The R4L "Le Taxi" Story
by Ray Watson, 26 September 2000
The story takes place in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), south Africa, and has been transported to Western Australia.
It all started in about 1966 when my Mom sold her Dauphine for a much newer '62 R4L. This was very new thing for us and it was rather a different type of car to buy at the time as most people were buying the Ford Anglia or BMC Mini, assembled in Rhodesia. But, we had had such good service from the Dauphine that she wanted to stay with the Renault, and so my brother and I used it as a second car sometimes if I was working on my Citroen L15, which I had built up while at school. My Mom's R4 never got as much use from my brother and I as the Dauphine did but we used it if we did long distances to motor race meetings in Bulawayo or Umtali as it was a bit more reliable than my Citroen. With the use we did get out of the R4 I was very happy with its ride and go almost anywhere attitude.
This attitude must have stuck with me as when I had finished my initial Air Force call up, March '71, I needed a car again, and I made plans to build up a rather smart performance orientated R4. I had some money saved and a perfect subject for my project became available. It was a '64 4L built in South Africa, and driven for 102,000 miles in Botswana. It was a bit beaten mechanically, but basically all there and no major accidents, so it was worth starting with. One thing in the car's favour was that it was drivable. According to my Mom, it was my first car I could drive home in after buying. The three others had to be towed home. But my parents couldn't understand me driving it home and straight into the garage and start stripping it down. This took a lot of explaining, that I wanted to build it up properly so it would run for a long time. I was in my fourth year of my five year apprenticeship and I had plenty of contacts for spares and services, through my workshop and many friends in the trade.
R4 Engine - Just before I installed it.
The first part of the project was to build a fancy motor, so the original was pulled from the car and stripped and cleaned very well. The camshaft was given to a friend at his machine shop to be reground to the equivalent of a Gordini RA5, a "701" Alconi profile from the Renault performance tuners in South Africa. Of course the profile had to be ground backwards as the engine turned in the opposite way to convention. The crankshaft was replaced with a new one. I modified all the oilways and removed all the sharp edges off of the webs and smoothed all the surfaces. All the connrods had the same cleaning done to them, and then the lot was sent for final balancing with a set of new pistons that had had a bit of work done on them as well. The cylinder head had a new set of valves and guides put in it, and was skimmed 1.25mm on the mating face. Then when I got it home I opened up all the ports and valve pockets to allow a lot more air to flow through. I cleaned up all the combustion chambers to mate properly with the piston liners in the block and balanced all the combustion chambers for a 9.8:1 compression ratio with a compressed head gasket. The head was assembled with Dauphine Gordini valve springs and a new water pump. All of the main threaded bolt holes in the ali head had been HELI-COILED, including the spark plug holes, something I had learnt from my Dauphine and my friend's 4CV.
With all the outside bits done for the motor, it was time to turn to the block. This was very thoroughly cleaned, all the galleries, everywhere. Then it was cleaned with lacquer thinners and painted with "red oxide" metal primer on all the non-machined faces inside. All the non-machined faces on the outside were sprayed with an industrial non-gloss (not matt) black paint, straight onto the cast iron block. As the motor had no oil filter at the time, I thought that the motor could do with a filter unit and a cooler. So the oil gallery from the oil pump up into the block was drilled and tapped so I could get a grub screw to lock into the block just below the oil pressure switch lug. Then I welded a steel lug onto the block just below where the grub screw would sit. Then I drilled and tapped the new lug into the gallery and re-tapped the oil pressure switch hole to take some special tube fittings I had made to connect to the flexible oil lines. On one of these fittings I had a boss welded on to take the oil pressure switch and oil pressure gauge (mechanical). Because I had experienced oil surge problems with my Dauphine, I had to do some mods to the R4 sump. But, because of the confinement in the underside of the front chassis, I stayed with the standard outside of the sump and built a windage tray and chambers inside the sump, to stop splashing and excessive sideways movement of the oil. Of course I would use a new oil pump but I played with the bypass spring a bit to up the oil pressure to run at about 3.2 bar (320 Kpa.) hot with S.A.E.40 oil.
SIDE NOTE: The motor's long life was due to good clean oil all the time. It was changed every 5000Km with a new filter. When I first started with the car I ran it on straight grade 40 oil and it performed well but at about 4000Km the oil pressure would drop off about 0.2 bar and I would keep an eye on it. Then I started using STP oil treatment in my oil and the oil pressure would only start dropping off after about 5000Km, and on a long trip with the same load and same warm outside temperature it would run about 5-7 deg.C cooler. Take it or leave it, but now I still use STP oil treatment.
