to avoid the French mob who want to tell us that that they ‘learnt to drive in one’, their Grandmother owned one, they were ‘born in one’ etc. We’ve even been chased and stopped by the police on several occasions, who just wanted to take a look. Back at home, Regie was one of the first taxi’s at the Goodwood Revival, on it’s second running in 1999 when Renault organised the taxi rank and we were invited to take part, as regular readers know was the start of another story.
Regie is our ‘first born’ and is a very important member of our family who will be with us forever.