It would appear that the appeal of the legendary French Renault 4L is universal. I discovered this lovely red Frenchie on a small residental street in Kyoto, Japan, on a recent trip. Looking rather out of place next to all the square Japanese box cars I had seen all day, this spotless 4L really stood out and looked great in the rain.
The Renault 4L is one of my favourite classic French cars. It was introduced in 1961 as Renault's answer to Citroen's 2CV, a car that had introduced a large portion of France's population to automobiling. The 4L would be produced up until 1992 with surprisingly few changes, and this model I saw in Japan was clearly one of the later models. Renault pumped out over 8 million of their small car over the decades, making it one of the most popular French cars of all time. One of the best features of the 4L was the full-opening canvas top, thought it wouldn't have been much use the rainy day I visited Kyoto.
I always like seeing these great old cars out of their natural habitats. While I had been hoping to see some old cars in Japan, the last thing I expected was a little red Renault. To celebrate my find I found a bar and enjoyed ANOTHER red Frenchie, a glass of Bordeaux, which warmed me up and encouraged me to continue on my journey.
I am very excited to be back in Japan for the week. Unlike last time, this time I had an extra weekend to visit a bit. I saw the cities of Osaka and Kyoto, and even if it was raining all day, I very much enjoyed both cities. Of course no visit to a foreign country would be complete for me without copious amounts of car spotting. The most interesting and exciting by far was this lovely little retro blue thing I saw shortly after leaving the Kyoto train station:
You can see in the photo that the driver was turning left, and unfortunately the light turned green before I could snap a shot of the front. The little 3-door hatchback had a very original shape, and I especially loved the ribbed body panels. The rear glass opens up and the tailgate opens down, making this a useful little car. The top is a large canvas piece that reminded me of the French Renault 4L and Citroen 2CV. It had so many great details, like the three 'stoplight' rear lights, roof rails, and hinges on the doors.
I continued on my walk and crossed the street, and was surprised when I saw the little blue car waiting at another light! I quickly grabbed one more shot before it took off out of my life for good. There wasn't even a name or logo to help me identify it.
At the end of the day when I returned to the hotel, I did a Google search for random old retro Japanese cars, and was about to give up when I somehow stumbled across this page:
Turns out this little blue car is the Nissan Pao, and was only built in 1989. With a tiny 1.0L engine and a whopping 52 horsepower, it clearly wouldn't appeal to everyone, but has the kind of oddball appeal that I love. After my first visit in Japan I knew that I would have no problem living there, automotively speaking, thanks to all the cool modern Kei cars like this Suzuki Lupin I wrote about before:
Now I have to rethink that. Why get something new and modern that you find in every parking lot when you can have a great retro toy like this? Lets just say that this trip to Japan was a very pao-sitive experience, and that I want to get back again as soon as possible to go hunting for more strange old cars!
I may have created a national incident today. At the Nissan Technical Center today in Japan, I saw a beautiful Nissan Skyline in the lobby. Naturally I took out my camera and started snapping pictures. Why else would a classic car be sitting on display except for me to examine it from every angle and immortalize it in photos?
Well apparently it was there to catch naughty spy photographers in action, because someone quickly came to ask me, very politely, not to take photos. Naturally I stopped (as a polite Canadian!), but not before I had captured a half dozen shots of this golden beauty:
I bowed my head and walked away sheepishly with my tail between my legs, only to discover three other classic Skylines in the upper part of the lobby. It's like they were testing me. The Skyline is a Japan-only classic that has become a legend in performance car circles. The model in the lower lobby was a 2000 GTX, and appeared to have been parked there when new. It was a spotless example of the 70's Skyline, and attracted attention from many visitors.
I didn't dare try to grab photos of the other oldies I saw, but they were just as spotless as this 2000 GTX. The streets of Japan are filled with modern cars, but every once in a while I see an oldie like this. I'll be visiting until Saturday, so hopefully I'll get to see a few other classic Japanese cars. With luck the next time there will be no photo restrictions!
Anyone else a fan of classic Japanese sports cars? Have any pics to share? Feel free to share them! Hopefully you don't have to risk your life (or visitors badge!) to get them...
Paying attention really paid off the other night. I was taking a taxicab home after a late dinner, and was watching the city as it rolled by. All of a sudden I saw a flash of a little yellow car in a window, not too far from where I live. I barely had time to see it, but knew what it was right away: an Isetta. For those that don’t know it, an Isetta can’t be mistaken for any other car. It’s a tiny 2 seater egg-shaped car with a single door in the front. Produced from 1955 until 1962, the BMW version was one of several versions either copied or built under licence from ISO, an Italian manufacturer of scooters and 3-wheeled trucks.
The Isetta is like no other car I know. It’s tiny. Really tiny. Only 2.29 m (7.5 ft) long and 1.37 m (4.5 ft) wide, it’s not hard to see how it earned the nickname ‘bubble car’. A single-cylinder engine under the seat drove the rear wheels. The Isetta may have been light, but with only 13 horsepower, it took well over 30 seconds to get to 60 km/h, and the top speed was somewhere around 75 km/h (47 mph). The Isetta’a claim to fame was its fuel economy: it was the first mass-production car to reach a fuel economy rating of 3 L/100 km (78 mpg US).
I went back the following morning and discovered the Isetta sitting quietly in a showroom window. The dealership specialises in various brands of luxury vehicles, and the Isetta looked out of place with the large SUVs in the showroom. To my eyes it looked like a sad little puppy dog that wanted to go for a walk. I was able to take a very close look, and even open the door to check out the interior. The car was nearly perfect, with a spotless interior and flawless paint. The odometer only showed 974 kilometers, and I could easily believe that it hadn’t yet rolled over the counter.
After thoroughly checking the car out, I went and asked about the price. The person in the store didn’t speak English, so he put me on the phone with a woman that did. She told me the car was in fact for sale, and that it was 40,000…
At this point I got excited, as I assumed she was going to finish with ‘RMB’, which is the Chinese currency. 40,000 RMB is around $7000 USD / $8000 CAD / 6000 euros. My excitement came crashing down when she said it was 40,000… euros! As much as I like the car, the price was a LITTLE steep, and I wasn't sure my bank card would agree, so I had to leave without making the deal. I took one last look at the car before going, and couldn't help once again picturing it as a sad doggy in the window, longing to go outside and play...
This poor little guy needs rescuing! There's nothing sadder than a lonely pooch in a pet shop window, so I think I'll have to go back and see how he's doing soon.
Welcome! My name is Paul, and I am an old-fashioned, low-pressure, low-buck car fan with lots of automotive stories to tell!