With all the parts for the motor done I turned to making the new inlet and exhaust manifolds I had designed and planned. First the exhaust primary pipes were just a bit larger on the inside than the diameter of the exhaust valve, and needed to be about 21 inches (540mm) long before going into a 4 pipe collector. The inlet was to be a large plenum box at the end of large straight tubes, I think 38mm OD by 2mm wall and about 180mm long. The base plate matched the Japanese twinchoke Solex off of an early Daihatsu, 20mm x 28mm. The final part after all the manifold was made was to match the ports between the head and the manifold. The motor was ready to be assembled, and so it was put together. The motor was put back in the car and the new exhaust was made with a 38mm pipe into 1metre tube silencer under the back floor next to the petrol tank. The oil filter cooler unit was put up on the front of the chassis on the right hand side above the gearbox. Could get lots of free air from the grille.
Another three weeks of work in the evenings and at weekends and I had a completely rebuilt front suspension and new front brakes. The night the motor was started for the first time was fantastic, almost as good as the birth of my two kids. I was easy on the motor for the first 1000Km and then it started getting run hard. I found it seemed to use oil a bit and it had a bit of a leak from behind the flywheel, but I was told by the Renault technicians that they did this sometimes with new crankshafts until the slinger grooves seated in.
About six weeks after it got back on the road and had had its re-torqueing service my girlfriend (to become my wife) and I took the car to Bulawayo for a motor race meeting. It was nice to get the car on the open road and get it to move. It had plenty of power and went very well. After about 30Km suddenly the oil light came on and the oil pressure gauge took a dive to "0". Instantly I shut the motor off and coasted to the side of the road. This was bad, what had happened? With a lot of panic I got the front opened and checked the oil, it was only just showing on the dipstick, and when I checked under the car it was just awash with oil. After some more checking I could only make out that it was coming out behind the flywheel. I started the motor with no accelerator and let it idle over. The light went out, so there was enough oil for it to run, so I drove the car slowly for about 5Km to where I knew there was a service station where I could buy some oil. Refilled the sump and off we went, this time with some spare oil on board. I was running at about 100KPH and at about 30Km again the light came on, and it was out of oil again. So I filled the sump again and we abandoned our trip and turned around and headed for home, at about 60KPH. When we got to the service station again I stopped and bought some more oil and checked the oil level. It had lost almost no oil.
What was happening? Was I getting ring blowby and the crankcase compression pushing all the oil out at high speed? So I unhooked the crankcase vent system and stuck it out the bonnet and off we went towards Salisbury, home, at 100KPH. No blowby was coming from the crankcase, but after 10Km I stopped and checked that I had lost a noticeable amount of oil again. Decision time, we did want to go to Bulawayo and it seemed if we drove slowly it would not use a lot of oil. So we turned around again and off to Bulawayo. The almost 500Km there and 500Km back was a bit boring but we were in the new car and it was a great feeling, and I knew that the problem could be fixed and then I would have a very strong little R4L. The rest of the 1000Km trip I only used about 1.5Lt of oil, but the under side of the car was very glossy and the smell of burning oil was a bit of a nuisance for the first 200Km till it burned it off the exhaust.
Well when we got home and I told my dad the problem we tried to figure out where the problem lay, and came to the only decision that the motor had to come out again, and be stripped down. I checked everything again and could find nothing wrong at all. This was very disappointing. So I turned back to the crank oil slinger at the flywheel. It looked perfect, so I checked it against the old crankshaft. There was the difference. The grooves went in the opposite direction, now why was that? Man it must be a Dauphine crankshaft. So I got an old Dauphine crank out from the junk pile outside and sure enough there it was, the spares shop had sold me a Dauphine crankshaft. So I put the crank into the box it had come in and the next day took it to work with me to get a new one. What a problem, because I had polished it and changed it they didn't want to exchange it. So I went to see the workshop manager of our workshop and told him the story. He told me to leave the crank with him and he would see what was going on. Well just before lunch I was called to the manager's office again, he told me the whole story, and said I could pick up a new crankshaft at the spares shop. When I told him I would now have to wait to complete the motor as I had no money to re-balance the motor, so he gets on the phone to the engineering shop and talks to the manager and tells him the story, then puts down the phone and tells me that when I was ready I must take the crank back to the engineering shop and they will balance it for free. Thank you Mr. Hobbs, my workshop manager.
