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.
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.
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.