Renault 4 Parisienne: the chic and feminine city car

Published on Tuesday, December 10, 2019.
Updated on Friday, January 24, 2020.

Launched in 1961, the Renault 4 quickly made its mark on the French automotive scene (unlike its Renault 3 twin), attaining the summit of best selling car in France in 1962 and remaining there until 1968 (except in 1965 when the Citroën Ami 6 won in a surprise photo finish).  Now known affectionately as the ‘Quatrelle’, itseduced customers from the countryside all the way to downtown. This was new for the ‘Régie’ (as Renault is popularly known to be called amongst Frenchies), to reach two different market segments with the same model. In the city, the 4L was usually the second car, devoted to housewives, which gave new ideas to the nascent marketing department.  Thus was born from scratch a model dedicated to this newly discovered clientele: the Renault 4 Parisienne.

The adventure of the Parisian housewife would take place in two stages.  First, there was the ‘promotion’ phase intended to feminize the Renault 4; and second, a more commercial phase with the creation of a real model appearing in the sales catalog.  The affair was smoothly conducted. What could be better than using Elle magazine, the flagship newspaper of the ‘modern’ woman of the time? A special operation called ‘She’s driving’ was then organised from March to July 1963, with a specific dedicated edition.  The objective? Introduce female customers to a chic and glamorous version of the Renault 4, deemed homely until then, although practical.

She’s driving

This feminized and gentrified version did not yet exist in the R4 range.  For this operation, 500 Renault 4 ‘Super’ models were transformed into ‘R4 Parisienne’: a name chosen for the international reputation of Parisian women, always elegant and tasteful.  A name that speaks both abroad and in the provinces, as judged by marketeers et Renault. The marketing demonstration reached a total of around 6,000 potential customers in Paris and across France.

The little R4 ‘Parisienne’ was adorned with black paint and, optionally, a golden cane pattern (painted by hand) or a Scottish plaid pattern (either green or red), in the hope to make them more ‘feminine’.  The young rising star of the French hit parade, Sheila, was part of the operation and became the marketing symbol of the Parisienne. Ironically, she did not yet have her driver’s license! She did not pass it until the following year (at an R4 driving school…) after which her producer would then offer her an authentic Renault 4 Parisienne from the limited series.

The Parisienne Series

Following a 48-hour test drive, each driver was required to complete a questionnaire allowing the ‘Régie’ to consider (or not) the addition of the R4 Parisienne to its production line up.  The craze was such that the decision was quick to be made: the Parisienne would integrate the range beginning in 1964. It would not be a “special series” in the sense as we understand it today, but indeed a full-fledged model from the Renault 4 range.  The first 500 were reconditioned in Billancourt, either in the form of the classic R4 Super, or as a new Parisian incorporating some subtle differences.

For the production series cars, the decoration was less refined: it lost a bit of the Scottish or cane pattern here and there, while the latter was now painted industrially (and no longer by hand).  However, it gained the ‘4 Parisienne’ logo on the rear. It was launched in December 1963, equipped with the Billancourt R1123 5cv 845 cc engine. In a way, Renault unknowingly initiated a tradition that is still maintained today with the Baccara finishes (on the Renault Supercinq and the Clio I, in particular) then the Initiale Paris: that of the chic ‘city dweller’ models!

End of career in 68

The following year, the Parisienne was renewed with a new paint option, grey, and, in 1966, the range widened with the introduction of the 4CV R1120 engine of 747 cc.  But then everything changed concerning the paint options, as black and grey disappeared in favour of navy blue, dark green and burgundy. Finally, in 1967, the interior changed a little with, in particular, a new dashboard while a new R4 Parisienne could be ordered without caning or Scottish plaid, to be more discrete potentially?  We can’t be sure.

The 1968 model year was the last of production for the Parisienne.  Renault was preparing to launch a “leisure” version of the R4 in the aim to boost sales while its fight for the female clientele was lost: the Plein Air replaced the Parisienne to wage war through a frontal attack on its rival, Citroën’s Méhari.  The Plein Air suffered a defeat that has remained in the annals of French automotive marketing. As said above, Renaulteventually returned to the chic city car with the Supercinq Baccara, but has not forgotten the Parisienne: thus, in Germany, a special series of the Kangoo took the name of Parisienne and reused the caning finish of the venerable R4 Parisienne.

It is impossible to know how many of the Parisienne were produced between 1963 and 1968.  One thing is certain: today, they are rare and in demand, especially when they are in good condition.  The holy grail of holygrails? Find the one that Sheila had, registered 13 QN 75, and long remained in her family.  Otherwise, in the mission impossible gamut, try to find an R4 Super Parisienne, one of the 500 from its launch, although it seems unlikely that there is still one out there.


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Translation credit : Daniel Patrick Brooks

Images : DR, Renault Classic

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