Suddenly I had a deadline to meet. In 3 weeks it was the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami and we wanted to go down for that if the car was ready. So I worked every night and weekends again to get all the parts modified and back together. The Sunday evening of the week before the race I got the car running again, and took it into work to put it on the hoist and have the entire underside steam cleaned. The car went great again and now there was no oil leaks. The story that came out of this episode was, that the man in the Renault spares knew that they had a lot of Dauphine crankshafts sitting on the shelf and thinking that they were exactly the same, saw no problem with giving me a Dauphine crank. Suddenly a number of R4s were recalled to the workshop to have the crankshafts checked and some changed. He had done it before.
Well we used the R4 to go to the Grand Prix and had a great time driving the rather powerful 850cc in the traffic in JOHANNESBURG. In fact it was there that we found out that even with the 3 speed gearbox the car was still very fast in the traffic.
It was about this time that my Mom started looking for a new car, as her R4 was getting a bit worn out and needed some serious work. So she went looking for a new R4. It was a very nice car as by '72 they were very up-market with very comfortable interior, very nice motor, 4 speed gearbox, and a well developed suspension. It was light blue and my Mom really loved it, this was the first new car she had ever had. My brother and I were allowed to use it but only on special occasions.
"Le Taxi" - Just after it was painted, when we took it to Johannesburg for the fist time in its new colours.
The bodywork on my R4 was looking a bit rough and I was getting real tired of the remarks about the colour the last owner had sprayed it, the most noted comment was "frozen nipple pink". It was a bluish pink. I had put together some money to have it panel beaten and sprayed my normal colours of mid-chrome yellow, bright white and black, and it would be done by my friend Joe Cortino. When it was ready for collection I was just blown away, it looked fantastic. The first thing I did when I got it back home was to clean off the side panels on the back door and put my spray stencils on and spray a black gecko and the word Gecko. The 'Gecko' was born. Over the next few months I stripped the interior and painted all the metal grey, made new black door panels and modified the front seat to sit lower and made new cushions for the seat which had all the old straps changed to seat belt webbing. The seat was now very comfortable.
The old plastic dash was falling apart and the little extra panel for the extra gauges looked silly, so I made a new dash out of aluminium, and I got rid of the old steering wheel and fitted one I made for myself. Because I had a bit of trouble with the electrical circuit the front was rewired with the dash, so now the lights worked well and it started easily, and when you turned off the key, everything turned off.
The end of the year was coming up and it was time for the 1000Km endurance race at Kyalami, so we did our planning and organised leave from our works. This was the first time with all the new stuff in it and it went real well. We travelled at a constant speed between 100 and 110 Kph and our fuel consumption was on average 13.8Km per Lt. The carburettor was working very well now that I had made a heated spacer plate under the base.
While in JOHANNESBURG I phoned a lot of car breakers to see if I could get a 4 speed gearbox, but none were available, but I found a very good deal on some B F Goodrich GT 100 tyres, so bought those for the car. What a difference they made to the handling, and it felt far more stable at high speed. The only parts that were not on the parts shelf at Renault back home were early model rear suspension bushes, and that was all that was now needed to make the suspension 100%. So I went looking for the bushes. My Uncle knew some parts people who dealt with French spares so I went to see them after I had had no luck at the main dealers. The spares man took me into the back to show me what they kept in their obsolete department for Renault. They had just about everything, so I had found a good source of older model parts if they could not get them for me in Salisbury.
The R4 had begun to get a reputation, but the worst thing seemed a bit embarrassing at the time but became a big joke later. One of the taxi companies in Salisbury had R4s as taxis and they were painted bright colours, like bright blue and frog green and yellow and red and lavender. Well one day I was coming home from work, and there had been a bit of rain just at going home time so the traffic was a bit slow. I had a route that moved a bit faster at times like these, so I turn down the side road on the side of the park, and I am going down this narrow street and a man dressed in a suit with a briefcase and his umbrella over his head hops off the pavement between the cars and sticks his hand up as if he was hailing a taxi. But to him I looked as if I was not going to stop for him and he shook his umbrella at me as I drove past. Only then did I realise that he thought I was a taxi. When I got home I told everyone the story, and how indignant I was, they all rolled around on the floor laughing. Only a while later did I see the funny side of the story, but the car had now earned the name of "Le Taxi".
