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The Owls Head Transportation Museum 1907 35-45 HP Renault Racing Car

The Owls Head Transportation Museum 1907 35-45 HP Renault

William K. Vanderbilt, an early motorist and racer brought high-level competitive motorsports to America in 1904 when he established the Vanderbilt Cup Races in 1904. At that time because of earlier development, foreign cars were superior to most automobiles manufactured on these shores. The first American-made car, to win a Vanderbilt Cup race, was the Locomobile in 1908. Willy K., as he was known, was an advocate of the foreign car early on and favored the Mercedes for his personal racing activities.

The French-built Renault was one of the leading European cars that also proved to be a successful early racing contender. In 1906, the automaker’s purpose-built 13-liter racing car won the first French Grand Prix race at the hands of Ferenc Szisz. A long standing-legend relates that Willy K. was impressed by this and was later able to convince Renault to manufacture a batch of replicas of these cars with smaller 35-45 h.p. engines for racing use here in this country.

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  • Meurice Bernin and Paul Lacroix (left) won September 6th and 7th 1907 Morris Park 24-Hour Race.

The 1907 Vanderbilt Cup race was not held due to various reasons, but one of the cars of this type, driven by Paul Lacroix (the owner) and Meurice Bernin won and set a new record at the September 6th and 7th 1907 Morris Park 24-Hour Race. An advertisement has been found in the Motor, October 1907 issue (see the complete ad below), placed by Paul Lacroix, who is listed as the General Manager of the U.S. Renault branch. This ad states that Willy K. and ten others (listed below) were so impressed by this performance that they all ordered duplicates.

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Five of these cars have survived including the example shown in this article that was a gift of the estate of Ledyard Pfund to the Owls Head Transportation Museum. The discovery of this advertisement linking the purchase of these cars to the 24-Hour Race win and not the 1906 French Grand Prix victory leaves open the question of which is correct? We are wondering if any readers can find or know of any other information pertaining to how these cars came about, period press coverage or information about what races any of them might have entered.

The car is on exhibit and can be viewed along with many other racing vehicles in the present feature exhibit, Faster the Quest for Speed. You can learn more at the Owls Head Transportation Museum website, and in the video that can be found below. The photos of the Renault are by Russ Rocknak, Executive Director of the Museum.

The Owls Head Transportation Museum 1907 35-45 HP Renault Racing Car

 

The Owls Head Transportation Museum 1907 35-45 HP Renault Racing Car

 

The Owls Head Transportation Museum 1907 35-45 HP Renault Racing Car

The Owls Head Transportation Museum 1907 35-45 HP Renault Racing Car

The Owls Head Transportation Museum 1907 35-45 HP Renault Racing Car

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6 responses to “The Owls Head Transportation Museum 1907 35-45 HP Renault

  1. The British magazine Autocar of 23 October 1982 stated that “there is said to be the French Grand Prix winning Renault closeted in a garage somewhere on the south coast” of England, but it is “certain to be one of the Vanderbilt Cup replicas.” The April 2006 edition of Classic & Sportscar confirmed this opinion stating that “none of the original trio of 12.8 litre team cars…..survives.” More details of the replica Renaults appeared in an article in Sports Car Market, which is reproduced in Howard Kroplick’s Vanderbilt Cup website dated December 30 2011.

    The 1981 April-June issue of Bulb Horn mentioned that in addition to the Morris Park race, these ‘replica’ Renaults won the Brighton Beach race in September 1909, finished second in the Long Island Motor Parkway Sweepstakes on October 10 1908 and competed unsuccessfully in the Briarcliff Trophy race of April 1908. Just a few details: Marcel Bernin and J Bloch drove the cars in the Briarcliff race. Charles Basle and Louis Raffalovich drove the winning car at the accident-marred Brighton Beach 24-hour race in 1909 completing 1050 miles. In the 1908 Motor Parkway race Lewis Strang’s second-placed Renault was entered by Lacroix. Of the seven starters, Herbert Lytle was the winner in – or more correctly ‘on’ – an Isotta. Incidentally, Strang also drove a Renault in the Vanderbilt Cup race of 1908, but this was a much more powerful car of 115 hp.

  2. The list of purchasers of the Renault is the crème de la crème of wealthy American sportsmen in the very early 1900;s – one of them a world- class polo player. Guggenheim ( mining and investments ), Collier ( publishing – but he died almost broke in 1918 ), the two Whitneys were brothers, inherited fortunes from their father and uncle; one married the daughter of the then-serving Secretary of State, the other, a Vanderbilt. Both were prominent philanthropists, Payne also serving as Ambassador to Portugal toward the end of his life.

  3. This car attended our Celebration of the 80th anniversary of the First American Victory in the Vanderbilt Cup Race. We had about 100 cars in 1988.

  4. On November 7 1908 it was reported that Lewis Strang was about to attack George Robertson’s 24-hour record of 1,117 miles. The venue was New Orleans and the car was the same Renault with which he finished second in the Motor Parkway Sweepstakes, i.e. one of the ‘replicas’. This provokes a number of questions; did the record attempt take place, did he succeed, was it a world record, an American record or a class record?

  5. On November 17, 1908, Lewis Strang made an attempt on the 24-hour record at Birmingham Alabama State Fairgrounds. It failed when two tires exploded and Stricker, who had taken over the wheel from Strang, was killed in the ensuing crash. Although unsuccessful, it seems that one of the ‘replica’ Renaults can at least lay claim to an attempt on the record. However, even if Strang had been successful, it is inconceivable that he would have achieved an all-out 24-hour world record, because more than a year earlier S.F. Edge had driven a Napier 1,581 miles at Brooklands. That was on June 28-29 1907, just after the track’s opening.

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