French Toast: 1955 Renault 4CV

Talk about patina, this 1955 Renault 4CV is loaded with surface rust. I mean, patina. These cars were and still are some of the quirkiest cars out there and they have an unusual drivetrain configuration, not to mention the way the doors open. I love quirky cars and this one can be found here on craigslist in the Stockton, California area. The seller has an asking price of $1,500 listed. Thanks to MattR for sending in this tip!

It appears that something fell on the hood and front fenders of this 4CV at some point which is unfortunate, but otherwise it appears to be in surprisingly good condition. The missing paint has to be its most noticeable feature – although some would say that the way the doors open would be its more unique feature.

The Renault 4CV was made for the 1947 through 1961 model years and the design didn’t change much, or really at all other than a few details here and there. It’s hard to beat those lights behind the rear doors and the front suicide doors are super interesting.

So this was a blue car originally? Or, blue and then white? White and then blue and then white? It’s hard to know, given the almost total coating of surface rust on the exterior. As with the exterior, the interior could be stripped bare and brought back to life again. This car is only 12-feet long and 4.5-feet wide so it could be restored in a single-car garage. If rust isn’t a big issue, it would be a fun-sized car to restore. The seats are there so they can be used as a pattern and Renault made over a million of these cars so hopefully any missing parts could be tracked down.

This incredibly crusty but original and complete engine should be Renault’s 747 cc four-cylinder with just over 20 hp and a 0-60 time of around 30 seconds. I can’t imagine this car ever being restored but maybe it’ll be saved by a Renault fan. Any thoughts on this 4CV?

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Comments

  1. unclemymy Member

    You know, restoration as a hobby requires no boundaries for time and effort, and especially none for return on investment. The car seems just quirky and unusual enough (and even small enough) to provide many rewards as a unique project. Worth it money-wise? Hard to imagine. But for fun and satisfaction, laissez-le vivre!!!

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    • DLegeai

      Well said! Let me just add that they are easy to work on and parts are available once you establish a contact or contacts in France, through a club or other. I think the seller is asking too much for what is a car that needs everything.

  2. RayT Member

    I owned 1 1/2 4CVs (one complete rustbucket and a decent bare body) years ago. Sadly, I never managed to turn them into one runner, but I think the guy I sold them to did.

    Later 4CVs had the plain, three-bolt wheels, as did late Dauphines and, for that matter, all Renaults for many years instead of these “star” wheels. Other than that, there are very few differences between a ’55 and a ’61.

    Even in the late 1980s, the parts supply had all but dried up. Some engine bits were available — and, for all I know, still are — from France, but trim (rubber floormats, taillight lenses, badges, etc.) are unobtanium. The numbers and markings on the instrument cluster flake off with age, but I suppose a good graphic artist could help out.

    Those things were enough to sap my enthusiasm. I had seen a few complete originals, and so could gauge the restorations I saw later on. The latter generally had a lot of homemade replacements for original pieces.

    Wish I had one, as they were comfortable little devices and attracted plenty of attention. Easy to work on, too. But finding what one would need for a proper restoration scares me off to this day.

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    • Dan Barton

      All parts necessary to completly restore a 4cv to new status is available. Just google the french terms and you will find dozens os sources

  3. mike b

    I always associated moss motors with British fare. ;)

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  4. Magnus

    These will always have a special place in my heart. My parents owned one when I was born and to say it was unreliable is an understatement. You can hand crank it to get it started which my dad had to do often.

    My mom went in to false labor a few weeks before I was born and ended up going to the hospital to be checked out. Sure enough, the car wouldn’t start and to save time she helped push start it, nine months pregnant. I heard many stories about that car.

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  5. ken tilly UK

    The lights behind the rear doors are turn signal traffic indicators I’m sure,

    1
  6. Alexander Trujillo Member

    My parents had one and later a Dauphine when I was 5 or 6. For some reason my father was partial to Renaults. Vivid in my memory still after 55 years is my mother getting out of the car, when it would not start, and taking her shoe off to beat on the battery terminal in an effort to get the car started. Would love to have a nice one.

    2
    • Howard A Member

      My old man had “Renultz”, as he called them. I remember a couple Dauphines and a Caravelle( that broke in half). It, and British cars were the only foreign cars he’d let in his driveway. Dubja, Dubja 2, you know. I think my old man always felt sorry for the French people seeing what they went through.

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  7. hatofpork

    I’m really lichen that rear hood!

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    • Rex Kahrs Member

      hatofpork, you sound like a fungi.

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  8. jo6pac

    Love it and it’s a good thing I have no money or place to park them because I would get the wagon in Lodi then stop on my way back and pick this up. If the frames good a restore is in order.