Shortly after, my Mom had an accident in her new R4, somebody drove through a stop sign in front of her on a main road. Fortunately she reacted correctly and only clipped the left front of her car on the front of the other car, but it turned her upside down in a barrel roll. She got out a bit shaken but ok, but the poor R4 was a bit worse for wear. After we had all got over the shock, I realised that the car would probably be written off by the insurance so I got hold of her agent "on her behalf" and told them we would be interested in purchasing the vehicle if it was written off. The next day the agent phoned me at work and told me to put in an offer. Without even seeing the car I put in an offer and got the car. It was delivered to my house that afternoon, and when I got home that evening there was a man from the taxi company waiting for me. He had an offer in on the same car as he wanted it for spares for his fleet, and he wanted to know what I wanted with it. So I told him mainly I wanted it for the 4 speed gearbox and the drive shafts. So he made me an offer of $50 more than I had paid for it and he would take the parts out for me. Done deal. He made out 2 cheques, one for the sum to the insurance company and one for $50 to me and told me to collect my parts the next afternoon at the taxi workshop, and he would get a breakdown truck to come and collect it now. As soon as he was gone I was into the workshop, got a centre punch and hammer and punched my initials on the gearbox and put a dab of yellow paint on the drive shafts so I would know the parts were mine.
Well the next afternoon after work I went to pick up my parts, sure enough there they were outside his office, the correct ones. His mechanics were already working on the car straightening it. I noticed they had cut the 4 speed front chassis member out as it was a bit bent, and asked if they were going to use it. The foreman said that they had a new one so he gave it to me. I was very happy with my deal. In a few weeks I had straightened the cross member and all was in the car. The 4 speed changed the performance completely, the ratios were perfect and the car took off like a scalded cat now. The new gearbox now allowed me to tune the car much finer and if performed fantastic. 1200 and 1300cc cars didn't stand a chance over the quarter mile or for one lap of the race track. Only the Datsun 1200GT was faster after about 80Kph, and a lot of 1600cc cars couldn't stay with me including the R16TS. R8 Gordinis and Alfa 1600s and BMW 1600 (Glas) were always beaten leaving the line but would come past me quickly. The only smaller cars that would out-accelerate me straight off the line were Mini Cooper S's and Datsun 1600 SSS. So it was quite a beast and got a reputation to the point if we went cruising on Friday or Saturday evening the cops would follow me and even pull me over just to let me know they were there.
A few weeks after I got my new gearbox I also noticed my Mom's R4 registration number on a lavender taxi. But this poor vehicle was not right, they had straightened it as best possible but it was not 100% as it crabbed down the road, and you could see the roof was not completely straight. But, it worked and was earning money, poor beast.
It was at about this time that the world oil crisis came about, it didn't much affect us in Rhodesia as we had fuel rationing under sanctions, it just made the petrol more expensive. But in South Africa all sorts of regulations came into power. You could not buy fuel after 6:00pm and no fuel from 6:00pm Friday till 6:00am Monday. You could apply for a permit through a magistrate, but the service station would charge you a callout charge, which was normally quite high. So it made travel to JOHANNESBURG during weekends very difficult. As my car would be a foreign car when in South Africa, the regulations didn't apply to it, only the use of fuel did. So I went out and found myself a 60 Lt tank from a Ford Zephyr Mk4, it was just the right size to fit in place of the spare wheel. So a system was made to couple it in with the normal tank and a change over tap was put on the back floor just behind the driver. The back suspension was raised a bit to compensate and I put in longer but softer suspension stops. We had a Christmas trip to JOHANNESBURG planned and it was ready for this. I had been saving fuel coupons for a while and so the evening before departing I went to the local service station to "fill her up". Well the expression from the pump attendant while filling was priceless. He was obviously used to putting about 40 Lt in an R4 and when he got to 50 Lt he started checking the car. When it got to 75 Lt he was looking under the car for leaks, and when he got to 90 Lt he was really worried that he asked me if I wanted to carry on filling. Eventually the filler gurgled it was full at 105 Lt. The attendant was still scratching his head when I drove away.
