Simanaitis Says

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IT WAS 1961, AND A 1955 R&T road test of a Renault 4CV was my principal source in persuading Dad about purchasing my first car. “A very remarkable machine,” R&T had said, “this little car is easy to underestimate in many respects.” Well, yes, but they couldn’t have known about that dark and stormy night. 

The tail-heavy 4CV put its trunk where most engines resided. This and other images from R&T, January 1955.

Good News. “An almost instantaneous impression of driving the 4CV,” R&T wrote, “is the remarkably good ride. Our test crew were unanimous on this: the 4CV is the best riding small imported car on the market today.” 

All I had to do was get Dad behind the wheel and the 4CV was mine. 

“A second impression of the Renault is the astounding performance,” R&T (possibly over-) enthused. “Bear in mind that this engine displaces only 747 cc and that there are only 3 forward speeds. Yet the 4CV accelerates to 60 mph nearly as quickly as a very popular competitor having 1192 cc.” 

Hmm…. I don’t know whether Dad caught this dog whistle. But in the same October 1955 issue was a road test of a modified VW Beetle, one with a Swiss-made MAG supercharger. R&T observed that the blown Beetle did 0-60 in 22.0 seconds versus the stock 30.5 seconds. 

The Renault’s “astounding performance”? 0-60 in 31.9 seconds. Yes, “nearly as quickly…,” but I certainly wouldn’t be seeking out many stoplight drags. 

Well, maybe Dad would put a positive spin on “slower than a Beetle.” What’s more, R&T listed the 4CV’s fuel economy at 32/41 mpg, just the thing for a cross-Cleveland commute that was also in the works at the time. And, I stress, this time around I’d be the one coming up with that 31¢/gal. 

“Engine details include 3 main bearings, pressure lubrication, removable wet cylinder sleeves and pump circulation.” In retrospect, do I sense R&T gilding the road-test lily?

Sprightly Handling? “The best one-way timed high speed run gave 69.2 mph at which time the speedo held 73 mph,” R&T reported. “Directional stability is not too good at speeds over 60 mph, and even light gusty cross winds required some concentration to maintain a straight course.” 

Well, I wouldn’t be going 60 all that often, would I? 

“Handling qualities,” R&T recounted, “have not been sacrificed, despite the soft ride and the fact that the engine location entails a fore-and-aft weight distribution of 31/69. Cornering roll is modest, and there is no sign of oversteering at any time.” 

My italics, not R&T’s. 

Dad’s Dark and Stormy Test Drive. Neither of us was impressed with the 4CV’s “suicide doors,” as they were known back then. On the other hand, even the MG TD had them, so this wasn’t a deal-breaker. 

However, Dad was experienced in real winter conditions (not those southern California namby-pamby ones), and he sure recognized oversteer when it occurred that dark and stormy night. 

Image from “Separated at (Coachwork) Birth?? At Least in Spirit.

Dad corrected for the near-spin. But nix on the 4CV; why not look at that nice English Ford instead? And indeed, that became my first car. Thanks, Dad; it was a good choice. ds  

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022

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