    1
  9. Wayne

    A1960 was my first car. It was given to me by my father when I was 12. We had 5 acres of woods to “blast around in”. I kept going faster and faster and my mother would voice her opinion that I might hit a tree. ( this was early prep for my pro-rally days) My father would just state that I would not be going fast enough to hurt a tree. I started sneaking out onto the forest roads and ended up rolling it on two separate occasions. ( I was still learning about swing arm suspension and not to let off in a corner the hard way) Luckily both rolls happened in the same place where a 8-10 feet high thicket resided. Also lucky for me the top is very rounded so that a 12 year old boy could get the car rocking enough to get it to roll back onto it’s wheels. After the second roll, Dad noticed scratches on the roof and a few small dents. He never questioned me and said it was time to get rid of the car. (15 years later I got even with him for selling my car as I took him for a ride in my pro-rally Scirocco down the same road.)
    For people not familiar with these cars, the cap in the upper right hand picture of the engine bay is the fuel filler. The cap on the outside above the engine lid is the radiator cap. We got I our car for free when the clutch voltage regulator quit. (1960 & 1961 I believe we’re the only years for the electric clutch) I bent the tab over in our car so that the only thing that engaged/disengaged the clutch was the shift lever. Since we had a complete lack of hard pavement. The launch method was rev the engine and let go of the shifter. Wheel spins and away you go! I would love to drive one again. But not sure I would own one. ( they are slow)

    2
    • Bob_in_TN Member

      Funny story Wayne. I’m not sure I have ever seen one in real life. “they are slow”….. 20 hp, amazing to think my basic Cub Cadet has almost this much horsepower.

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      • Gordon Mobley

        Me too , Bob . . My zero turn Cub Cadet has 25 hp . . .

  10. Howard A Member

    Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle, for me, this has got to be the ultimate BF submission. In 1970, my brother and I found a ’59, 4CV in the back row of a sports car dealer, Milrace Motors in Thiensville, Wis. about 15 minutes north of Milwaukee. It was white, and the motor was stuck. We paid $25 bucks and towed it home. We pulled the head, soaked it in oil, tried to turn it over, the liners popped out of the block, so we hammered them back in with a baseball bat, and it freed up. New head gasket, it started, but smoked. I didn’t have my license yet, but my brother got to drive it a little on the street, I drove it up and down my parents driveway. My brother painted it with an electric spray gun, and it turned out pretty nice. I think we sold it, but it was my 1st car.
    The 4CV was a popular car, made in several different countries around the world. I believe the 1st Renault to sell a million cars. This one has a finned valve cover, and might be a special motor, I think. To correct the author( I hate doing that) , it had 17hp with a 21 hp, which this might be, later.Performance was not stellar, 0-50 ( not 60) in 38 seconds, and a top speed of 62, downhill, but for the back roads of Europe, it worked. And I’m sure many a pump jockey did put gas in the radiator. I thought the 4CV was a better car than the VW. 4 doors, more room, a conventional motor with a real heater, sort of, just never caught on in the US.This one is pretty fried, some valuable parts for someone that has one. Not bloody likely, tho, as this, in 40 years, is only the 2nd one I’ve ever seen since mine. Thanks Scotty.

    5
    • Martin Horrocks

      Parts are not hard any more. Lots of repro stuff from France. The engine is the beginning of the ohv line that powered Alpines and Gordinis, and there used to be some very radical 4CV hotrods in French hillclimbs.

      This car also kick-started Porsche. Professor Porsche was invited as a consultant to assist Renault on the project. He was arrested for war crimes and Ferry Porsche set up a sports car company in Gmünd to help raise money to free his father.

      2
  11. Mike Freeman

    I wonder if you get a small block Chevy wedged in there

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  12. Rex Kahrs Member

    Howard, did you go to Homestead High School by chance? My wife is from Thiensville.

    • Howard A Member

      Hey Rex, no I went to John Marshall in Milwaukee. If I remember, Milrace Motors handled all the exotic cars, Jags, Alfa’s, did a lot at Road America. How they got a ’59 4CV is anyones guess.

  13. Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

    Hey Scotty – you had me at “French Toast…!” Got a real lol on that. I’ve been aware of the 2CV forever but rarely seen a 4CV. Nice find and write-up!

    2
    • Tony Carter

      Bought one of these for $40 back in the early 70’s, it went like a cut snake for such a small car but the brakes were shot so it didn’t stop all that well. In Australia we called them the Renault 750 which was close to the engine size. The cars I wish I could have/should have kept, but back then they were all a dime a dozen and no big deal.

      1
  14. ken tilly UK

    Not sure whether you are joking or not Mike but if you aren’t then why would anybody WANT to put a SBC engine in there? They are great little, rare, cars already so why ruin it?

