Renault 4CV - Volkswagen Influence

Volkswagen Influence

In November 1945 the government invited Ferdinand Porsche to France to explore the possibility of relocating the Volkswagen project to France as part of the reparations package then under discussion. The events that followed show up differences of approach between auto executives and Fourth Republic politicians. On 15 December 1945, Porsche found himself invited to provide Renault with advice concerning their forthcoming Renault 4CV. Earlier that year, newly nationalised Renault had officially acquired a new boss, (after the death in suspicious circumstances of Louis Renault), the former resistance hero Pierre Lefaucheux, (he had been acting administrator since September 1944). He had been arrested by the Gestapo in June 1944, and deported to Buchenwald concentration camp. The Gestapo transferred him to Metz for interrogation, but the city was deserted because of the advancing allied front, the Germans abandoned their prisoner. Lefaucheux was enraged that anyone should think the by now almost production-ready Renault 4CV was in any way inspired by the Volkswagen, and even more enraged that the politicians should presume to send Porsche to provide advice on it. The government insisted on nine meetings involving Porsche which took place in rapid succession. Lefaucheux insisted that the meetings would have absolutely no influence on the design of the Renault 4CV, and Porsche cautiously went on record with the view that the car would be ready for large scale production in a year.

Lefaucheux was a man with contacts. As soon as the 4CV project meetings mandated by the politicians had taken place, Porsche was arrested in connection with war crimes allegations involving the use of forced labour including French in the Volkswagen plant in Germany. Porsche was accompanied on his visit to the Renault plant by his son Ferry, and the two were offered release in return for a substantial cash payment. Porsche was able to provide only half of the amount demanded, with the result that Ferry Porsche was sent back to Germany, while Ferdinand Porsche, despite never facing any sort of trial, spent the next twenty months in a Dijon jail.

The first prototype had only two doors and was completed in 1942, and two more prototypes were produced in the following three years. Later Pierre Lefaucheux, appointed to the top job at Renault early in 1945, tested the 4CV prototype at Louis Renault's Herqueville estate.

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