It is difficult to comprehend the importance to the motor industry of Marcel Renault’s short life. His younger brother Louis built a car for his own pleasure after completing his national service and that hobby would later spawn France’s largest car company.
Automobiles Renault and racing career
They founded Automobiles Renault on February 25 1899 in the Paris suburb of Billancourt and soon recognised the benefit of publicity generated by success in racing these machines. Both entered the Paris-Trouville race that summer and Louis led Marcel in a 1-2 triumph in the voiturette class.
Marcel Renault’s highest profile success came in the 1902 Paris-Vienna – the most important race of the year. The Renault brothers drove 16hp machines in the light car class but Marcel beat all the heavy cars that lasted the distance to win at an average speed of 38.96mph.
However, his short career came to an abrupt halt in the infamous Paris-Madrid race a year later. He was following Léon Théry’s Decauville north of Angoulême when he crashed at Couhé-Vérac. Those who arrived in Bordeaux for the overnight stop were met with terrible news. Seven drivers and spectators had been killed in several accidents and Marcel Renault was critically injured.
Organisers decided to abandon the race – signalling the death knell of those epic city-to-city races. Marcel Renault succumbed to his injuries two days later, depriving France of one of the great automobile pioneers at just 31 years old.