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  15. Pierre

    A friend had a Renault in college. I constantly gave her rides. We became very close.

    The opportunity to own a rusted, 65-year-old Renault is only attractive if you are in need of something to frighten the neighbors.

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  16. RJ

    In ’59 I found one on the back row of a dealer’s lot – vandalized with a gallon or so of Green house paint. Bought it for $40.00, towed it to a friend’s house to get it running, and spent half a day figuring out how to drive it. Within two days I had nearly killed myself and a couple of friends, so I sold it for a profit – $50.00! VW’s were just getting popular then, and I figured out they were about the same – right? Wrong!

  17. Mark Mitchell Member

    I have a little collection of beach cars including a Fiat 600 Jolly, a Fiat 850 Shellette, and a Renault 4CV “Resort Special” (AKA Jolly) (plus a Meyers Manx & Meyers Tow’d). The 4CV Resort Special is a real rarity with only about 50 built, and approx 11-12 left. Wicker seats, surrey top, no doors- whats not to like? Wayne featured one of these on his show.

    Mine was bought off CL from its long-term owner that bought it in 1961 and it only has 21k miles. Very well preserved with no rust and nice original wicker and original canvas top. Here is a similsr car listed for sale in Hemmings: https://www.hemmings.com/stories/2020/03/13/hemmings-find-of-the-day-1961-renault-resort-special

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  18. steve sammut Member

    First car in 1969 was a Renault Dauphine (town horn; country horn) that I shared with my twin brother. We lived in SF so we had to experience climbing those hills; but the other side of the hill was fun. It was fairly dependable but when we both got summer jobs, we sold it and purchased separate vehicles. Mine was a Ford Cortina Mk1 GT; my brother purchased a Renault 10, which to this day, may have had the most comfortable seats I ever sat in while driving. There was a guy in our SF neighborhood that had R10 who managed to squeeze an Alfa twin cam in it. It rolled pretty nicely!

    This one looks doable. If it were me, I’d do an engine rebuilt, clean the interior, check out all of the important pieces (suspension, brakes) and use it as an errand driver. All of the glass is there, which is big start and the body is in pretty good shape, all considered.

    1
    • Marty Parker

      I agree with you Steve about the seats in the R10. Purchased a new one in 67 and to this day I haven’t sat in a more comfortable seat. Had previously owned a new VW in 63 and everything the VW would do, the R10 would do better.

  19. steve

    Hey! Look! A Greenbriar panel van!!…….

  20. Palandi

    In Brazil these cars were known as “rabo quente” (hot tail), due to the rear-mounted engine. Seeing this particular one makes me wonder if the tail took over the rest of the car…

    • Mark Mitchell Member

      I just noticed that this has the Ferlec electronic clutch (Renault’s semi-auto trans). Probably about as desirable as a Porsche 911 with a Sportomatic, but I’m sure it could be fitted with a standard manual trans if someone wanted to go to the effort-

      1
  21. Peter Pentz

    Growing up in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in the 60s there was a fellow racing a highly modified version of one of these.
    The thing was pretty and as quick as hell too …..

  22. Jim Simpson

    BEAUTIFUL!!! I love this suicide car! But, it would be suicide for me to own it!
    I have a Fiat 850 engine with Alquati cam and Tigra timing belt and Solex side draft that would fit right in. The engines are Soooo similar. AND, I have a Fiat 850 “Shoe-Box” transmission having the tallest ring and pinion of any of the 850 cars (because of its tiny wheels)–that would also bolt in. I also cast lenses, and restore parts for classic cars for a living. So… I’ll have to pass- because, my wife would serve me divorce papers. Still would rather have that Hillman Sedan delivery pasted last week. Wish I could post a photo here.

  23. JS

    MMMM… Thanks for the inspiration Scotty. What this needs is a Toronado FWD stuffed into it. A wicker lunch basket to cover any resulting protrusion.

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  24. Garry

    I had two of these!
    One earlier model 750 was one of only two cars to compete in all three Redex long distant “Round Australia Trials”, as well as other 750 entries! Whilst I believe that none actually finished the trials (disqualified due to being late at checkpoints), one, at least, driven by Bill Mair continued on to the end and assisted other contestants.
    They also acquitted themselves well in the Monte Carlo Rally, and other rallies.

    1
  25. lynn finlayson

    ive got a 59 4cv I found in a junk yard in scotts bluff, nebr. did a title search and found the last registered owner in a rest home in Cheyenne, wyo. now I have a numbers matching title in my name. pulled the plugs. front plug had rust and dirt, motor stuck, finned valve cover. I have a 500 cad eldo v8 and second gen 200r4 fwd trans-axle, and rolling chassis. also have a 1997 Suzuki side kick rolling chassis. fab the motor in the back seat area, narrowed to fit inside the fenders. narrow Suzuki to also fit. anybody got parts, near western nebr.. call 308-760-1396.. lynn

    • JS

      What does that give you for rear suspension, “dual wishbones”? Decidedly better than swing axel’s Not clear on where the Suzuki chassis would put it on ride height. Best of luck, sounds like something that will be awesome.

