World War II was a tough time for passenger vehicle innovation in France. Ordered to focus only on military and commercial vehicles, Renault founder Louis Renault knew that come the end of the war, his company would need to produce cars for the masses. Thus, he allowed his engineers to secretly develop a small passenger car when he inadvertently stumbled into a meeting in which they were developing the engine for the car. In agreement with the project, he officially approved it as a low-priority spin-off project to create a new engine for post-war passenger vehicles and work went on. Covert development went on, and the car was presented at the 1946 Paris Auto Show, going on sale to the public in 1947 as the 4CV.
The 4CV was affectionately called “the lump of butter”, due to its shape and the colour at launch; using surplus wartime paint that was a sandy yellow colour. The engine was a four-cylinder. 760cc in displacement from 1947 to 1950, gaining a modest increase to 747cc from 1950 until the end of production in 1961 and producing just 17bhp. All in all, 1.1 million were produced.
The layout was a rear engine and transmission, driving the rear wheels. It is said that Volkswagen’s Beetle was one of the inspirations for the project, albeit loosely. The gearbox was a three-speed manual with synchromesh on second and third only; the engine was tuned for flexible torque delivery which was to allow the driver to shift from first into second even at 5km/h, and thereafter use second and third for the majority of driving, even at up to 60mph or 96km/h, which was the published top speed. Of course being a rear engine, rear-wheel-drive car, the handling dynamics necessitated awareness by the spirited driver. Indeed, road test reports highlighted the importance of exercising caution on wet or slippery roads due to this reason.
The 4CV was able to sell below its target price of 400,000 francs, but this was in poor comparison to Citroen’s hit 2CV which cost just over 341,000 francs and offered comparable space, albeit much less performance from its 375cc twin-cylinder engine. The 4CV was aimed to sell at the lower segment while the Dauphine which entered the market in 1956 was to cover the segment above. Nevertheless, the 1.1 million it sold earned it the honour of being the first French car to cross the 1 million mark in sales.
The 4CV was also produced in Spain by FASA, Japan under license by Hino Motors (called the Hino Renault 4CV) and assembled in Sydney, Australia. A ‘decapotable’ or ‘decapitated’ variant was produced which is what the French call a convertible, however rather than being a true convertible it just had a roll-down canvas roof, much like a large sunroof. A panel van variant for light commercial use was also produced. A traditional sunroof covering the front seats only was also offered. All in, the 4CV model was offered in six colours and marketed as being easy for lady drivers to handle!
Today’s 1951 ‘lump of butter’ is in the caring hands of Asgi and Hatin Akberally. The Akberally family is known for being discerning car collectors and have a fantastic collection at their home in the outskirts of Colombo. All their cars are in running condition and this 4CV is no exception; it is insured and has its revenue license up to date; ready to be driven when desired! This car was first under the auspices of Quickshaws who used it as a taxi. From there it changed hands until it was noticed by car collector Hercil Fernando – who also owns a 1908 Albion Murray lorry! He found the car in Dematagoda in non-running condition, purchased it and took it to his garage in Moratuwa where it was brought to running condition. The bodywork was also in good condition with only a little rust on the floorpans. He wanted the car to use to teach his wife to drive, and having completed this task, planned to keep it but found it extremely difficult to locally source the special size of tyres for the car. As the existing tyres became worn out, he did not risk driving long distances in the car and eventually sold it to Hatim Akberally, in running condition. The Akberallys were able to source new tyres and give the car a full concourse restoration, to the condition you see on these pages.