en en

Previous Events logo

50th Anniversary of the R4 - Brooklands, 2011
by Peter Gumbrell, 2011-09-22

With the massive 4L International event at Thenay in France grabbing most of the attention for the fiftieth anniversary R4 celebrations, UK enthusiasts rightfully decided to go and join them, as did many contingents of fans from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal and elsewhere. However, the Brits were not to be outdone in the record-breaking stakes, holding a late summer gathering at the home of British motorsport, which attracted 33 attendees. Here's some pictures and a summary of the day out.

Renault 4 in the UK After ringing up a few more thousand kilometres on the clock of my Renault 4TL during 2011, what with my jaunts to Switzerland, Germany and various excursions around France, I wouldn't have been so enthused about an additional trip all the way back across the watery divide to the UK, but fortunately the British leg of the 50th birthday marathon of events coincided with my imperative return to English shores for other matters, including my car's annual test and repairs courtesy of Derek at the Renospeed garage. Derek had previously arranged the annual R4 get-togethers in Kent, but for this special year, he bagged the brilliant Brooklands Motor Museum in Surrey as the venue for all the mad folk of England and beyond to descend upon.

The original race circuit at Brooklands, along with the old airfield and runway, has long since been decimated by its sale and subsequent development, with housing, business parks, industrial sites and supermarkets now sprawling across what used to be the tarmac. I knew my way to the site having previously made several visits to a client at an office based right in the middle, from where I would gaze out of the window when bored and watch the neighbouring Mercedes base sending cars out on its mini test track and obstacle course. So there would be no speeding around the circuit for the R4 drivers, unlike the Germans' national event at the Nürburgring earlier in the summer. Nonetheless, the concourse outside the old clubhouse, with its musty old English charm within, would provide a perfect playground for the Renaults to invade for the day.

I arrived at around 10.30 in the morning to the sounds of Glenn Miller's In the Mood being piped out across the parking area from the balcony of the clubhouse, where we had been given special permission to gather. In addition to motoring, Brooklands is also home to various retired aircraft. Surrounding the Renault 4s were a few such examples, with the old mini Concorde that previously graced the roundabout outside Heathrow parked up behind us. One of the real Concordes could be found just around the corner, where visitors can 'check in' for an additional fee and pretend to be part of the supersonic jetset. (See this page for a short article that links the R4 with this other great Sixties icon).

Click any thumbnail for the photos and more info.

Brooklands photo 1

There were already twenty or so others present when I arrived, including several models I'd not seen either in person or on the web. The Kent runs in recent years had reunited an average of fifteen Renaults so it was likely that a new record for a British R4 meet-up had been set today, although I don't know if there were ever any gatherings of UK Renault 4 enthusiasts between the Sixties and early Noughties. It would always be good to discover some long forgotten mystery meeting.

Brooklands photo 2 Brooklands photo 3 Brooklands photo 4

A few stray tourists passed by the R4 parade during the day, on their way between different buildings and exhibits that are spread across the grounds. Weather-wise, you wouldn't have thought that England in September would trump the pastures of France in July, or even the forests of western Germany in June, but the rain held out for most of the day. Any hopes that the wet and cold would steer clear of the shores of Surrey entirely were dampened later in the afternoon with a deluge ordered by whichever vindictive god has been overseeing the skies for most other Renault 4 events of the last decade, but it didn't last too long and spirits remained high, and dry.

Brooklands photo 5 Brooklands photo 6 Brooklands photo 7

It was good to see a few new faces at the event in addition to the regular diehards. Indeed, some had only got hold of their first R4 quite recently, so it's encouraging to know that 'normal' folk are still interested in the cars and willing to buy them in a market where models are scarce and usually commanding of a considerably higher price than a decade ago. That's especially true of right-hand drive models. Latest government figures put the number on the road in Britain at just over 300, a fall of a few dozen from the figure of just a few years earlier, although it's thought that around 100 more may be kept off-road. We'd succeeded therefore in representing one tenth of the UK R4 population, and although of course many people have other commitments and cannot make the journey hundreds of miles across country, you have to wonder about many of those who didn't make it along. Who are they and where are they all hiding?

