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by Tim Beissmann

One of the best selling vehicles of all time, the Renault 4, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2011, and the French manufacturer has a number of events in store to mark the occasion.

The Renault 4 started as an idea of then-Renault President Pierre Dreyfus in 1956. He wanted his company to manufacture a “blue jeans” car – one that would be versatile, inexpensive, adaptable to the changes of society in the 1960s, and most importantly, be relevant around the world.

After five years on the drawing board, the Renault 4 became the marque’s first front-wheel drive passenger car when it was displayed at the 1961 Paris Motor Show. A van and three saloon versions of the 4 were launched simultaneously.

Over its lifespan, the Renault 4 was sold in more than 100 countries and produced or assembled in 28 – including in Heidelberg in Victoria.

In Italy, it was marketed under the name “Frog”, in Spain it was nicknamed “four boxes”, in Yugoslavia it was called “Catherine”, in Argentina it was known as the “path runner”, in Finland it became “Droplet” and in Zimbabwe it was known simply as the “Noddy Car”.

Its comfortable and practical interior, low running costs and versatility made it a favourite among the masses, and by the end of its 31-year production life a total of 8,135,424 rolled out of Renault factories.

Variants of the 4 included a four-wheel drive and a cabriolet version, while a number of limited edition models – like the Rodeo, Parisienne, Safari, Jogging, and Sixties – also played a role in Renault 4 history.

In 1992, a special edition “Bye-Bye” version was also produced to salute the vehicle’s success, and production finally ended in Slovenia and Morocco in 1994.

Kicking off the celebrations next year will be three vehicles that have been entered into January’s historic 2011 Monte Carlo Rally. The original Renault 4 competed in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1962, although with just a 15kW engine on board, could manage no better than last place.

In February, the car will be showcased at the Retromobile classic car show in Paris, and in July the 4 will be given red carpet treatment at the third 4L International event in Loire Valley.