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My First Car: Renault 4 van had loads of appeal and surprise stowaway!

A Renault 4 van similar to one Sylvie Wheatley used to carry stock to market stall and all her kit to university. Picture: Gzzz /

A Renault 4 van similar to one Sylvie Wheatley used to carry stock to market stall and all her kit to university. Picture: Gzzz /

Gzzz / commons.wikimedia

After a summer travelling around in a Renault 4L camionnette, running market stalls in France, it transported Sylvie Wheatley to university where she experienced a scary moment with a sleepy ‘stowaway’.

In the summer of 1986, with two new shiny documents in my pocket – namely a French baccalauréat academic qualification and a driving licence – I took on a job that came with a company car.

What follows, however, is not a story of fresh-smelling leather and glamorous drives with the roof down. It is a story of early-morning rushes to seaside resorts, in a navy blue, battered, old Renault 4L camionnette, complete with rattling doors, windows that would slide open only when they felt like it and an L-shape gear stick wonderfully placed on the dashboard. Crammed behind the driver’s seat were bags of clothes, trestle tables and all the gear needed to run a market stall.

I criss-crossed Normandy for two months, covering hundreds of miles without the 747cc engine even spluttering once.

When September, and time to go to university arrived, my boss – who happened to be my brother-in-law – was so pleased with the revenue I had brought in that he offered me the use of the beast for the winter.

So off I went to my new student life, with pots and pans, books and duvets, instead of jeans for sale in the back of the van.

Fast-forward a few weeks. I have made friends at university and everyone thinks my car is ridiculous, albeit jolly handy when they have extra luggage to transport...

One freezing morning, having struggled to clear the windscreen – the tiny wipers just about used to cope with drizzle – I am finally driving out of the campus car park when, suddenly, this dark figure rises from the back of the car and appears in my rear-view mirror. The only reason I didn’t crash into anything is because there was nothing to crash into. The fright the silly boy gave me!

Turned out he was a friend – still too drunk to locate his room, let alone his keys – who had found my car unlocked and taken a nap in the back. And there he was, trying to get out of the back door, just to get away from my screaming at him!

He’s still a great friend, and now he drives a people-carrier!

Tell people about your first car – email your memories with a picture to or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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