From a distance, I thought this private taxi with louvred rear engine lid was a Volkswagen Beetle. But as I drew closer, I realized that the yellow bug was something else. A decal in the back window told me "Renault," and a bit of later research revealed that this was a 4CV, as produced by the French automaker from 1947 through 1961.
The story is that the 4CV, or "cat-shu-voh," was developed surreptitiously at Renault during the Second World War, the goal of its designers a basic, affordable car to help France rebuild once free of its German occupiers. Clearly, they were influenced by Germany's KdF, the car that would become the Beetle after the war.
Like the Beetle, the 4CV has independent suspension, a rear-mounted engine and light, unit-body construction. Yet though smaller than the Volkswagen, the Renault has four doors to the VW's two, centre-hinged on each side so that the front doors are of the suicide variety.
Mike Bumbeck of the Hemmings Blog writes that the first 4CVs were finished in war surplus desert yellow paint, quickly earning them the nickname la motte de beurre, or the lump of butter. They'd come in many other hues in the next 14 years in a production run of more than one million cars — not Beetle numbers, but a great success for Renault nonetheless.
Looking closer, I'm pretty sure this particular 4CV is wearing Beetle taillamps. No wonder I was fooled.