Through many trials and tribulation, Louis Renault became the leading French car
manufacturer, triumphing over Andre Citroen during the 1920s. As early as 1900, Renaults
had adopted a sloping coal scuttle bonnet which became a distinguishing mark of the
The engines ranged from a 1.1-litre two-cylinder through a quartet of fours of 2.1 to 7.4
litres, followed in 1908 by a 9.5-litre six. Except for the taxi-orientated twins, the emphasis
was on prestige until World War I.
Following that war, Renault offered three updated fours, accounting for most of the firm’s
production, and a big-block six, the Fl. Its successors, the legendary 9.1-litre 45 of 1921-29
and the 4.8-litre JY, introduced in 1923, retained integral heads, with the cylinders cast in
threes. At weights in the 2270-2730kg range, top speed – not a prime consideration for this
class of car at the time – was about 120 km/h for the 4.8-litre and 144 km/h for the 45.
Renaults of the 1930s gained in sales but lost distinction both mechanically and visually.
Radiators were moved to the front, behind grilles imitative of those on contemporary
Buicks and Chryslers. All the bodies were roomy for their respective price classes. In 1931
full sized models included a 2.4-litre four, a 3.2-litre six, and two straight-eights, the 4.2-
litre Nervastella and the 7.1-litre Reinastella. The latter replaced the 45 but lacked its
During the Depression decade, Renault also made small cars. The last of these was the
I.0-litre Juvaquatre four of 1937-40, a four-seater, four-door saloon resembling a scaled
down 1936 Ford. A slightly revised version was the newly nationalised firm’s only
passenger car just after World War II.
It was succeeded in 1947 by the ingenious 4CV, a car just right for its time. This 760 cc
four had been developed in secret during the war; then, before the design was made final,
a distinguished prisoner named Ferdinand Porsche was co-opted as a consultant.
Like his Volkswagen, the 4CV was a rear-engined four, developing 14 kW at 4000 rpm but
was liquid cooled. Among its features were replaceable cylinder liners, independent
suspension all around with swing axles at the rear, a unitary body, an aluminium cylinder
head, and hydraulic brakes. Fuel consumption was better than 7.0 litres per 100 km and it
carried four in comfort to its maximum speed of 96 km/h.
Its modern lines were favourably commented on but a number of potential buyers thought
it too small. The rear engine also put off some buyers. Even so, orders flowed in. As well
as France the car sold well in a number of other countries but Americans found it rather
small for their likes. More than a million were sold before production was finally
discontinued in 1961.