Renault 4 Torsion Bar Adjustment

All work on the ‘Turkey B’ has been put on hold, there has been some work to do on the Renault 4, I say work to do but really it’s been more learning that work. 

I have become more aware that the suspension on the front end of the Renault 4 is not what it should be. I have changed the upper wishbones and all shock absorbers but the front driver side has been low and often reaches the lower extent of its travel all too often.

How to Fix it – Reset the front suspension, measure and adjust, that involves removing the two front torsion bars.

It must be said that removing the front torsion bars is not difficult, dangerous or anywhere near as much of a specialist job that everyone on the internet makes out, no special tools are really required and even the most ardent couch mechanic should be able to do this work with only a basic tool kit, a basin wrench and a trolley jack.

I have read a lot about doing this work and I was sure there was some black magic to it and approached it with a sense that it might all go very wrong. Over the last few weeks, working one day at weekends, we have found that all of the ‘How to’s’ online are one kind of bodge or another, some are just wrong.

The torsion bars on my car had been off before, badly adjusted and the rear boss adjusters damaged.

This is not a ‘How to’, this is the way I approached it and found it to work.

It’s my opinion that the only way to adjust the torsion bars on the front is to first totally disassemble the entire front suspension, that means releasing the lower ball joint, track rod end, tie rod, brake calliper, loosen the bolt at the front of the lower wishbone (it’s easier to do this when the bolt is under some load, it’s a French bolt, with only one end) and drive shaft, this will enable the hub assembly with the brake disk to be removed from the car. 

At this point the wishbone is only lightly loaded.

I decided after looking at the torsion bar adjusting boss tapered nut that it needed a tool, a normal basin wrench ground down lightly to fit the taper is more than strong enough to unload and load the torsion bar.

After reading that this could be done on a ramp with all manner of complex nonsense tools and hocus pocus I wasn’t sure if this could be done even with the wheels on or not, but here is the big question… How do you know how much to adjust?

There are some bits written about how much to adjust, splines here and there but everything I have read fails to mention that you actually need to know a kind of ‘day one’ or ‘zero level’ of the torsion bars before you start, well in my case I did as they had been poorly adjusted and I would suggest that if you are going to do this work you make a point of ‘zeroing’ the torsion bars before adjustment if you don’t know how they are set to start with.

How did Renault do it? Maybe nobody knows, this is what I did….

First of all, if there was a French Heath Robinson, he surely would have done it this way.

First of all, soak each end of the torsion bars in penetrating oil, WD-40, GT85 or something, but soak each end, did I say soak each end, make sure you soak each end, plenty of lubrication.

Leave it for 30 minutes and soak them again, the more you can soak them the easier this is.

While you are waiting for the soaking to ‘happen’ it’s time to position the car. No need for a ramp or anything magic, I just jacked the car up so it was about 40-50cm off the ground, small ramps to the rear and wooden blocks under the floor at the front. Soak the torsion bar ends while you think about how to position the car.

With the car positioned simply strip down the front suspension, so the lower wishbone can be lowered to its lowest point against the chassis, the torsion bar are all but unloaded now. Use you new basin spanner on the torsion bar boss, one end on the boss and the other on the cup of a trolley jack, looking from the rear of the car, add a little pressure on the spanner with the jack by jacking it upwards in an anti clockwise direction for the left side and clockwise for the right.

Next, I slid the front seat forwards and loosened all of the bolts. First problem we ran into was that the bolts had been cross threaded so they resisted the ratchet a little but an impact wrench worked well. I just took all of the bolts out as the basin wrench had the tension under control. Release the jack under the car and the torsion bar relaxes.

At the front end, hit the lower wishbone beside where the torsion bar enters, soak some more and keep hitting, I found a metal club hammer was the tool of choice here. Occasionally, as the torsion bar drifts backwards we had to tap it back into the wishbone and start again, this allowed for more soaking and more drifting until it all came out.

I didn’t mark anything at all, no need, it was all filthy and needed a good clean on the wire wheel.

After a bit of paint and a few new parts, ball joint and plenty of grease it was time to put it all back together. The torsion bar goes into the lower wishbone first, I added copper grease, plenty of it, just in case.

The bit I decided was important was to know how the car sat on the ground if I extended the lower wishbone as far as it would go then fitting the boss on the rear of the torsion bar and fitting it into its correct location within the car, vertically aligned, as if adjusted up. I did this and of course reassembly is quite simple, just a trolley jack under the lower wishbone to work again the tension of the torsion bar. We did this on both sides.

Once everything is back together and the car lowered it’s quite easy to tell how low the car is and how much adjustment is required, the car looked ok really but I wanted it a little higher.

Remember, my car had been damaged somehow so things needed a little care. The drivers side I decided need the rear boss rotating three splines and the passenger side one spline.

It’s even more important to remember here that everything you read, perhaps including this is wrong. You don’t rotate the torsion bar, you first need to understand its ‘zeroed’ position and the increase its torsion by repositioning the boss at the rear and adding tension, don’t take it out of the lower wishbone any more.

So, back on the small ramps and blocks, strip down the front suspension again, everything comes apart easily as there is plenty of grease on everything. Release the torsion bar tension then ONLY remove the boss from the rear, this can be done with a centre punch under the car. I turned the boss three splines in the clockwise direction (anti-clockwise for the right side boss) when viewed from the rear and then fitted the boss back on the torsion bar and into its retainer.

Now it’s time to add some tension to it. We used the basin wrench again and making sure the lower wishbone is fully extended a little pressure added to the basin wrench with the trolley jack soon added the right amount of rotation to line top the bolt holes (our job would have been easier of we had good bolts and good bolt holes.).

It’s worth remembering here that even a little rotation adds significant tension to the torsion bar, adjusting three splines needs a rotation of about one eighth of a turn, nothing more than that and certainly not a scary amount of pressure.

Again, reassemble the front end and lower from the health and safety proof ramps and blocks, stand back and admire the work, the car is level.

This turned out to be more about learning what was happening rather than difficult, quite simple really and only a few basic tools, I seem to remember there are only about ten nuts to remove at the front end and four at the rear, so hardly a lot of work.

If this was once your car and you know that you tried to adjust the suspension I have to tell you you didn’t know what you where doing and you made a terrible job, we have addressed that and it’s back to how it should be.

Enjoy the little video…

Renault 4 – New Front Wing

The front wing on the Renault 4 was looking a little sad after someone managed to dent it while I was parked, that and the bodged repair on the top edge where the rust had eaten away at the thinner folds meant it needed to be replaced. I got the wing from Germany and the paint online, early June I painted on a warm day and then left it to fully dry and harden for a while. Yesterday I got to fitting it on the car…

Renault 4 Update

It’s been a while since I posted anything about the Renault 4 so it’s about time I did.

Over the past 18 months the Renault 4 has become my car of choice, I have several others, namely the new VW Transporter that I have been busy converting to a camper and travelling in, the VW Up! and the Reimo LT28, the Renault 4 has been the car I choose for many reasons. It’s small, it’s reasonably economical, it’s got great character and it’s super easy to clean inside and out.

Other than the MOT in May last year and the minor preparation for that there had been little to do on the car, I still had some odd less than smooth running, the car would run and drive but it didn’t feel that it had all of it’s limited power.

I replaced the carburetor with a reconditioned unit from France, a Zenith 28IF no less, this was a massive improvement. I had fitted a repair kit into the existing carb but there was actually a crack in the casing that I noticed after fitting the recon one.

Renault 4 Zenith 28IF Carburetor

I also took the time to inspect and replace the exhaust manifold gasket, the gasket was fine but only a couple of the nuts on the stud were actually tight. I decided to put a small air cleaner on the carburetor rather than the stock unit and with all the work done the car runs flawlessly, very economical and super smooth running.

Renault 4 Manifold Gasket

In late summer, after much driving and wondering why the car was filling with exhaust gas I discovered that the problem was not actually at the front of the car at all, it had nothing to do with the exhaust system either, it turned out to be the tailgate rubber seal, the door wasn’t closing quite as snug as it should and the gas was being drawn back into the car, I ordered a new one and as a temporary measure a couple of pieces of 15mm foam pipe lagging from Poundland fitted perfectly on each side and the door closed and the seal was made, no more gas in the car, marvelous.

