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.
Japan has long been known as ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’, but on a recent trip there, it was the yellow licence plates that most stuck out to me. Many large cars carry regular white plates, but the tiny ‘Kei’ class of cars all sport unique yellow plates. For decades Japan has encouraged the purchase of tiny vehicles with small-displacement engines. The maximum size and displacement has increased several times over the years, but today’s standards limit the size of the vehicle to the following dimensions:
Only vehicles that meet these requirements are eligible for the yellow plates, which offer tax and insurance advantages. In busy Tokyo, like other large Japanese cities, space is at a premium, especially in parking lots. These factors combine to make these Kei cars very popular in Japan.
Most of the Kei cars I saw were tall boxy wagons. One of my favourites was the Suzuki Lupin, an upright two-box, five-door design. The Lupin has a front hood slightly longer than your typical Kei car, which helps make it look more substantial.
While many other Kei cars look futuristic and high-tech, the Lupin is quite refreshing in its simplicity. The front drops off to show a simple face with large clear headlights and a rectangular grille. The flat roof allows a maximum of headroom and cargo space, and the rear is equally simple.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of the colour of this example, I saw several other Lupins during my trip to Japan, and especially like it in blue. With a rushed work schedule and little time during daylight to get good pictures, I don't have many to share, but I did quickly snap a few others out of the bus window on my rainy trip back to the airport!
My favourite car from my time in France was the little Peugeot 104 that I had for over 3 years. These days I am more and more interested in all sorts of different cars, but I still very much get a kick out of tiny toys. The Japanese take them to extremes these days with increased safety and high-tech options, so now I need to plan a year living in 'The Land Of The Yellow Plates' to enjoy some of the cool Kei cars they offer!
To be sure there were a few other interesting Japanese automotive discoveries during my visit, so be sure to check back as I will share those stories and pictures shortly...
Welcome! My name is Paul, and I am an old-fashioned, low-pressure, low-buck car fan with lots of automotive stories to tell!