Been watching Top Gear lately? Given that Chris Evans season, we don't blame you if not. But if you have stuck with it, the popular consensus is that the latest shows have been rather good - particularly Monkey's recent film on the Citroen 2CV, featuring his very own.
Naturally, we were straight into the classifieds the moment it was over to see how much it'd cost to get hold of one ourselves. Too much, as it turns out. But if the idea of a small, Spartan and wonderfully Gallic classic appeals, there is an alternative: the Renault 4.
The 4 has never achieved the widespread recognition of the 2CV (which is probably a good thing for anyone who wants one, as it means prices have stayed relatively low). Yet any visitor to France in the last 20 years or so will know that these things were the lifeblood of transportation, especially in small towns and the countryside, where their ability to haul a whole family across bumpy roads in comfort and for peanuts made them beloved of millions, and meant that Renault was, at one point, building around 1500 of the things a day.
Indeed, the 4 was so long-lived that mainstream production lasted until 1992, believe it or not, placing this 1983 example currently for sale about a third of a way through the model's lifespan. That said, it felt old even when it was new, a 1980 road test appearing in Motor magazine describing it as "dated despite revisions" and lamenting its "limited passenger accomodation, its poor performance and standards of heating, ventilation, ergonomics, visibility, finish and equipment that that would have seemed outdated in 1970."
Sounds... awful, frankly. So why on earth would you want to buy one? Well, as Motor put it, "that intangible asset called character". I mean, isn't it cool? This one especially, with its metallic paint job, painted bumpers and plaid interior just oozes Gallic chic. Whether it's been subject to a restoration, the advert doesn't say, but the chances are it has - either that, or it's been incredibly well cared for in its 35-year life.
That's not the only detail the ad's a little patchy on. There's also no mention of the car's mileage - though, if you squint hard at the dash shot, it looks to be somewhere around the 112k mark, which isn't preposterous. And it's true that dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts will probably prefer the purity of one of the earlier cars, with their smaller, metal grilles and chrome bumpers.
Then again, there's a lot to be said for the more modern surroundings and 1108cc - as opposed to the original's 850cc - of this later GTL
. In addition to that bigger engine, which was set up for low-down torque to make it more sprightly around town, you got bigger brakes, a few more cubbies around the interior, side rubbing strips that preceded Citroen's Airbumps by about 30 years, and - drum roll - reclining front seats. At less than £5000, it's also cheaper than a 2CV in similar nick would be - not to mention rather less obvious and a little less compromised. The perfect, way, therefore to get your fix of Frenchness for fewer francs.
SPECIFICATION - RENAULT 4 GTL
Engine: 1.1-litre 4cyl
Transmission: 4-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 35@4000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 55@2500rpm
Recorded mileage: N/A
Year registered: 1983
Price new: £3049.80
Yours for: £4,750
See the original advert here.