Founded by Louis Renault and his brothers Marcel and Fernand in 1898, Renault engineering was of the highest quality, from the outset. The arrival of multi-cylinder models in 1900 really put the company on the map. As well as motor cars, Renault manufactured taxis, buses, and commercial vehicles in the years before the Great War, and during hostilities branched out into munitions, military aircraft, and armored vehicles. By the war's end, this diversification had seen Renault established as France's biggest manufacturing enterprise. When the Société des Transports en Commun de la Région Parisienne (STCRP) decided to replace trams with buses, it chose the Renault TN4, which had been introduced in 1929. One of the last of the TN series, the TN4H Autobus was launched in 1936 and belongs to the final generation with a directly accessible rear platform. In order to create more passenger space, the TN4H adopted a "cab forward" layout, doing away with its predecessors' pig snout. Compared to previous models, the body was restyled and extended (to 30 feet, 7 inches), boasting five side windows with rounded corners instead of four rectangular ones. The four-cylinder petrol engine displaced 5,883 cc and produced 58 hp, which was good enough for a top speed of 40 kph (25 mph). Weighing seven and a quarter tons unladen, the TN4H Autobus could accommodate 50 passengers. A total of 410 TN4Hs were ordered by the STCRP, the last of which was not withdrawn from service until January 1971. This particular TN4H Autobus comes with a good history file containing its original 1937 Carte Grise and a letter from the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens museum stating that it was in service in Paris from June 4, 1937, to January 15, 1971. The vehicle, which has been fitted with two new batteries, also comes with an original specification sheet and parts list. The vendor advises that in 1991 he drove the TN4H to Paris, a trip that was widely reported in the press, and that it runs perfectly and is totally original throughout. The interior is said to be excellent, retaining its varnished wooden ceiling and enamelled notices conveying messages such as "Do Not Lean Out Of The Window" and "Only 9 Standing In This Area," etc. A quantity of spare parts is included in the sale.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1937 Renault TN4H
Number Produced:2,800
Original List Price:Unknown
Tune Up Cost:$400
Chassis Number Location:Brass plaque on frame crossmember in engine compartment
Engine Number Location:Location n/a
Alternatives:1937 Bristol K Series, 1937 Yellow Coach Model 733, 1938 Mercedes-Benz D38
Investment Grade:D (depends what you charge for fares)

This 1937 Renault TN4H Autobus sold for $18,745, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams auction alongside the Goodwood Revival in Chichester, England, on September 18, 2009.

It is not particularly unusual to find enthusiasts who collect commercial vehicles. There are those who fancy dump trucks, and others who are drawn to buses and coaches. (A “bus” is a local, commuter-type utility vehicle, while a “coach” is a fancier, usually long-distance conveyance. This Renault is the former.) Apparently, these TN-series buses, especially the TN4, are as iconic in the world of public transport in France as the famed red Routemaster double-decker buses in London. With their long service life, millions would have remembered riding these Renault buses as residents of-or visitors to-Paris and its environs.

Few buses survived after retirement

It’s difficult to find vintage buses that have survived their retirement. Coaches were often converted into campers and thereby saved, albeit with heavily modified interiors. Few public buses would have been sought after for this, as not only were they far more Spartan to begin with, but their low gearing and weak power output make them unsuitable for long-distance use. That’s another reason to marvel that the TN4’s former owner actually drove it from the U.K. to Paris. At a top speed of 25 mph, it must have been a very long trip.

Restoring an old bus must be a true labor of love, as it’s hard to imagine recouping the rebuild costs on such large vehicles. On the other hand, they were robustly built and for the most part simply trimmed; the restoration skills required are more the blacksmith and carpenter type than English wheel artisan variety. What makes one of these more desirable than another is the degree of originality it retains from its service life.

This 1937 TN4H Autobus would appear to have a lot going for it, as it retains details down to the signage and window shades. The interior, including the wood-paneled ceiling, was said to be original and in the catalog photos looked to be in very good condition. Although not stated, it must have been retired to a museum prior to the seller’s ownership, as it’s unlikely to have remained in a condition suitable for refurbishment if left to rot, as most of these were.

Of course, as an outsider to the bus scene, I also wondered-as I’m sure you do as well-what do you actually do with a bus once you have one? I suppose you could take your 50 closest friends (including standees) out for a rolling aperitif, to a showing of “Inspector Maigret” films, or to work, very slowly, in the HOV lane.

Check if you’ll need a CDL

In addition, you should check with your local DMV for licensing and insurance requirements. My home state of Connecticut cares not that the bus is over 70 years old, but only that it weighs seven tons and carries 50 people. Therefore, a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) is required to drive it if you intend to carry anyone not in your immediate family.

Buses of this vintage are noisy, and many owners report they can be exhausting to drive, but all enjoy the camaraderie of fellow enthusiasts as well as the public, who invariably have strong memories of riding in these when in service. If you are not a bus or truck driver, you obviously have to bone up on wide turning and slow, steady braking.

Driving a vintage bus demands a level of patience beyond that required for a car of a similar age. Indeed, it’s probably akin to a car a few decades older. Apart from the usual rallies and meets for bus owners, an evocative “foreign” example such as this TN4H is also sure to find work in films. All considered, it has to be a bargain at under $20k-that’s only $1.31 per pound.

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