Brooklands photo 8 Brooklands photo 9 Brooklands photo 10 Brooklands photo 11 Brooklands photo 12

As ever, I didn't try to capture a photo of every model present, and I missed an opportunity to photograph one very special car that shot off at lunchtime never to return. However, it turned out to be the same old classic I'd seen at the Kent run in 2010, with the number plate 8699 MG, pictured here in my report from last year. What I hadn't known was that this was the demonstration vehicle imported into Britain for Renault to use for tests and publicity. Along with the original white Plein Air parked alongside, these were the same two models belonging to Renault UK that had come along to the rain-soaked run in 2010. Just six of the Plein Air editions were officially converted to UK right-hand drive spec. I knew of two others still in existence when I launched this site in 2000, but I'm not sure whether any of the five not present here at Brooklands are now alive.

Strictly, there were 32 Renault 4s in attendance, because we included a Renault 6 in the day's grand total of 33. One fan was explaining how the Six benefited from a double bulkhead and hence a quieter ride. I still spot the odd R6 dotted about France but this might be the first I can recall seeing in person in Britain, excluding any that must have passed me by as a child. One other edition that is a rarity in Britain is the Savane, so it was a surprise to see another almost identical to my Queen Geanine pull up further down the line. Its French owner had bought the car in Marseille around 1992 but now had it registered on British plates, like my own.

Brooklands photo 13 Brooklands photo 14

I hadn't been sure that Brooklands would provide the best backdrop to a rustic French tin hedgehog's half-century hangout, but in fact it provided a super site for an event of this kind. There was none of the bossy security sorts ordering anybody where they could and could not go, nor any of the snobbery that one sometimes associates with the motor-racing elite. The place had a friendly feel to it and we were free to roam around the clubhouse and the various outbuildings.

After several chats with a typically eclectic assortment of R4 owners and their passengers, an inspection of intricate differing details of the vehicles as is custom at any Renault 4 gathering, the usual dolphin dive into the shelter of the car for the passing torrential raincloud and a vague promise to see everybody later, not sure where, not sure when, it was time to head back to Brighton. I'd intended to shoot down the motorway but fellow Brightonian Mark with his E reg oldie had been having the typical troubles all day that sometimes accompany ownership of a classic early edition. Since he had a full complement of four additional passengers, I had visions of five poor souls standing shivering on the hard shoulder of the M23 all evening hoping for miracles, so I pulled into a layby to wait for them to pass, then pursued them in driving rain back to the south coast. Mark has often talked of the reduced speed his model can manage on the motorways, but we cruised at a steady sixty-five most of the way home.

Brooklands photo 15 Brooklands photo 16 Brooklands photo 17

I'm not sure we'll ever tease out the other two-hundred-and-something Renault 4 owners up and down the land to unveil themselves, if not here in this fiftieth year or at Thenay, where there were a few additional UK fans present, so this just could go down as the biggest British R4 event of all time, unless there is a real resurgence of desire amongst the remaining or future owners to get together on occasions like this. I was advised in August by Richard, maintainer of the former Renault 4 in Ireland website, that he's in touch with around thirty enthusiasts on the other side of the Irish Sea, and ten made it along to a recent event there, which is encouraging to know. Nonetheless, today's tally was a good showing, especially considering that away from the annual Kent runs and Derek's garage, I've probably not seen thirty-three different R4s on the streets of Britain since I took charge of my first at the end of 1996.

So, cheers to all and see you again at the 60th (or maybe before)! In the meantime, keep me updated on your R4 trials, travails or travels by sending your pics, stories and whatever else, or simply say hello and stick your name on the world fan map.

Watch a very short video clip of the panorama outside the clubhouse shortly after my arrival.

Return to the 50th Anniversary page or go to the Previous Events index.