You wouldn’t want it on your gravestone. ‘Died in a Renault 4CV’. It’s not the epitaph any hero of the internal combustion engine would seek.
But how did this brush with death occur? It was one of those last minute trips you get invited on. Yet no one in the office seems to want to take it up.
So as an office junior, you ‘volunteer’, with the knowledge that your mountain of work will have increased by the time you get back. Bah. And humbug.
The trip consisted of a fundamentally buttock-clenching flight in a Cessna from Blackbush. We buffeted across the sky, being thrown from the top of one towering cumulonimbus stack to the base of another vertical heap of rain-lashed misery. Smooth, it was not.
Eventually we landed at Le Mans airport. Our hosts, Renault UK, embarked the few journalists who’d managed to keep their breakfasts down into brand new, top-spec Renault Espaces, ready to be chauffeured to our destination.
As soon as the doors were closed, the wheel spinning, traffic swerving frenzy that is the joy of passengering in France began. Those of us who weren’t queasy at the start of the shuttle trip were green by the end.
Arriving in the sodden car park where our ‘exclusive press trip’ took us, there was the full range of Renault’s glorious heritage arrayed before us. But the more senior scribblers present had the pick of the cars. The scrum to jump into the fizzy whizz bang superfast Megane R26, 5GT turbo II and Renault Sport Spiders was embarrassing to see. As they slithered off up the road, one little cutie from the 1950s sat forlorn and alone in the car park.
And this 4CV, owned by Renault UK is exquisite, desirable AND a fabulously rare right hand drive survivor. “That’ll do me,” I thought. I pulled the rear-hinged door open, hopped into the driver’s seat, fired up the whole 21bhp of glory and set sail in the little charmer the French nicknamed “quatre pattes,” or four paws.
Bimbling up the road, enjoying the line of trees up each side of the French highway, snicking up through the three widely spaced gears, the Renault’s wipers swished away in the pouring rain. ‘What a fabulous little car’ I was thinking to myself when in the distance I saw headlamps flashing.
I carried on. The headlamps in the distance came closer. The flashing continued. Wondering what the other driver was flashing at I looked around. I was the only other vehicle on the road!
Pressing onwards, the 4CV proved a faithful little puppy as the car coming towards me increased its rate of flashing – and began tooting its horn. Closer the cars grew, until – and right at the last minute I realised – it was ME that was driving down the wrong side of the road. I swerved.
Four tiny rubber paws gripped the road surface ducked to the right with as much G force as the 4CV could muster and missed the Citroen heading towards us. It rushed past with with lights ablaze. As the Gauloise toting driver went past I could see his one hand in a rictus grip on the horn, and the other gesticulating frantically.
But – unbelievably – the two cars had missed each other. And for this foolish Englishman heading up the wrong side of a French Department highway, a lucky escape.