France’s Stodgiest Car Reimagined For Facebook Addicts

The ugly Renault 4 never became a collector’s item, but we’d drive this remake right off the lot.

The original Renault 4 was France’s urban family car, a squished station wagon (okay, hatchback) that was successful in its utility rather than speed–one of the practically oriented, postwar cars that were popularized in 1960s Europe. But let’s face it: For whatever nostalgic charm it may have today, the Renault 4 is no Beetle. It’s the automobile equivalent of abstinence, tithing, and frowns. Yet still, the company made the thing for 30 years.

Much of the fabric-filled interior can be removed and cleaned.

No wonder Renault threw a competition to reimagine its 4 in a more modern context. Allen Zadeh of the Brooklyn, New York, design agency Lovaro, and who was a finalist in our recent Porsche design competition, walked away with third place for his remake, “Eleve”. Rather than focus on pleasing the family, eleve merely translates to “student.” And it’s a fantastic, youthful rendition. Zadeh managed to preserve the vehicle’s classic, frumpy lines, yet added an urban bulk and sporty angle to the front. It’s just the sort of design tailoring needed to make the Renault 4 feel at home on the streets of today.

“The original Renault 4 stood for simplicity, versatility, and a positive outlook on life. We wanted to stay true to the original spirit of the car but were also influenced by the densely urbanized environment we live in,” Zadeh tells Co.Design. “Our concept strives to create a situation that connects on personal and social levels. We believe that people are looking to enhance sharing in their ‘real’ lives, and for things that bring personal networks of friends closer together. Celebrating the shared experiences between friends while driving together was a primary source of inspiration.”

Doors open to squeeze people in hip to hip.

It’s part of a larger theme we’ve been seeing in products. In the era of mobile Facebook, designers are trying to make our personal experiences more meaningful. And what’s the surefire way to make a car more social? Rip off the roof and make it a convertible. So Zadeh added a removable roof, along with a quirky cabin that allows for all sorts swappability and unique, washable textiles. Even the car’s body features panels that can be switched and removed without visiting the dealership or having an automotive degree–an analog nod to the ease of online customization tools we’ve all become accustomed to.

He also gave the car friendly eyes by adding a faint blue emissive coating inside the LED headlamps. It’s the next logical step in acknowledging the front end of the car as its face, though I’ll admit to being a bit skeptical as to how this would play out in real life rather than a rendering.

Design details aside, however, just glancing at this updated Renault convertible, the Eleve sits only a stone’s throw away from the modern Mini Cooper. Which makes a lot of sense. Both models were born in the same era that tailored to the same cultural sensibilities. No wonder they’d come along for the ride to 2012 together.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach