The vehicles exhibited on the Renault Classic stand
The 1906 Renault Type AK: winner of motor racing’s first ever Grand Prix
Motor racing’s first ever Grand Prix was held near Le Mans, France, on June 26-27, 1906. The venue was the original Circuit de la Sarthe which formed a practically all-asphalt loop of 103.18km to the southeast of the city which participants drove six times a day over the two-day meeting, making a total distance of 1,238.16km.
The event attracted 32 competitors who were flagged away at intervals of 90 seconds. Renault entered three cars, for Ferenc Szisz, Edmond and Richez who were allotted numbers 3A, 3B and 3C respectively. The first day’s action was won by Szisz[C2] , while Edmond retired. Only 17 cars reappeared for day two when Ferenc Szisz completed all his laps without any notable incidents. His total time of 12 hours 14 minutes provided him with a winning margin of 32 minutes.
The 1926 record-breaking 40 CV: During the 1920s, every self-respecting car manufacturer found itself locked in an all-out race to establish new records – a fashion that was encouraged by the construction of new speed rings. In France, the Montlhéry ring – built in 1924 – set the stage for many a confrontation, with the last word going to the stopwatch. Renault was among the front-runners in this ongoing rivalry, relying primarily upon its 40 CV flagship model which was powered by an enormous engine of more than 9,000cc!
In 1926, Robert Plessier and Ellery Garfield, the engineers in charge of the project, unleashed upon the ring a particularly streamlined 40 CV, with a single-seat body and the radiator moved behind the engine. The car covered 50 miles at a speed of 190.013kph and completed 24 hours at an average speed of 173.649kph.
The car on display is an exact replica of the record-breaking vehicle, produced in the 1970s.
The 1930s Nervasport: During this period, Renault was renowned more for producing strong and reliable cars than for any great sporting flair, yet the Nervasport was a truly potent machine.
For Renault, the ‘Nerva’ models that appeared in 1930 benefitted from an eight-cylinder engine range, initially complementing the Reinastella model before going on to replace it as a luxury car designed for a comfort-seeking clientele. In 1932, however, Renault modified the vehicle to produce a lighter and shorter version: This was the Nervasport which would go on to achieve success in endurance events. Lightweight, powerful and agile, it won over driving enthusiasts, just as Louis Renault had predicted it would. In the 1933 Rallye Monte-Carlo, one of the three Nervasport entries narrowly missed out on second place.
Two years later, in 1935, Renault entered seven cars for the Rallye Monte-Carlo, including two Nervasports – one of which swept brilliantly to victory. That success continued in the same year’s Liège-Rome-Liège rally where it tied for glory with a Bugatti. Throughout the year, the Nervasport underlined its sporting credentials in events covering the length and breadth of Europe, running both day and night, on rough, narrow roads and in adverse weather conditions.
The 4CV that stunned in the 1951 Le Mans 24 Hours: As a precursor to the success of the 4CV out on the racetrack, an advanced version was developed – the 1063 – which confirmed Renault’s post-war return to motorsport.
Following the Second World War, Renault – now going under the name of Régie Nationale – elected to focus on affordable people’s cars. Launched in 1946 with a 750cc engine producing around 30hp, the 4CV was an instant hit. Indeed, a number of vehicles were entered into endurance contests, where they stood out for their agility and reliability.
The Type 1063 was the sporting evolution of the Renault 4CV. It was modified so as to exceed 130kph and, from 1951 until 1954, it went on to achieve significant success in events as challenging as the Coupe des Alpes, Liège-Rome-Liège, the Tour de France, the Mille Miglia and even the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours in 1951 where it triumphed in the fiercely-disputed 750cc class. This early pocket rocket masterfully heralded Renault’s return to motorsport.
The 1956 Étoile Filante (Shooting Star): In the aftermath of the war, the aviation industry was flying high, and what could be more natural than trying the same techniques out in cars? The Étoile Filante was the perfect example of this trend.
Joseph Szidlowski, the founder of Turboméca, was a renowned expert in the field of turbine engines. Confident in the future of this technique, he was eager to educate the wider public in its benefits and, to this end, he made contact with Renault. Renault’s first post-war chairman Pierre Lefaucheux was suitably impressed and entrusted the production of an experimental car to three experienced men: Director of Study and Research Fernand Picard, pre-eminent engine specialist Albert Lory and Jean Hébert, an engineer who would also be the driver. Based around a 270hp turbine engine, the Étoile Filante was born, with a tubular, polyester-clad body.
