Renault 4

Renault 4 Jill Barthorpe lrThistle Grove

L-R: Jill Barthorpe with her cherished Renault 4 and The Thistle Grove, one of the paintings she produced on the bonnet of her Renault

By Tim Saunders

What was the competition to the Citroen 2CV?

The Renault 4, which was in production for 31 years (1961 to 1992). The 2CV, which had been introduced in 1948, was renowned for its springy suspension that actually allowed farmers to travel cross country with a box of eggs on the passenger seat without getting broken, as proved by a certain television motoring programme some years ago.

Arguably Renault’s affordable little hatchback was larger and more spacious, a vehicle that would better fit the demands of farmers, women and city drivers; a car for everyone. Importantly it was equally as competent at cross country, according to Jill Barthorpe.

Known in France as the Quatrelle, the 4 was an iconic vehicle on France’s roads and it is still possible to seem them today pottering around quiet country lanes.

In 1987 Jill, an artist, bought her 10 year old example for just £500 from a friend when she lived in lived in Montaigu de Quercy, a village in southwest France between Toulouse and Bordeaux. She used it as a travelling studio until 1995.“I do feel this is an overlooked classic car and mine was a gem,” she recalls. “I used the big flat bonnet as my painting table and spent more time off road in the fields and vineyards than I ever did on road.”

But the twin carburettor meant that it drank a lot “but then we all did” she smiles. “The back was perfect for fitting in my easel and if the weather was bad I could sit with the back door open and paint. The only other red Quatrelle in the area was owned by the fire station so wherever I went children would shout ‘ou est le feu!'

“During the eight years I owned my car it never required cleaning and the only thing that ever went wrong was the starter motor, famously on a very wet day in a vineyard - I remember sliding backwards downhill trying desperately to start it. I slid down between the vines, backwards, to the bottom of the valley – terrifying - and in the end I had to be towed out by a furious farmer. That starter motor was a major problem as I recall because it did conk out quite a lot leaving me stuck in all sorts of places.

“It had the stick shift up on the dashboard and seats on springs. It was a very good cross country vehicle although I once got it stuck on the edge of a quarry, when I was painting a nocturne. I parked too close to the edge of the quarry which crumbled away under one of the front wheels. I had to walk five miles home and get friends to lift it back onto solid ground the next morning. Its top speed was about 50mph.

“I drove it cross county the whole time in search of good landscapes to paint and it only ever got stuck once in a really muddy vineyard.”

By the time Jill sold it for £200 to a mechanic friend it was covered in paint but he wanted a project to work on. “I was very sad to see it go. In my opinion it is a much overlooked classic for town and country.”

Renault launched the 3 and the 4 both in July 1961. While the cars shared the same body and mechanical components the R3 had a 603cc engine compared to the more powerful 747cc unit in the 4.

Facts at a glance

Used price: £300 to £10,000 for a concourse condition example

New price: £544 in 1961

Transmission: 3 or 4 speed manual

Power: Between 22.5bhp and 32bhp depending on transmission

Engines: 747cc, 845cc and 1108cc

Top speed: 50mph

0-60mph: it has been known for one to reach 59mph in a shade over 21 seconds…

More information about Jill Barthorpe can be found here:

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