As part of the car's 60th birthday celebrations, Renault has unveiled a flying version its utilitarian classic, the 4L, which is technically capable of taking to the air and overflying traffic below, in theory, at least.
The Air4, created in collaboration with Miami design studio TheArsenale, isn't so much a flying car, however, as a Renault 4-shaped drone. Built from carbon fibre, although the body looks like a modern rendition of the boxy 4L, instead of wheels there are skids, and the chassis is set atop the frame for four two-blade propellers which sprout from each corner.
While fanciful renditions of flying cars aren't new, according to Renault, the Air4 can actually fly. The drone's lithium-polymer batteries are enough to provide the propellers with 95kg of vertical thrust each and, thus, a total of 380kg for the whole drone, underscoring how light the Air4 needs to actually be compared to a real-life car.
Before trials could begin, the design, shape and rigidity of the R4 was extensively tested to see how it would respond to factors like lift and thrust, and the data gathered from that was then applied to creating a drone which could actually take-off.
When they want to go for a spin, the driver/pilot can access the interior by lifting the shell which is hinged at the front. Once the pilot is in situ, the Air4 can, according to Renault, achieve a horizontal top speed of 94km/h and a maximum altitude ceiling of 700m. The 14m/s take-off speed has been restricted, the company says, for safety reasons.
According to TheArsenale's founder, Patrice Meignan: "After 25 years of forward-looking research, we believe that the icons of car culture are eternal, whether on earth or in the air. For 60 years, the Renault 4 has been driven by ordinary people who make it extraordinary. It is a car that symbolises adventure: simple, practical, useful and as modern as it is retro. Most drivers will tell you, it allows you to travel differently and to live an adventure. This 'travelling different' has inspired my team and I. With AIR4 by TheArsenale, the Renault 4 is ready for its greatest adventure yet."
The original Renault 4, also known as the Quatrelle or 4L, was built between 1961 and 1992 as Renault's answer to Citroën's rugged little people's car, the 2CV. The 4's spacious body and simple mechanicals made it a big hit around the world from South America to the Sahara Desert to Skibbereen, and eight million units were sold over the years.
As a small car for big families, the 4 was notably popular in Ireland both as personal transport and in van-shaped "Fourgonette" form, and was used extensively by both the Gardaí and the Department of Post and Telegraphs. Until 1984, the 4L was even assembled in Wexford as part of Ireland's protectionist tax system which meant that cars sold in the country mostly had to be built here. Some of those Wexford-built 4Ls were even exported, mostly to Italy before the old assembly system was finally phased-out.
Return of the 4L?
Even if Renault's drone can actually fly, it's obviously extremely unlikely that we'll see "flying cars" at any stage soon. One thing we might well see, however, is Renault's revival of R4 as an electric car. Following the launch of the Renault 5 supermini in 2024, the company has said that it may also revive the 4L as a retro-inspired crossover at some point in the middle of the decade.