Reanult 4 Gordini Wheels

In September I found a set of Renault 5 Turbo Gordini wheels for sale somewhat locally on eBay, I bid and won them for £10.00 each, they looked quite rough and when I collected them they were rough, oxidised and very dirty. I spent around 10 hours each on the wheels hand finishing them, lots of rubbing down with wet and dry paper and then polishing with Autosol Solvol, they have come up really well and not bad for the cost and effort. I ordered 12 new wheel nuts from a website in France (Top Retro) that fitted the profile of the nut seats on the wheels. I went for Uniroyal RainExpert 155/75 R13 tyres, all in around £200.00 for the wheel and tyres.

Renault 4 Waiting for the AA September 2016

Setting of for Hundon to do some work on the car in late September, loaded with the four wheel and tyres and the thoughts that I would get those on the car and perhaps, once and for all, find the source of the front wheel ‘rattle’ during the days tinkering. I got as far as Sturmer is Suffolk and the problems started. Lots of noise from the front of the car, water temperature up and squealing belts. I pulled over to have a look, the water pump had lost a securing bolt and water was simply ru‌nning out of the front of it, time for the AA. After a quick relay to the workshop I took the pump off, deciding to tap and plug the hole in the water pump and fit a bung in it I managed to get the pump back on the car and running again quite quickly, hopefully the repair will be long lasting, I have found a brand new head and head gasket since so I have one in stock should problems with the water pump return.

Reanult 4 Front Brake Retaining Clip

The same day I fitted the Gordini wheels on the car and found the problem ‘rattle’ from the front end. The wheels look great with the slightly wider tyres, more on that later. The ‘rattle’ turned out to be simple in the end, though not knowing what to expect I hadn’t noticed the problem before. I stripped both brake calipers off the car and inspected those, lubricated the running pins and reassembled, that is when I noticed that on each side of the car only the outer brake pad actually had a retaining clip, as it was the same both sides I assumed that that was how it was, I had new pads and clips so I fitted those and not it is rattle-free from the front end, I will have to get a radio now for entertainment.

Renault 4 with Gordini Wheels

So, winter came and much driving around in the car, me and the dog going for rides and long walks, cafe trips and trips to Suffolk all went off without issue. New Years Day comes and it’s time for a family trip with the dog, two adults, two children and a dog all in a Renault 4, now another problem. Up until now it had only been me in the car, sometimes with the dog, sometimes some guitars, sometimes the drumkit, some computers, but only ever me. Fully loaded the car wouldn’t go around corners as the rear typres contacted the wings, we limped home all leaning to turn left and right, no damage done but it is now a car just for two. I have the original wheel that I want to refurbish so I will use those for the summer months to come.

Renault 4 Washed and Clean

All good fun.

The Story of my Renault 4

Why did I want to buy a Renault 4? In January 2014 I was sitting in a cafe in Montmartre during the winter Paris classic car tour Vincennes en Anciennes watching the normal selection of old Citroen 2CVs and Dianes, Fiat 500s, obscure Italian sports cars and a variety of old British classics driving through the square, I wanted something that was different but still cool but I didn’t know what that was. I took a photo of a Citroen Diane which I really liked but couldn’t get away from the memory of driving to London in the early 80s, screaming down the motorway in a 2CV holding on to the roof, wasn’t much fun, I also have a soft top buggy so I wanted something with a solid roof!

Citroen Diane Montmatre 2014

I also decided that I wanted something useable, not just an occasional car, something I could use everyday that was practical, robust and fun. Eventually I decided that car was a Renault 4. The Renault 4 seemed basic enough, something that could be repaired with a few basic tools, simple design, agricultural engineering and not to fussy.

There didn’t appear to be very many for sale in the UK, most of what I came across on the internet where either to far gone for sensible repair or owned by enthusiasts who seemed to be trying to hard. Eventually I found one that was reasonable local and described on a Renault 4 website as a ‘Classic French Car’, there where lots of pictures of the car during it’s ‘restoration’ and it was now for sale. I made arrangements to see the white Renault 4 and went off to see it. I have been involved with VWs for about 30 years now and have seen the scene grow from the 1980s minority interest to what it is today, I wasn’t prepared for the Renault 4 world at all and found that it attracts some rather odd people, the owner of the white Renault 4 was the first….