On September 5, 1956, the whistle of the turbine echoed across the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States as the world land speed record was broken, with a peak of 306.9kph over a kilometre and 308.85kph over 5km! The record still stands to this day…
The N°65 Dauphine of 1958: The brilliant victory of the N°65 Dauphine in the 1958 Rallye Monte-Carlo was one of this model’s greatest successes.
The Dauphine shone particularly in international events, racking up a series of class triumphs in such demanding contests as Italy’s Mille Miglia and the Twelve Hours of Sebring in the USA, before clinching a superb outright win in the 1956 Tour de Corse, with Belgian champion Gilberte Thirion behind the wheel.
In 1958, the Automobile Club de Monaco resolved to make the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo even tougher. Undeterred by this extra challenge, Renault’s Motorsport Director François Landon entered a Dauphine that duly went on to conquer the snow, black ice, rain, night-time stages and its 302 rival competitors, prevailing comfortably at the end of the event.
This victory – the first for a car with such a small engine – proved to be a tremendous coup for Renault as it thrust the Dauphine into the media spotlight and brought the model to everybody’s attention.
The Group 5 Renault 17 from 1972: The Renault 17 enjoyed a successful career in motorsport. Indeed, this car battled through numerous rallies between 1972 and 1975 and would become the first Renault model to win a round of the FIA World Rally Championship when Jean-Luc Thérier and Christian Delferrier triumphed on the USA’s Press-on-Regardless Rally in 1974.
In total, 14 ‘factory’ cars were produced at the Renault plant. The vehicle on show is the last of them and the most advanced of the run. It is a Group 5 version, the weight of which was reduced by the use of aluminium components.
The 1978 Le Mans-winning A442B: On June 2, 1978, the Renault Alpine piloted by Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud took the chequered flag first in the Le Mans 24 Hours. It was the crowning glory of an adventure that had begun five years earlier.
Winning the Le Mans 24 Hours – widely regarded as the hardest race in the world – never happens by chance. The seed of the 1978 success was planted back in 1973, when Alpine made the decision to return to high-level circuit racing with Elf’s support.
Over the course of those five years, the first naturally-aspirated A440 evolved into the A441 and subsequently into the turbocharged A442, triumphing regularly on the world championship stage. In 1977, victory at Le Mans looked to be within reach, but the three ‘works’ cars all retired with engine failure. It was deemed necessary to find a test track that could reproduce the demands posed by the 50-second flat-out blast down the Mulsanne straight. The following year, two Renault Alpines finished first and fourth at La Sarthe, and that same evening, Renault President and CEO Bernard Hanon announced the brand’s withdrawal from endurance racing in favour of focusing on Formula 1. It was the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the firm’s motorsport history.
The 1978 Group 2 Renault 5 Alpine: Despite its modest power output, the Group 2 Renault 5 Alpine dominated its class from 1978 to 1980, occasionally finished on the top step of the rostrum in world championship rallies.
In 1978, Renault Sport embarked upon a new challenge when, after the Alpines, it decided to gamble upon a small, front-wheel-drive car. Behind the wheel of the Group 2 Renault 5 Alpine, Jean Ragnotti immediately grabbed headlines, finishing runner-up in the overall classification of the 1978 Rallye Monte-Carlo and winning his class. This marked the beginning of an impressive run of results that continued in 1979 with second place outright on the Tour de Corse. The diminutive Renault 5 held its head high in relation to the opposition and concluded its sporting career in fine style by enabling Ragnotti – co-driven by Jean-Marc Andrié – to clinch the 1980 French Rally Championship crown. It almost always triumphed in Group 2 and on many an occasion, produced giant-killing heroics in the overall standings, finishing third in the Rallye de Nice-Jean Behra – thanks to an increased 140hp power output and notwithstanding limited slip differential issues – second in Rally Poland and claiming victory on the Rallye de Charbonnières, Rallye de Lorraine and Rallye du Mont Blanc. With this dazzling fanfare, the Renault 5 Alpine paved the way for a future legend: the Renault 5 Turbo.
The Marreau brothers’ Renault 20 from 1982: In 1979, the Marreau brothers were the talk of the Paris-Dakar Rally when they finished close behind the winners in a Renault 4. Three years later, they won the gruelling endurance event in a Renault 20 Turbo 4×4.
