Classic Old European Cars - VW Beetle Bug, Renault and the Fico
Herbie, The Love Bug
Why European Compact Cars?
There is a reason, of course. European cars tend to be lighter, more compact and more fuel efficient than cars made in or for the United States and the New World because of the limited space in European cities. Some cities dating back to the Middle Ages and even to ancient settlements before that. In short, limited car space is available and parking can be very expensive. On top of that, many Americans are shocked to find out that gas prices are three to five times more expensive than those in the United States and Australia! (Not fair, but true.) Driving, parking and storing an auto is a truly cost prohibitive endeavor. The European driver is prepared to crunch a little in a tiny car or else be prepared to take public transportation. More Europeans than ever before own autos, but the bottom line is - it's still a luxury to a car in the city.
Small Car Automobile Economy
Going Back A Ways...
In the days of OPEC gasoline controls (cc 1978-1980), gas rationing and odd-even fill up days were invented to keep the lines at the pump down. The odd-even system referred to the last number on the auto license. These practices exposed many Americans (who were too young for the second World War) to a shock that gas was not an unending supply. Since then, MPG (miles per gallon) statistics are always quoted at the car lot. Gas hogs were out of fashion and economy styled boxes were the newest rage!
Not to be ignored, Japanese made models like Toyota, Datsun and later Nissan made a name for themselves as a qualitative form of economic transportation. Cars like the Toyota Corolla were considered cheap and undesirable. After the OPEC crisis, their resale value doubled and become hard to find nearly overnight.
"Split Window" version of the VW Bug
Learning from the Old World
With the gas crunch, Americans, Canadians and others would never take the same attitude again about laissez-faire gasoline consumption. The formerly laughed at "little boxes" became interesting and fashionable vehicles. During the 1980s, old and refurbished Volkswagen Beetles, or "Bugs" became more popular than ever, often sold for double their original purchase price ten or more years earlier. Souped up models and other varieties became in mode - but that is a subject for a future Hub.
This Hub considers the merits of the cars that lasted a generation or more and are still - surprise - in use in many European cities today.
A Brief History of the Volkswagen Bug
It's adorable bug eyes made it the desired first car of every high school student or housewife. Its beginnings started with Adolf Hitler who asked Ferdinand Porsche to design an economical, attractive car for the public, hence the name Volks-wagen (since ordinary folks could afford to drive it).
After repossessing a large piece of land formerly owned by Earl von Schulenberg in the lower Sassonian area, the Volkswagen plant became largest known automotive factory known to mankind. Opened in 1938, to this day, it remains the largest auto plant in the world. Among three preliminary models, the Wolfsburg model was named after the von Schulenberg castle in the area. It was an immediate hit.
Once World War II began, the auto factory was converted into a military production factory. The Volkswagen was driven all over Germany and abroad and became a proven model of reliability.
After the war ended, a few hundred cars were produced in 1946. The factory had been damaged due to bombardment and was slowly being repaired. Even so, production grew exponentially by leaps and bounds. In 1948, 19,000 Bugs were made and in 1949, 46,000. Before long, factories were being opened in both Europe and abroad, including Holland, Sweden, Belgium and the United States. Later Beetles would be made in South America, South Africa and Mexico.
If you watch Mexican TV shows, many Mexican taxis are lime green Volkswagen bugs. Kind of like the London Black Cars but with a Pina Colada twist.
Cherry Red, Reliable and Attractive
When Ferdinand Porsche was accused of committing war crimes, he was imprisoned but later cleared of any and all wrong doing. He was, after all, only building a car which Hitler commissioned him to build. After being cleared in 1947, he returned to Germany in 1949 with tears in his eyes to see how many Volkswagen Beetles were on the road.
Hatchbacks were Born
The Quatrelle - Renault "4" or "4L"
The boxy Renault 4 was a great invention of Renault himself, built between 1961 and 1992. Slim and narrow, it was ideal for the European narrow roads. Because it was high off the ground, it was also good for rocky roads in the countryside. Revolutionary as the first family car with front wheel drive, it is surprisingly roomy for its narrow and boxy shape. Five slim adults can comfortably sit inside. It is considered the first ever hatchback designed automobile.
There was a method to the madness. It was never intending to become a classic, just as a response to the already popular Citroen. The design was intended to win over a variety of people - women, city folks, farmers and of course, families.
The Renault 4
Automobile Nicknames for the Renault 4
Yugoslavia - ćetvortka - the dear four
Argentina and Chili - Renoleta
Columbia - Amigo Fiel - faithful friend
If It Works, Don't Fix It...
Like the Volkswagen Bug, the design of the Renault 4 didn't change much. The gas tank was repositioned for safety reasons after the first year of its production. The dashboard was slightly modified - the metal grills were replaced by plastic ones - and hinges and hood measurements were adjusted, but that was about it.
The Renault 4 continued to be a popular "mid-sized" car. For that reason, the Renault plant focused their energies on other models. The Renault 5 and the Renault 6 were introduced as mini models designed for sprints around town.
Despite its no-frills appearance, the Renault 4 offered its owners and passengers an economical, comfortable ride, with great suspension, attractive sliding windows and adequate head space for tall drivers. Its heater and ventilation system were usually quite good. Ultimately a hard car to replace, production was discontinued in 1992 with the introduction of the Twingo.