Re­nault 4L oozes re­li­a­bil­ity

THE VE­HI­CLE DOES HAVE THE AD­VAN­TAGE OF NOT CON­SUM­ING MUCH PETROL The old model is cel­e­brated world­wide as a master­piece of de­sign.

The Citizen (KZN) - - MOTORING - An­tana­narivo, Mada­gas­car

Once a com­mon sight across Europe, muchloved French cars from a by­gone era rat­tle along the streets of Mada­gas­car’s cap­i­tal An­tana­narivo, do­ing their duty as pri­vate ve­hi­cle, taxis or even po­lice cars.

The Re­nault 4L and the Citroen 2CV, which have made way for sleek younger mod­els else­where, are still part of daily life on the In­dian Ocean is­land, bat­tling up its steep hills and wheez­ing to­wards top speed on its dusty main roads.

“There’s no ques­tion of a car chase,” ad­mit­ted one uni­formed po­lice of­fi­cer sit­ting in his white 4L, com­plete with a rooftop bea­con and po­lice sig­nage, parked on guard close to the pres­i­den­tial palace.

“But it does have the ad­van­tage of not con­sum­ing much petrol,” he added.

Nearby, in the shade of jacaranda trees, sev­eral other 4Ls and 2CVs serve as taxis wait­ing for cus­tomers.

The two mod­els are cel­e­brated world­wide as mas­ter­pieces of de­sign, rep­re­sent­ing Europe’s post­war boom and the ex­plo­sion of car own­er­ship, but their hey­day has long passed.

Ri­ja­son Ran­dri­anan­toan­ina, a 37-year-old taxi driver, is proud of his “mag­nif­i­cent” 2CV, which he has owned for 16 years.

“It was made in 1978, but it’s a solid car,” he said.

The body is suf­fer­ing from some patches of deep rust and the fuel gauge does not work any­more.

The 2CV tank con­tains only 28 litres, and its driver must be a good judge of petrol us­age.

“I have a gauge in my head, you just have to get used to it,” he said.

Start­ing from the 1960s, 2CVs and 4Ls were im­ported into Mada­gas­car from France and Bel­gium, while mod­els were also as­sem­bled on the is­land un­til the 1980’s.

It was while work­ing at the So­ma­coa plant that El­y­see Rako­ton­drakolona learnt to dis­man­tle and erect the quirky 4L. He is now the go-to 4L me­chanic in An­tana­narivo, in the busy, work­ing-class dis­trict of An­toa­ma­dinika.

“The 4L can go where even mod­ern 4x4s can­not go, be­cause it takes only three peo­ple to lift it,” he said dryly.

In his open-air garage, squeezed be­tween an “aes­thetic hair­style” sa­lon and a donut stand, the chas­sis of old 4Ls are piled on top of each other.

Here, re­source­ful­ness reigns supreme.

“I take parts from Re­nault 5s for the front axle unit of the 4L,” said Rako­ton­drakolona.

“Our na­tional spe­cial­ity as Mada­gas­cans is that when you see two pieces that look alike, we know how to adapt them. It is the ‘make-do-and-mend’ sys­tem. The only prob­lem that is un­solv­able is a bro­ken gear­box,” he said.

Easy to re­pair, al­most un­break­able and fuel ef­fi­cient, the 2CV and 4L are well-adapted to sur­vive in Mada­gas­car.

No of­fi­cial fig­ures are avail­able but thou­sands are still on the roads of the for­mer French colony which is one of the world’s poor­est coun­tries, with al­most four in five peo­ple liv­ing in grind­ing poverty.

Back in the garage, a worker pa­tiently straight­ens the dented body­work of a 4L us­ing a small ham­mer­ing tool, while oth­ers re­move the en­gine from an or­ange model to mod­ify its chas­sis.

One cus­tomer Bruno Ra­solo­fo­manantsoa, a rice farmer, had brought his 4L for a ma­jor op­er­a­tion by “doc­tor” Rako­ton­drakolona, who will trans­plant an en­gine into it from an­other car.

Ra­solo­fo­manantsoa, in his 50s, uses his ve­hi­cle to carry fer­tiliser into his paddy fields, and he ad­mires its sim­plic­ity.

“If you have a prob­lem in the mid­dle of nowhere, to find out what is wrong, just open the hood,” he said. –AFP

Pic­ture: AFP

LOVED. The iconic French car, in pro­duc­tion be­tween 1961 and 1992 and till 1994 has an en­dur­ing ap­peal in Mada­gas­car where me­chan­ics work won­ders with the lim­ited sup­ply of spare parts avail­able to them.

Pic­ture: AFP

DIEHARD. A Re­nault 4L, still car­ry­ing a French num­ber plate out­side work­shop in An­tana­narivo’s An­toa­madik­ina neigh­bour­hood.

Pic­ture: AFP

EASY TO FIX. Young me­chan­ics work on the en­gine of a Re­nault 4L at El­yse Rako­ton­drakonona’s work­shop.

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