In an age where ‘retro’ cars are falling out of fashion – consider how Volkswagen’s New Beetle was pulled from production this month, ending a lineage tracing back to 1938 – Renault has shown everyone how to do retro right with its latest and very adorable concept car.
Dubbed the e-Plien Air, it’s a visually similar but mechanically modernised version of the rare 4L Plien Air launched all the way back in 1968.
Translating to “open air”, the original Plien Air was an incredibly simplified take on the 4L with no doors and no roof that was originally built to satisfy a request from the French Army in 1964.
While the military-focused prototypes sported four-wheel drive, the Plien Air entered limited production with front-wheel drive as a fun little beach-buggy and a rival for the Citroën Méhari. However, given the fact it cost more and was less adept than the Méhari, only around 500 were ever sold.
History lesson over, it brings us to the new e-Plien Air concept, which has been created for this year’s 10th anniversary of the Renault 4L International Festival – yes, that’s an actual event – by Renault Classic, Renault Design, and Melun Retro Passion.
On the outside, it’s a faithful reproduction of the original with all the right body lines and shapes, but different wheels, chrome bumpers, and a cuter blanked-out grille.
The main reason the grille is blanked out is not for looks, however, but because rather than a wheezy old petrol engine, the electric drivetrain from the Renault Twizy has been fitted to it, meaning it packs a tiny 13kW electric motor and 6.1kWh battery pack, making it good for 100km between charges and a top speed of 100km/h.
Also worth noting is that the inside has been tweaked with a fully-digital instrument cluster, some very striking bright blue upholstery on the front seats, and a lovely picnic basket on a storage area where the rear seats would previously have been.
Not only is the e-Plien Air a great advertisement for how good an idea electric conversions of old cars can be to help them live on – something we’re starting to see more of with other factory-backed examples like Jaguar’s electric E-Type – but how to really make retro-styled cars look cool in the 21st century.
By leaving the looks alone.