Certainly, there were already front-wheel drive. Also with longitudinal engine. But the R4 from1961 is special. You can not see it, but he comes from Renault 4 CV, a rear-wheel drive with engine behind the rear axle. This drive unit is moved forward, that creates a front wheel drive with transmission before and a kind of front-mid engine behind the front axle. As additional advantage one obtains a large wheelbase and much driving comfort. Of course there is also a model, the Citroen Traction Avant , but not in the small car segment and with a large tailgate. But despite its small dimensions four people fairly sit comfortably. There is also for its time a good winter performance.
Despite the adoption of proven parts there are problems. The gearshift must be realized e.g. by an S-shaped curved sliding tilting lever, which grabs from the interior across the engine to the transmission. The lever is called 'cane' of not particular well-meaning contemporaries, the gearshift compared with a revolver. But it works just as a gear shifter only several inches deeper and is still rather more smoothly.
The second problem also proves to be solvable, but all drives have to be laid to the Transmission side, e.g. from the DC generator. The problem here is obviously the direction of rotation. To maintain, one changed the of the engine and rotate the crown wheel to the other side of the bevel gear. It remains to the passenger compartment a totally enclosed engine, but in which one chain drives the camshaft instead of the plastic gears in 4 CV. Altogether, however it extends far into the interior.
The third change is the time for the real problem. Because in front drive shafts are mounted, as well should compensate the long-stroke suspension (usual at French cars) as the steering wheel angle. They are the most expensive parts of the R4 and at the first specimens often used several times. Only gradually you will learn, to build durable joints with permanent grease filling. The rare drive concept is later transmitted the R5 and R16.
Another pleasing feature? Would you believe that there are cars with different wheel base right and left? The R4 is such, because it has for each rear wheeltorsion bars over the full width of the car rear. At the Beetle these are only half as long and fit super side by side. But for a comfortable suspension, the French engineers arrange them behind each other. At equally long trailing links there are, of course, differences in wheelbase. Skillful one has solved the same problem later with the Simca 1100.
The Renault R4 is also the world's first vehicle with front wheel drive and a large hatchback. He creates a cult object, but it will never replace the Citroen 2 CV from the first place in registrations. Although both build on a body screwed with frames, the 2 CV is a little bit more repair friendly with body damages. In the the inclination to tarnish both are not very different, they are produced for little money. Unfortunately, this does not change, as the R4 is more grown up and therefore more expensive. 06/09