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.
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
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.
DIEHARD. A Renault 4L, still carrying a French number plate outside workshop in Antananarivo’s Antoamadikina neighbourhood.
EASY TO FIX. Young mechanics work on the engine of a Renault 4L at Elyse Rakotondrakonona’s workshop.