Well, Saturday morning we were on our way, this was the first time we did the 580Km to the boarder at Beit Bridge without stopping for fuel. We filled up in Beit Bridge, went through customs. On the South African side they asked us some questions about our trip, where we were going to stay for the night, and I told them we were going straight through to Johannesburg. So they asked if we required a permit, to which I said no. The officials were quiet after that but I noticed my registration number was written down on a side paper. We were given our papers and wished a good journey. It was late afternoon by the time we left Messina after getting some food and drinks for the road, and we were on the open road again. We had gone over the mountains and coming down into Louis Trichardt it was dark, early evening, and we were just about to drive into the town and a set of red and blue police lights went on about 500m in front of us, and a policeman signalled us to pull over. He asked us where we were going, and I told him to JOHANNESBURG, so he wanted to know if we were carrying any petrol on board, to which I answered no. So he flashed his torch into the back of the car to check. He was satisfied so he said we could go. Well off we went into the night. It was rather weird as there was not another car on the road. I drove at 120-130Kph with my lights on bright for 120Km. Just coming into Pietersburg red and blue lights again, so we pulled over. This time the questions were a bit more in depth, about where we last got fuel and where we were going to stay tonight and did we have a permit to buy fuel. The policeman also checked the back of the car with his torch, he was not satisfied but he let us go. We got some coffee and back on the road, again travelling well and bright lights on. Nobody else on the road. It was weird. It wasn't until near Pretoria that we saw the first cars on the open road coming towards us. We arrived at "Ming's" parents' house at 10:30pm, after a very nice journey. As much as JO'BURG is a large old city it always had an intrigue in me, a sense of adventure. I was always able to find things of interest there and always enjoyed myself there. This holiday was no different, and we had a great time at the races and shopping. The trip back to Salisbury was similar to the trip down as we travelled on the Saturday.
I was getting used to the car being very reliable, I was able to climb in it and go wherever we needed. One of our favourite trips was to the Eastern Highlands, to Troutbeck Hotel, Inyanga, Rhodes Valley, and Leopard Rock. We would pick a place north or south of Umtali and go there for the day. We would do about a 500Km round trip in a day.
Beginning of '73 Ming and I decided to get married, and it would take place in JO'BURG, as most of the family lived in the area. In March we went down for the Grand Prix at Kyalami and to organise the wedding. We had a lot of work to do and things to organise. We did a lot of driving to see people, and got to know the streets of JO'BURG and the surrounds very well. We also visited a lot of our friends, and it was second nature to them that we were in the R4. Eventually it was time to go back to Salisbury as we had everything planned and bookings made. It seemed like it was just a few days and we were back again at the end of July to do the final organising and have the wedding at the beginning of June. It was the first time the car had gone to Durban when we went on honeymoon. Everybody wanted to know why I had the surfboard on the roof when we were going on honeymoon, and I told them I needed a break some time. It was a great time off, the wedding went well, and the poor car was loaded when we went back to Salisbury with all the wedding presents. Again the car performed very well, and we had made a few Renault friends in Durban.
A year later Danial, my son, was born. His first ride was in the R4 on the way home from the nursing home. It became a very convenient car as it never had a back seat in it, the pram and all the needs for a young child could be carried easily. In fact Ming took over the R4 for a while and I used the R10 or my motorcycle. I also became more involved in our local motor sport club, participating in a lot of club events, hill climbs, gymkhanas, short rallies, and on the race track. All in the R4. It gained a good reputation, the only other car in my class that was faster was when Derrick Henderson built his 1000cc. R4. The extra capacity and the equipment in his machine shop enabled him to build a more powerful motor, but he did not drive at all the events, so "Le Taxi" gained more of a reputation.
Unfortunately the good times in Rhodesia came to an end and it was obvious that the country would be turned over to the people who controlled the terrorists. In fact we were travelling to JO'BURG, early one morning just as the light crept over the Eastern horizon we were leaving Enkledoorn and I made the statement that the terrorists were probably watching us and we would not be able to travel at night again. Two weeks after we got home they had a major attack on a farm in the area. After that it was necessary to travel during the day and in protected convoys. It was never the same after that. Shame.
R4 and Friend - A friend joined us as the only 2 R4s at the van Reenen run.