  26. lynn finlayson

    I replied, but it didn’t post…

  27. Wayne

    lynn finlayson, you and I are mental brothers. I am always coming up with “different” combinations that reinforce my friend’s opinion of me. I used to have a guy that worked for me that bolted his 2CV onto a military Jeep chassis. ( wheelbase was almost perfect) with 31-10.50/15 tires it was quite a sight!
    Please keep us up to date with this concoction!

  28. lynn finlayson

    my 59 Renault cv4 build is in the dream stage right now. I have all the parts to build it 3 different ways. plan a is,, 500 cad eldo in the back with Suzuki side kick frame and front suspension, everything modified to stay under the stock fender wells and body panels. plan b is,, everything out of a dwarf/legend race car, 1100 Kawasaki 4 cyl up front, drive shaft to offset Toyota rear end, etc.. plan c,, 2006 hayabusa 1300, edge sand rail chain drive axle, geo fwd suspension, front and rear, strut back, double wishbone front. if you want to visit, find me on facebook. profile photo of a sprint car.. other facebook profile photo is my license plate,, junkman..

  29. lynn finlayson

    when I was in viet-nam feb 68-9, I saw a few of these cv-4s as taxi cabs in down town saigon. painted blue and sand color….. how can you tell if it has the electric clutch?? is it that t-handle on the side of the steering column?? mine has that and the motor also has the finned aluminum valve cover. I would like to make it run, paint it up nice and hang it on my shop wall, and be able to start it up if somebody wants to hear it run..

    • Howard A Member

      I’m not sure how you can tell it has an electric clutch, but it’s not that lever on the left. That’s the headlights, rotated for low and high beam( I think) and pushing it activates the horn. Not sure where the turn signal switch was, if any.

  30. Mark Mitchell Member

    There is a photo of the “Ferlec” badge in the CL ad.

  31. Wayne

    If I remember correctly. ( please note that it has been 55 years since this was a reality) The car with the electric clutch had 2 voltage regulators mounted right next to each other. ( I only see one just to the left of the generator in this picture) 1 for charging the battery and one for clutch activation. The regulator for the clutch on my car was bad, which is why my car was for free. As a new replacement was $40 at the time. (I pulled the cover off and bent the contacts together to eliminate the generator powered launch! Please remember that I only had dirt and gravel to drive on) Only used the shift lever “switch” for tire spinning launches when released. The clutch pedal was only used for initial starting the engine and for when stopped and selecting reverse. Once in first or reverse you took your foot off the clutch pedal and just gave it some throttle. I think I remember reading one time that the electric clutch option was only available on 1960 & 1961 cars.

  32. Ray Rods

    Well i bought the 1955 Renault 4cv “French Toast ” last week. Me and my two sons have been buying and selling classic rat rods for many years now.Had to go drop off my oldest son at UC Davis and had been looking at the 4cv,it was going to be an 16-18 hour round trip for me,so i hook up my car trailer and headed on out.Dropped my oldest son at University and headed south to pick up the 55 4cv.My father had a 56 4cv in the 70’s and me and my brothers spend lots off time in it pretending we were driving it,My fathers was not running due to bad engine and he never had the time to work on it,sadly car was lost in storage.I have bought and sold many many classic cars in the last 30 years and always wanted to find a Renault 4CV that was not that bad in shape,this one has surface rust,a couple of rust thru spots around body that need repair,but floors are solid!.I really like the patina look it has,so right now the plan is to get it running,go thru brakes,repair small rust spots,sand body lightly and clear it.To me cars with patina,cars with different faded colors tell a story,a story of every person that owned at one time and worked on it,Theres to many restored cars out there and even tho theyre beautiful,i love the patina cars and the reaction people have towards them.I have 4 kids and have found no better way to spend with them than spending endless hours working together on classic cars in the garage.

  33. lynn finlayson

    I hope, all the ones that made comments on it, can facebook friend each other, and with you, to follow along with its progress.. iam not going to restore mine, so ill probably remove everything as far as the drive train and suspension, down to the main body and interior, and might convert to a bench seat up front and no seat in the back. just going to be bare bones with dents and patina and a monster drivetrain.. put, one of three, power options, I have in mind, for it.. friend me… look for the 2 seat sprint car photo on my time line. my other facebook is a photo of my junkman license plate… lynn finlayson alliance, nebr.. then we can exchange ideas and photos of our personal projects..

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