Factory methods in the vintage era

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No. 7: Renault

It is interesting to look back at how Renault Freres functioned in the last year of the vintage era, over thirty years ago. Then, as now, the factory at Billancourt, in Paris, occupied the Isle of Seguin in the middle of the Seine and the factory on the land-side of the river had already begun to swallow up the surrounding streets. In 1930 the workers numbered more than 32,000, producing some 1,200 vehicles a week. Naturally, assembly was on the conveyor-line system, above which hung texts to stimulate good workmanship, rather as Jaguar display them today. Try translating back into French, “Never assemble a part badly, saying, Oh Hell! Someone else will put that right’,” which was one of those in use.

The Renault payroll had expanded from about 4,500 employees in 1914 and by 1930 practically everything was being made in their own works, except the tyres—they even made road springs, from raw material to the finished article, wheels, travelling trunks and electrical equipment. A very rigid system of inspection was in operation at various stages, from raw material checks, through inspection of partly-machined castings, to testing of completed components.

Very large supplies of steel and timber were stored ready for use at Billancourt and Renault had their own steel-making plant. The forge in 1930 embraced 57 monster hammers. It is interesting to anyone who has seen batches of Dauphine engines being tested in clusters on the rotary test-bed at the modern Renault factory to learn that in 1930 engines were similarly tested en masse, but in long galleries in a spotless test-shop, where in le banc d’essai des moteurs some 150 power units were run, coupled to electric dynamometers, at the same time.

The bodies, like the chassis, were assembled on conveyor-belts but a considerable amount of coachbuilding was still in evidence, not all the Renault bodies being all-steel. And the bodies for the great straight-eight Reinastella model were very carefully hand-built in a separate shop—does anyone run a Reinastella today?

Elaborate tests were made, to destruction, on leaf road springs made in the factory, and radiators were immersed in tanks of water, while under pressure, to check them for leaks.

Apart from cars, lorries and taxis, in 1930 Renault were building vehicle, boat and railroad diesel engines and they also were making large numbers of water-cooled V12 aero-engines and beautifully finished air-cooled 9-cylinder radial aero-engines, the Compagnie Générale Aéropostale using Renault engines exclusively over its 13,000-kilometre air route in the South of France.

W. B.

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