Renault ringer

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An early case of identity fraud

Most historians accept the race at Le Mans in 1906 as being the first grand prix, although a few quote earlier fixtures. Whatever, the centenary of the 1906 event was rightly commemorated at Le Mans in June.

Regrettably, the 13-litre Renault which won the 1906 race no longer exists. Motoring writer W F Bradley said that it was not in very good condition after the two-day 770-mile ordeal. Nevertheless, according to Bradley, an Englishman offered 55,000 francs for the car which Szisz and his mechanic Marteau had handled so brilliantly.

However, knowing the condition of the car, which had apparently been used as the practice car as well, Renault put the Szisz race number on one of the other cars, which WFB said had run the distance but was in better fettle. He was not quite accurate, as neither of the other two Renaults finished. Edwards stopped with tyre trouble after only 320 miles on day one, so perhaps his car was the chosen substitute.

Anyway, the story goes that the new owner discovered the swap and demanded to have the victorious car. In 1907 he drove it to Dieppe to watch the second French GP, and on the way he crashed into a tree and was killed. The authorities kept the car for two years before it was auctioned. When war came the French Air Service acquired it and it was driven by many famous pilots, after which it was sold for 5500 francs. WFB saw it about in Paris for many years until it finally disappeared. The other Renaults have likewise vanished, but John Bredon had his replica of the Szisz car at the celebration, and what is thought to be the engine from the winning car is now in the Science Museum in London.

To commemorate a great achievement Renault had a number of 7.4-litre replicas made, of which only the ex-Marcus Chambers ‘Agatha’ survives. Chambers was offered it by an itinerant scrapman just before WWII and immediately drove it up Shelsley Walsh and back to London.