From the inaugural edition of the Paris-Dakar, brothers Claude and Bernard Marreau turned heads by piloting their modest Renault 4 to second place, just behind the Range Rover of Alain Génestier, Joseph Terblaut and Jean Lemordant. It was not, however, their first exploit of this kind in Africa, having held the record for the Cape Town to Algiers run since 1971.
In 1982, they returned to the Paris-Dakar with a prototype four-wheel-drive Renault 20 powered by a turbocharged engine. Their excellent navigation and driving skills won through as they crossed the finish line ahead of all 380 rivals, but Renault’s ‘desert fox’ credentials don’t stop there. In 1983, the Marreau brothers finished ninth and, in 1985, they took fifth overall behind the wheel of a Renault 18 V6, whilst a Renault engine similarly powered Jean-Louis Schlesser’s buggy to Dakar success in 1999 and 2000.
Alain Prost’s 1983 RE40 Formula 1 car: During Formula 1’s turbo years, Renault never came as close to Constructors’ world championship glory as it did with the RE40, and 1983 would be the make’s best season of the era.
From 1980, Renault made consistent progress in the Formula 1 World Championship. After a troubled start to the 1983 season, Alain Prost claimed a popular victory in the French Grand Prix. The domination of the turbocharged engines – pioneered by Renault in 1977 – was now beyond doubt and besides the French manufacturer, there were a number of formidable teams challenging for victory, from Ferrari to Brabham-BMW and Williams-Honda. Prost fought hard, triumphing again at Spa, Silverstone and Zeltweg and tallying podium finishes at San Marino, Monaco and Brands Hatch.
The 1988 Renault 21 ‘Superproduction’ touring car: Designed to contest the French Superproduction Championship, this racing model – entrusted to Jean Ragnotti amongst others – was an instant success story.
The project was launched in October, 1987, followed by the car’s first race – and first podium – on March 20, 1988. Out of the ten races on the calendar, the Renault 21 achieved six victories – three apiece for Ragnotti and Jean-Louis Bousquet – to defeat Audi Quattro and Porsche rivals, no less, in the final championship standings. Quite a performance!
On the technical side, everything was new, with a 430hp engine whose power output was limited by a pop-off valve like in Formula 1. The 2.35m carbon-fibre driveshaft was a technology borrowed from the Espace Quadra. Aerodynamically, wind tunnel sessions spawned the most efficient solutions, whilst a painstaking study of every parameter made the two-litre Renault 21 Turbo 4×4 the dominant force of the 1988 campaign.
The 2006 Formula 1 World Championship title-winning R26: Renault’s goal was to replicate the success achieved in 2005 by Fernando Alonso and his Renault F1 R25, whilst at the same time taking on the challenge of Formula 1’s new V8 engine regulations.
The 2006 campaign saw a strong field line up to contest the Formula 1 title. Led by Flavio Briatore, Renault F1 entered two cars for Spanish driver Alonso – the defending world champion – and team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella from Italy.
Renault got off to a superb start to the season, as Alonso snared six triumphs, three runner-up finishes and five pole positions from the opening nine races, whilst Fisichella pocketed a victory, a pole position and a third-place finish.
Michael Schumacher and Ferrari swiftly responded to make the duel for the title a tense one. However, by adding another race win and four further second places to his tally, Alonso – brilliantly supported by the whole team – successfully made it back-to-back Drivers’ world championship titles as Renault did likewise in the Constructors’ chase. Fisichella, meanwhile, secured fourth position in the final Drivers’ standings. With this magnificent ‘double-double’, Renault could legitimately claim to be on ‘top of the world of F1’.
The final outcome saw the R26 – which featured a moulded carbon-fibre and aluminium honeycomb composite monocoque, powered by Renault’s 90-degree V8 engine – underscore the success of 2005.
The Formula E single-seater from 2016: Renault at the forefront of all-electric motorsport.
Always on the lookout for new challenges, Renault was involved in Formula E from the very beginning of the FIA’s all-electric single-seater championship. Closely tied to the Renault e.dams outfit, the manufacturer played a major role in helping to clinch the very first Teams’ title in the history of this pioneering discipline.
The Renault e.dams single-seater is composed of the Spark-Renault SRT_01E chassis and the all-new Z.E.15 powertrain developed by Renault Sport at Viry-Châtillon, near Paris, France. It is the fruit of the technical expertise acquired over the years by the various Renault Sport teams.