Veteran Edwardian Vintage , April 1975

A section devoted to old -car matters

The Missing Link?
Last month’s miscellaneous Renault recollections were concerned with ordinary road-going versions of the famous car from Billancourt. But it is widely known that down the years Renault made considerable impact on the competition scene. For instance, Marcel Renault won the 1902 Paris-Vienna race, arriving an hour before he was expected, to the confusion of the officials, his lightweight Renault having beaten the Arlburg express by, it is said, seven hours. His 16 h.p. car had vanquished a 70 h.p. Panhard. Renault voituretes gained other victories in those empirical years of motor racing and then, in the dramatic Paris-Madrid, the race that was stopped at Bordeaux, Louis Renault was first home on a 30 h.p. Renault and gained second place to Gabriel’s 70 h.p. Mors, being only 3 m.p.h. slower than the winner. But Marcel Renault had been killed, and for some time Renault abandoned racing. They were back by 1905 and for the French GP in 1906, which Szisz, who had been Marcel’s riding mechanic, won at 63 m.p.h. for 770 miles of the old Le Mans circuit. After 1908 there was a lull in Billancourt’s racing activities, as distinct from its rallying and record-breaking successes, until Renault Dauphines, Renault-Gordinis, and Alpine-Renaults ran in the Mille Miglia and at Le Mans, etc. after the Second World War, leading to the present-day 2-litre V6 Alpine-Renaults.

But there was a missing link. In 1930 it was Renault’s intention to run a team of straight-eight cars in the Ulster TT. This may have been a move to increase the rather slow sales of the new 8-cylinder cars in Britain, where Renault Freres had been established since 1903. Whatever the reason, a team of these cars was to have been prepared by Alan Garfield, who was in charge of Renault’s competition activities (he had organised the attack on the World’s 24-hour record with the saloon-bodied Renault 45 at Montlhery in 1926, the record being raised to 107.9 m.p.h.). Alas, he went over to Ireland to inspect the Ards circuit, where Caracciola’s Mercedes-Benz had won in the rain at 72.82 m.p.h. the previous year, and, as I have previously recounted, was killed when his car collided with a cart. The passenger, Charles de Wilde, younger brother of H.R. de Wilde, Managing Director of Renault at Acton, was seriously injured and Mr. de Wilde Senr. flew to Ireland as soon as the sad news was received. In consequence, the Renaults were non-starters, and publicity about them was hardly welcome.

I had nevertheless been curious to know what these TT Renaults would have been like. Presumably they must have been the four-speed sports Reinastellas, which had a capacity of 7.1-litres, like the winning Mercedes-Benz of 1929, although they were not supercharged like the German car. The only picture I have ever seen of what I assume to be one of these TT Renaults was that on the cover of a publicity booklet issued from Billancourt in 1931- I need hardly add, after last month’s article, that this was in the possession of Tug Wilson! He has kindly loaned it to me and, although the picture on the cover of the booklet is very faint, our Photographic Department has done its best to copy it. I append the result. There is nothing to prove that this photograph is of one of the intended Ulster TT cars. It may be a picture of a Reinastella during some rally or minor race. But as I can find no record of such an event I like to think I have found the only known photograph of one of the ill-fated TT Renaults.

Note that it carries No. 45. The last number issued for the 1930 TT was 45. It was given to Brewster’s blown 4-cylinder Amilcar. So at first sight it couldn’t have applied to a Renault. But wait! The 1,100-c.c. class of the 1930 TT bore a heavy handicap and it appears that owners of eligible cars were reluctant to enter. So much so that the RAC left a gap of three numbers in the entry list, which could have been given to the late entries in this class. The contemporary Press has it that these were nos. 5, 6 and 7 which the Renaults were to have used. But if so, this would have placed them in the 3,000-to-5,000c.c. class, with four blower Bentleys. If Nervastellas had been entered, that would apply. But if we assume that Renault were out to do well in this TT, surely they would have put in their 7.1-litre Reinastellas, which had 90 x 140 mm. straight-eight engines?

Now looking again at the TT programme, we see that in the 5,000-to-8,000-c.c. class there were a couple of Mercedes-Benz, entered by Earl Howe and Malcolm Campbell. Their race numbers were 41 and 42. In that class, the Renaults could have taken 43, 44 and 45. They had been entered quite early and although Garfield’s unfortunate accident happened in July, Renault Freres did not withdraw until about three weeks before the race. If the 1,100-c.c. cars were reluctantly entered after that, they would presumably have been given the now spare nos. 43, 44 and 45, which, in fact, the non-starting Amilcar and two Riley 9s carried.

It is possible, of course, that the no. 45 on the photograph of the Renault was put on by a retoucher. But if so, he was a thorough retoucher, because it appears on the radiator shell as well as on the passenger’s door! But that will answer the query why Garfield should have had a racing number on the car he took to Ireland so long before race day. Alternatively, the picture may show, not Garfield’s car but one of the other team-cars, on test in France, maybe at Montlhery, numbered ready for the race.

Had the Renaults run in the TT, how would they have fared? Well, taking them to be Reinastellas, they should have at least been placed in their class, had one finished. For whereas Campbell won his class at 71.53 m.p.h., compared to 70.88 m.p.h. of the outright winner, Nuvolari in the 1750 s/c Alfa Romeo, Howe only managed 67.04 m.p.h. and was last in the race. A normal Reinastella being good for some 80 m.p.h., I would have expected works-prepared TT cars to do much better than that and at least to have come home second in their class. If the accompanying picture is of a TT car, these appear to have been Reinastellas with more slender mudguards than the catalogue cars, but retaining running-boards, having a fold-fiat screen, one headlamp about-faced, and four seats, all of which fit in with Ards requirements. If anyone can tell me more, even if it proves that the picture is not that of a TT car after all, I shall be most interested.

Incidentally, both Reinastella and Nervastolla were listed in sports form and the Nervastella Renault was used for record-breaking at Montlhery, with a very pugnacious-looking closed-cockpit single-seater body, as illustrated in Motor Sport for March 1971, page 238. In fact, I think two different bodies of this type, or two different Nervastellas, were used, one car having discs wheels instead of wire wheels and Riffard streamlining, with lamps within the nose cowling. A similar body was used, I think, on a six-cylinder Delahaye record-car. But there was no mistaking the Renault; it proudly wore a star, denoting its type, on its radiator cowl!— W.B.