ENGINES: RENAULT (AUTOMOBILES RENAULT)
Name: Renault (Automobiles Renault)
In 1898 in the Paris suburb of Billancourt Louis Renault built his first automobile in a small workshop at the end of the garden of his family home. It had a De Dion engine but Renault designed and built the chassis. A year later the house had become the headquarters for the newly-formed Societe Renault Freres and that summer brothers Louis and Marcel entered cars in the Paris-Trouville race. Louis won the light car class and before long the brothers (including a third sibling Fernand) were building car after car for customers. In their first six months in business they built 60 cars. By the end of 1900 they had built another 179 machines.
From the very beginning Renault was involved in competition and there were a number of successes in the smaller classes in the city-to-city races which dominated racing at that time. In 1902 Renault hired a De Dion engine designer and began producing its own engines. The first big event was the Paris-Vienna race of June 1902 and Renault entered three cars in the light car class. Incredibly Marcel Renault won the event outright. The following year Marcel was killed when he crashed near Angouleme on the Paris-Madrid race. The disastrous event marked the end of the city-to-city races.
Louis Renault withdrew from competition although in 1904 he built one racing machine for American millionaire Gould Brokaw. This was raced in the Vanderbilt Cup event by Maurice Bernin but without success.
The lure of competition proved to be too much for Louis Renault and in 1905 he entered a team in the Elimination Trials for the Gordon Bennett Trophy. That same year the Renault firm enjoyed success in a variety of American races with Louis Raffalovitch driving. The following year there was a three-car team in the Grand Prix de l'ACF for Ferenc Szisz, Claude Richez and J Edmond. Szisz was a longtime Renault employee having been Louis's riding mechanic on the Paris-Vienna race in 1902.
Szisz won the two-day event and became the first man to win a Grand Prix. He finished second the following year in the GP de l"ACF in Dieppe and was back in 1908 but without success.
Thereafter Renault was not seen in Grand Prix racing. By 1907 the company was selling thousands of cars each year. Fernand Renault died in 1908 and after that the company was renamed the Societe Anonyme des Usines Renaults.
After the First World War competition from Citroen forced the company to improve its model range but it remained very conventional in approach. During the war the Renault factories were taken over by the Germans and bombed by the Allied air forces. Louis Renault was accused of collaboration and died in prison in late 1944. As a result the Renault company was nationalized. The 4CV was a big success and by 1960 a million of them had been made. This was followed in 1955 by the Dauphine which would ultimately sell two million.
Although Renault steered clear of competition, there was an involvement in rallying thanks to the efforts of Renault dealer Jean Redele, who established the Alpine tuning firm in Dieppe. His cars were successful in various rallies between 1949 and 1953 and in the late 1950s Alpine-tuned Dauphines won the Tour de Corse and the Monte Carlo Rally.
In the late 1950s Renault became involved with Amedee Gordini's tuning company and with the Renault 8 Gordini the company decided to go back into the sport, establishing the Renault 8 Gordini Cup, which stimulated French motorsport and saw drivers like Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Michel Leclere and others. This was followed by success in the European Rally Championship in 1970 with Jean-Claude Andruet in an Alpine Renault A110 and World Championship success in 1971 with Ove Andersson, Bernard Darniche, Jean-Luc Therier and Jean-Pierre Nicolas. There would be a second World Championship in 1973 and Alpine Renaults continued to do well until 1976.
Renault's track racing was also developed with the introduction of Formula Renault in 1971 and the 2-liter sportscar program which resulted in European Championship success in 1974.
In 1975 Renault took over Gordini and the Renault-Gordini operations were consolidated at Viry-Chatillon as Renault Sport. In 1976 Jean-Pierre Jabouille gave Renault victory in the European Formula 2 Championship and in 1978 Renault won the Le Mans 24 Hours with the Alpine Renault of Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud. In rallying the Renault 5 Alpine enjoyed some success in the late 1970s while the Renault 4 and Renault 5 models proved to be big sellers.
In 1979 Renault entered Grand Prix racing and although the team failed to win the World Championship, Alain Prost being beaten in the final race of 1983, the company returned as an engine-supplier in 1989 and dominated the sport winning a string of World Championships with Williams and Benetton. At the end of 1996 Renault withdrew from F1.
An attempt to break into the American market in the late 1970s by buying American Motors was not a success and in 1987 this was sold on to Chrysler. There were serious industrial disputes and a failed alliance with Volvo but the company continued to have strong sales thanks to an impressive model range including the Espace (1984), the Clio (1990), Twingo (1993) and Megane (1995).
The company was privatized in 1994 and there was major restructuring but by 1999 it was strong enough to risk buying a 36.8% shareholding in the debt-ridden Nissan for $5.1bn. The vast Japanese car company had debts in the region of $30bn.
Early in 2000 Renault bought the Benetton team and returned to F1 in 2001.