I arrived to look over the car, it all looked good from the outside, not to bad for a mid 80s car, typical random coloured fluffy seat covers on the inside etc. The seller was apparently a Renault 4 expert with a website so I was in luck. I had a look underneath to see the condition of the floor, it had been welded with strange shaped plates here and there, probably gasless mig welding, the spatter was everywhere and the job clearly not done very well, the plates where not painted and had take on a lovely brown rust colour. The engine sounded OK and looked clean enough but after about 10 minutes running on idle as we discussed the price I noticed that there was a steady stream of oil coming from around the rocker cover, the expert told me that ‘they all did that’ to which I replied ‘surely they only do that when there is something wrong?’, this is when the seller seemed to take offence at my identification of the ‘bad points’ and decided that the car was not for me. I was happy with that, an oily rusty car for good money is not what I was after, I went home.

I know a thing or two about buying and importing cars from Germany, the T25 that I have talked about in the past came from Karlsrhue and the three day train and road trip to get it was a great caper so I took a look in Germany. I found a chap called Chris in Freiburg im Breisgau, a city that I know quite well and I though I knew where his car lot was. He had a large selection of Renault 4s from France all for sale. I kept an eye on the listings he had and made a plan to visit in August to take a look.

While looking for a car I found one car that came up a for sale a few times, once in Norfolk, then South Wales then Burnham on Crouch. I had had a chat with the seller of the car when it was in South Wales but decided he wanted more for the car than it was worth, I had a number of pictures of the car and though that is was structurally OK but probably need some minor cosmetic work. It eventually came up for sale again in late July shortly before I was going to Germany, it turns out a German bloke had bought it from South Wales and decided it was not for him.. more on that later…

In August I visited the car lot in Freiburg to look at the Renault 4s, I had decided that I would buy one if there was one that was solid and sound enough for me to drive to the UK on export plates. There where some great looking cars, a 1970s chrome bumper model was very nice but all far to expensive, some around 10000 euros. I decided to try and buy the car I had seen for sale in the UK, so while in Freiburg I made contact, arranged a price and a day to view and collect the car from Essex.

Later I found that he had takes some pictures of me looking at the cars, this one I found on his web site.

Visit to the Renault 4 in Freiburg

The day for the trip to Burnham on Crouch came and I set off with a one way ticket and a pocket full of money. When I arrived at the station I saw the car waiting for me, it looked exactly as I had hoped and I recognised the car from the other times I had seen it for sale, the pictures I had of the car where good and the car was as good as I had hoped. We went for a drive in the car and it was clear that it was structurally sound but there was something odd with the mechanical side, it rattled everywhere and was running quite poorly, starved of fuel I though. Looking over the paperwork I was satisifed that everything was OK, French and UK paperwork seemed in order but there was no MOT certificate, we checked online and it had 11 months MOT, so I decided to buy it and drive it home, just as well as I had already insured it. While inspecting the car it was clear that the was something wrong with the issuing of the MOT certificate, apparently no advisory notices on the MOT. I am not an MOT tested but I don’t think one bald tyre, one missing windscreen wiper, the lack of rear brakes and only one working headlight are grounds for passing a test, clearly a dodgy MOT.

The drive back to Cambridge was great fun, wonky steering, lack of power unless at full throttle and the rattling sounds from all over, but really good fun, what a crazy car and just what I wanted. On the trip I made the decision that I would drive the car for a month before doing anything to it, just to see if it kept going and find out what was going to fall off. During the month I made an exhaustive list of all of the work that I needed to do to make the car as good as it could be, anyone who knows my other cars knows how well maintained they are, they are not all shiny and perfect but they are mechanically excellent and so far totally reliable as a result. The list went on and on, five new tyres, four new shock absorbers, new disks and pads, new shoes and wheel cylinders, new read wheel bearings, new front upper wishbones, new windscreen wipers, replacement front indicator / sidelight holders, new headlamps, new water pump, new exhaust, new fuel pump, carb repair kit etc. etc. I spent hours looking for new old stock parts on Ebay from all over Europe and a steady stream of parts arrived for bargain prices. I set about fitting all the parts.