In July '78 Ming and I decided to leave for South Africa. It was a major decision and we had a lot to do, and I had a lot to throw away in my packing up of the workshop. I also had to assemble the front of our '58 Chev Impala which was going to be our main transport. The day came for us to be on the road out of Rhodesia. The Chev was packed full, on the back of that on the "A" frame was the R4 also packed full and with our dog, a Bull Terrier. And then our box trailer on the back of that. That was a story all in itself. After we arrived in Jo'burg and unpacked and stored everything, I did a service and tune up on the R4 and we went off to Durban for ten days holiday at our favourite holiday apartments. Ming and Danial and I needed the rest after our move and Ming was 7 months pregnant with Kerry. So the "Taxi" was now registered in South Africa. It didn't take long to make new Renault friends once they saw the R4 on the road every day. My daughter Kerry was born at this time and her first ride was going home in the R4. We were invited to take "Le Taxi" on a Renault Jamboree at van Reenen. I could only get off work late in the afternoon, so we were on the road just as the sun was setting. It was about a 4 hour journey and we had stopped for dinner on the road, so we arrived at about mid-night. I went into the bar where quite a party was going on, and found one of the organisers, to find where we could pitch our tent and sleep for the night. When I got back out to the car there were a group around it all trying to see what was inside and make a decision as to what was done to it. I talked with a few of them but wanted to get Ming and Kerry settled. So we drove onto the side lawn of the hotel where we were told we could camp and my brother and I and Danial got out and set up all the camp out of the box trailer on the back of the R4.
R4 Bathing - The wash down after playing in the sand at the gymkhana at the van Reenen run.
The next morning we were awakened by voices outside the tent. They were talking about "Le Taxi". Even though they were made in South Africa they were not considered a rebuild toy like R8 Gordinis and Alconi R10s. And here we were, 3 adults and 2 kids and all our camping gear, come to see the Renault gathering. I got up and went out to see what was happening and meet the people. I opened up the car and showed them what was in it. I then went to see all the other Renaults in the parking lot. This was great, every model from the 4CV to the R17 were there and many variations on the original as well. I went back to our camp and helped get some breakfast together and get us ready for the day's events. One of the women in the group invited my wife to use their room for changing the baby and cleaning up when she needed. They had arranged all sorts of competitions and driving events for the morning. I had a great time driving in the competitions and seeing the other cars, and we met a lot of new friends. We were invited to join the clubs for lunch at the hotel, and after lunch we had 2 hours to clean the cars for the concourse late in the afternoon. A lot of people had been interested in the R4 throughout the day but when we stripped off all the doors and most of the interior to clean out the dust and rubbish from the one speed event on a sand field, now it seemed everybody was watching us clean the car. It was great to see all the very well turned out cars, something we had not seen in Rhodesia. My R4 was well put together but not of the show standard that some of these cars were. That night we were invited to the dinner and party, which was very nice seeing as we were not members of any of the clubs. To my surprise "Le Taxi" was awarded 2 prizes at the prize giving, one for best performance in the driving competitions, and best R4, there were only 2 others. The prizes were model cars, a Corgi R5 Maxi Turbo and a Majorette 4L van. They are cherished and in my collection still today. That trip was our introduction to the Renault clubs in the JO'BURG area, and many good relationships.
The trip with the Renaults got us into a system of being able to go away, and with the economy of the R4 and the trailer on the back we could go away with the 2 kids and camp and it wouldn't cost a lot. It also meant that the wife could have a rest and only needed to look after our young daughter's needs. I would cook and Danial and I would put up our tent and get the camp all organised. The R4 got to go to all the Off-Road races all over the country. Our first was with two small tents and an awning to the Trans-Kalahari in Botswana. We did a bit of following of the race and got some funny remarks about the small car and the trailer, but we met some nice people and saw some great cars and bikes. The petrol restrictions had been made stronger since we got to South Africa and so the big tank was a great thing to do the long trips home. We then got brave and adventurous and our next run was to Lesotho to the "Roof of Africa Rally". We camped on the polo/football field with a lot of the competitors. It was cold at night and we had a great fire, and it was great. We left the trailer at the camp and went up into the mountains during the day to watch the cars race over the mountain tracks.
