Renault Ltd. have staged seven successful Rallye Renault meetings in the past, at Woburn, Blenheim, Mallory Park, Harewood House, Acton and Blenheim, and this year, to celebrate the 70th year of this popular make in the UK, they organised this well-supported event at Penshurst Place.
This involved a 50-mile Commemorative Run from the British Renault headquarters in Acton to Kent, in which I was invited to drive Renault’s 1911 Type AX twin-cylinder 6.9-h.p. two-seater (see picture).
On the Saturday we set off, in company with a fine cavalcade of splendid Renaults of all types. the Company having such faith in our collective ability to control back-wheel-braked ancients that the somewhat disenchanting route went round Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner in the thick of the afternoon cut-and-thrust. I found myself in the care of a couple of Champion plugs, a Zenith carburetter, the faithful and beautifully-made 75 x 120-mm. Renault engine of taxi-of-the-Marne fame, and 710 x 90 tyres, English-made Goodyear Pathfinders on the front wheels, BTR Cords on the back wheels, although had I punctured, the spare was just a 28 x Dunlop Cord cover. It was highly unlikely that I would need lamps, but the little car was equipped with gas headlamps fed from a “Best English Make” H. & B. generator, and Lucas “King’s Own” oil sidelamps.
It is well known that for many years Renault considered two cylinders sufficient for economy motoring, along with Jowett, and Rolls-Royce in an earlier era, and after driving SD 912 I am in entire agreement. The effect is relaxing (at all events on level, uncongested roads), economical, and devoid of complication. Especially the latter, because after the year 1910 or thereabouts the Billancourt engineers had such confidence in their twin that no oil-gauge or other indication of whether the lubricant is circulating was deemed necessary. Indeed, I had absolutely nothing to distract my attention for apart from a big tumbler ignition-twitch on the dashboard and a serrated advance-and-retard control which was inoperative, observing dials and moving minor levers has no place in the curriculum of a 7-h.p. Renault driver.
I concentrated on feeling-in the gears with the r.h. quadrant lever, apt to skin one’s hand as it was drawn past the push-on brake lever, taming a fierce clutch, operating the piano-type pedals, and checking speed with the transmission foot-brake. The forward view is of a characteristic brass-bound Renault dust-excluding coal-scuttle bonnet far below the steering-column surmounted by a traditional five-spoke wood-rim wheel, with the filler-cap of the scuttle radiator just visible.
These lines of the little Renault twin are well remembered—at a traffic-halt in the Vauxhall Bridge Road an elderly van driver dismounted, and walked back to ask whether the car was a one-or a two-cylinder, saying he worked on Renault taxis after the First World War, and ‘bus drivers occasionally gave us a smile.
Having by now mastered the downward changes of speed with leisurely double-declutching I was enjoying this mode of progression, at maybe 35 m.p.h. once the highest speed was engaged, fresh air gently wafting past the tall Capital Screen Co.’s windscreen, a strap-down hood at the ready in case of rain. The little Renault picks up speed gamely after a halt, to the accompaniment of lawn-mower noises, but can hardly be said to accelerate…. Alas, in a horrific traffic jam at Lewisham (caused by road works, not the Commemoration Run), the modest power passed away. No sparks! Fortunately Mr. Atkinson, in his much-travelled 1912 AX, still on its original pistons, stopped, produced a spare Watford magneto, and very kindly devoted much time to getting me going again. Thereafter the myth that Kent is a flat county was dispelled, as the resuscitated Renault crawled up one long rise after another on the A21 in middle speed, so that we arrived at Viscount de L’Isle’s stately home too late for the champagne reception—and unfortunately competitors’ tickets did not gain free admission on the Sunday, although the cars had attracted visitors to Penshurst Place!
Space precludes a report of that day’s activities, except to say that a magnificent assembly of Renaults, from Kemsley’s 1901 single-cylinder to a 1930 Viva Sport convertible, took part in the usual beauty contests, driving-tests and Grand Parade. Late on the previous night the Viva Sport accompanied by 1900 single, 1908 AX and 1911 AX had arrived from France, delayed by a breakdown at Lewes. Malamatenios was out for the first time in his beautiful 1914 EE 26.9-h.p. landaulette, Beaulieu sent the 1906 20/30 MMM landaulette, Sharpe drove a 1912 CB 12/16 coupé de ville, and later Renaults were well represented by Woolley’s 1925 45 tourer, Williams’ 8.3 tourer, Mills’ Mona six saloon, a 9-15 tourer, a Vivastella truck, and a 1937 BCF1 saloon, etc.
Maurice Smith’s 1895 Lawson steam tricycle, an Amilcar and an Armstrong Siddeley, etc., represented Lost Causes and 78 post-1940 Renaults were entered. Renault’s special display included a Rallye Alpine, while three Renault Paris ‘buses were present. The old-car movement is appreciative of Renault’s support, at a time when they are notably successful at selling their modern products, with these admirable rallies, conceived and organised by Tony Ronald and compered by the hard-working inimitable PRO Alan Dakers, aided by his wife Sarah. I was lent one of those willing, spacious, well-sprung, rear-engined Renault Ten-1300 for the return to London but, time permitting, would have got there just as enjoyably in the 60-year-old twin.—W. B.
Results: Rallye Renault
Concurs d’Etat Winners:
BIllancourt Trophy, Best Pre-1940 Renault: J. Malamatenios (1914 26.9-h.p. landaulette).
Renaults up to 1918: S. M. Tidy (1908 20/60 landaulette).
Renaults, 1919 to 1940: E. D. Woolley (1925 45-h.p. tourer).
Lost Causes: M. A. Smith (1895 Lawson steam tricycle).
Class 1, 750s, etc.: Mr. and Mrs. R. J. Smith (1963 Dauphine Gordini).
Class 2, R4s and R6s: C. P. Yardley (1969 R8).
Class 3, R8s, Gordinis, etc.: Mr. and Mrs. Hipkiss (1969 R8).
Class 4, R10s: D. Davallon (1969 Ten-1300).
Class 5, R12: B. J. Stibbings (1970 12TL).
Class 6, R16s: J. E. Smith (1969 R16TS).