Ligier JS4

If you're a teenager in France, smoking cigarettes and into wine coolers (as all teenagers seem to be), you can buy a brand-new Ligier at just 16 years old and go barreling down narrow country roads—at up to 45 km/h (28 mph).

Without a license.

That means you, respectable middle-aged Ligier JS2 sports car owner, you may end up whirling around a corner only to find a baguette-sized brand-new Ligier waiting for you in the middle of the corner; a 45 km/h Tricolore turd that reeks of Gitanes and Trojans.

And the vehicle that tipped racer Guy Ligier's firm away from Formula 1, Le Mans, and Tour de France Auto successes in the direction of city cars? The Ligier JS4.

Though the V6 Ford or Maserati-powered (or, in race trim, Ford DFV V8-powered!) JS2 was a relatively successful road and race car, the 1973 Oil Crisis can not be understated: it killed just about every boutique manufacturer…eventually. In 1975, in a bid to get more motorists on the roads, France enacted rules that allowed younger people to drive license-free.

The two events were, in a way, related, and gave Ligier pause: do we continue as a high-end sports car manufacturer and racing constructor…or do we make an attempt to become a carmaker? If it was the latter, the company probably would have had a rougher go of it than the route they chose.

In 1980, the same year Ligier finished second to Williams in the Formula 1 Constructor's Championship, the company released the made-from-sheet-metal JS4 at the Paris Motor Show. I've seen (and sat in) the example at the Lane Motor Museum—all decked out in Formula 1 "pit car" livery—and I must say it's a strangely alluring size.

…and a strangely alluring shape, even though it looks like someone erected scaffolding around a Little Tikes car. Powered by a 50cc Motobécane engine, it wouldn't have outrun a Little Tikes car, either. That didn't matter, though.

How many JS2 sports cars did the factory build? About 225. How many JS4s were produced? About 25,000. It may have cribbed too many styling cues from Lego, but the JS4 was what launched Ligier onto the path it's on today. Bravo.

Sources: Ligier JS4: lanemotormuseum.orgleroux.andre.free.fr/onclepat12; Ligier: Wikipedia, Website

Note: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that Ligier won the 1980 Formula 1 World Championship. That was very much wrong! Thanks, Brownstar, for the correction.