Renault 4 Engine

Before I bought the car I had though that I would use some local classic car and specialist Renault garages to do some of the work that I didn’t have time to do, so the first job for the local classic car garage was to fit a pair of new Firestone tyres to the back of the car, investigate the torsion bar rattle on the right side of the car and, as they have a ramp, inspect and replace where necessary the lower wishbone bushes and find out why it was running poorly. This is where the real classic car garage comes into it’s own, experts doing expert jobs. Alas, not this classic car garage, they failed to find the problem with the torsion bar, they failed to fix the play in the lower wishbone bush and only found lesser branded tyres. It appears from the cars in their garage that they only change lightbulbs on Triumphs. I moved on.

A month or so later it was snowing, I decided to ask a local Renault specialist to source and replace the rear brakes as I had not had time to remove and inspect them to find the problem, perhaps they could look at the torsion bar probles too, I had sorted out the front wishbone problems myself. After a week in the specialist garage they couldn’t identify the rear brake shoe manufacturer and could see no problems with the torsion bar. I asked for a picture of the brake shoes, obvious what they where to me as soon as I saw them and I ordered a new kit from Lyon, arrived in two days. I collected the car and we fitted the brake parts, job done. So much for the local experts.

Over the winter I fitted all the parts I had sources myself, the waterpump was a bit of a problem and I had to find a thermostat with the correct temperature. The hardest part to find was the full lenght single section exhaust, none of the UK suppliers had one, I found one in Germany and one in France but the shipping was impossible, the package was to long. I planned a trip to Le Touquet for a few days to get an exhaust but before I booked the crossing I managed to find a full lenght exhaust in the UK by using the OEM part number, it was listed on Amazon for £19.99 including delivery, it arrived next day in a 9 foot box!

Renault 4 Carbureta Refurbishment

I solved the problems with the poor running by refurbishng the carbureta with a 15 euro kit from Germany that I fitted in about an hour, then adjusted the mixture and timing by ear, no need for any expensive kit, when it sounds right, it’s right.

In May I took the car to my local garage for it’s MOT, I was sure it would be fine and it was, it passed with no advisories at all, I was very happy with that, all the cars I considered stated that they that had ‘passed with flying colours’ or ‘flown through the MOT’, all rubbish, a car passes or fails the MOT and mine had passed, only passed and the emissions where in the normal range.

A couple of weeks ago while trying to work out how best to remove the front torsion bars without personal damage I came across a French Renault 4 workshop manual that had a description of the process, my loose translation of the bit about rebuilding the suspension after servicing it was that you should ‘take care to replace the rubber collars on the torsion bars as they could not be fitted when the bars where installed in the car’ (basic French to English). Rubber Collars? I couldn’t immediately see those on my car in the same place as the ones on the line drawing in the manual… I found that the ones on my car had worked their way to the very front of the torsion bars and where up agains the anti roll bar. Some further lying down under the car, looking and measuring I decided that the passenger side of the car had a slight dip in the floor pan, just enough to cause the torsion bar to come into contact with it during normal driving, in fact there was some minor wear on the floor pan as a result and it was quite shiny. I cleaned the torsion bars up a little with some WD40 and found I could slide the rubbers back to the correct position but the floor was causing the rubbers to get squashed. I got a few bits of timber and made a yoke around the torsion bar, lifted the car with a trolley jack with my dad keeping a close eye on the floor pan, at what seemed like a great height there was a loud pop and the floor pan went back into shape, I let the car back down and took a look at the torsion bar, there was enough clearance and I could secure the rubber collar in position.

Now when driving down the road the sounds of that Salvation Army playing tambourines in the passenger seat are a thing of the past.

VW Buggy Renault 4 at the Thurlow Fair

For anyone considering a Renault 4, you will find a ready supply of ‘new old stock’ parts on Ebay both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe for very little money. My advise is not to read any of the Renault 4 forums, they are all full of the normal enthusiasts who will always tell you you are doing it wrong and their way is the only way. It seems that everywhere you go someone will want to talk to you about the car, they had one, their parents had one, their geography teacher had one, they learned to drive in one, so much to talk about, I took the Renault and the VW Buggy to a show a couple of weeks ago, plenty of interest in both and lots to talk about.

Enjoy.