Travelling around the country and the kids getting bigger meant that it was time to get a bigger car. So I looked around and was offered a R16TS in good mechanical condition but a damaged motor. So the "Le Taxi" towed the R16 home so it could be built for my wife to drive in town and we would use it to do our expeditions. "Le Taxi" still got a lot of distance put on it, I used it for servicing for a friend's R8/16Ts he used for rallying. It carried a lot of equipment for another R8/16Ts that ran on the track at Kyalami. I was then told of an inaugural race for an Off-Road series that was rather smooth and would be run at Underberg so I entered the R4. I did a lot of work on the car to prepare for the race. It was finally ready a week before the race and the Pretoria Renault Club were having a get together so we took the R4 over on the "A-frame" behind the R16. Well our entrance, although it seemed ordinary to us, sure did create a stir. Well the trip to the Renault meeting was good for us to test the towing out and it got the fans talking.
The Race weekend was just as good. All the fancy Off-Road cars were joined by our R4, which got quite some attention. Most were used to it being somewhere out on the course with me taking photographs. But now it was in amongst them. The time trial was a big eye opener, but the car got through it rather well, and we were ahead of 2 VW Beetles that were supposed to be quite fast. Race day we were in rather respectable company in the production car class, but after one 58Km lap it was obvious that "Le Taxi" was getting old and wasn't prepared as well as some of the good cars in my class. I pulled the back shocks out of their mountings. The front shocks were not working any more and the brakes would fade badly on the descent from the high country. I stopped at the end of the lap and decided to go home before we broke the car completely. The ride home was a rather long one and went long into the night. At about 11:00pm that night we needed to stop and pump petrol over from the race car into the tow car so we could do the remaining distance. We found a side road and went down it and did a U-turn and came back almost to the road and stopped to do the unlawful act. Man it was cold outside. My brother and I did the work and even with heavy jackets and gloves and hats it was still great to get back into the car while it pumped over. Our final part of our trip was only about 150Km but it seemed to take all night to get us home and unpacked and all to bed. The next morning on the news we found out why my brother and I froze when we did the fuel transfer, about an hour after we passed through there was a very heavy snow storm on the mountains.
About a year before we layed it to rest at Putsoa.
Later the day we got home, a Sunday, I had a better look at the poor R4. As much as it was an old car with 320,000Km on the clock it was now past rebuilding and I had to make a decision, and that was it was at the end of its time. It was a sad realisation I had just made, and the worst thing was I had no backup car to replace it with, it could not be replaced.
Temporarily I had to do a heart transplant to give me some time to build another car. One of my friends had a R4 van that was not the best looking but had a good chassis and worn motor. So I bought it and transferred all of my good parts into the dark green van. It was good transport but it was not "Le Taxi".
Last Ride - The Scene the car looked over when we put it to rest.
When it was all changed over I could not just throw the remains on the scrap dump so we decided to put the car in a great resting place, on Blue Mountain Pass in Lesotho.
There was going to be the Mini Roof in a few weeks and we would tow the car in as a race car and take it straight up to the mountain and settle it in its place. I will admit it was a very emotional moment when we drove off back down the mountain.
Snow - About a year after its last ride we re-visited the car.
About a year later we were up there to watch "The Roof" and visited "Le Taxi". There was snow all around and we were told by police who drove over the pass and stopped to talk to us, that five days before only part of the roof showed out of the snow. About 9 months later when I passed by on a motorbike, after following a race, there was snow on the ground again but this time the roof had been cut off. The last time I went past only the rusting floor pan was left behind on the slopes of the pass.
"Le Taxi" had a great impact on our lives, we had it for just short of 9 years. I never opened the motor after I fitted the proper crankshaft, just after it was built. It took us to unbelievable places, some times where only 4x4s would go. It got its "Ton Up" badge for 100MPH on Kyalami straight, which many fancy cars could not do. Our only regret was that we did not take it to Southwest Africa (Namibia) as we had originally intended to do when we first built it. The Green Van went on for another year with all of "Le Taxi"'s running gear in it, until I had finished building a white 16TS for myself. The Green Van was eventually sold to a person who had pestered me for a while to sell it to him. He had an accident on a farm road and it never ran again. This was about the end of 1982.
"Le Taxi"'s spirit doesn't finish there, as I moved my family to Western Australia in December '95 and in my container I had packed a body and floorpan of a '73 R4. I recently moved into a workshop where I can work on my toys. So "Taxi II" is in the gestation period. How long that is I do not know, but it is progressing well. If there is enough interest in "Le Taxi" I will write the story of "Taxi II".
Raymond Patrick Watson retains the copyright of this story and the photos that accompany it.
Ray Watson, at P.O. Box 416, Northbridge, Perth, WA6865, Australia.