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1903 RENAULT REAR-ENTRANCE
1903 Reneault rear-entrance
tonneau 10 hp Type J

RENAULT

In 1898 Louis Renault used the engine from his De Dion Bouton quadricycle to power a tiny front-engined voiturette that he had designed. The vehicle was shaft driven and had direct drive in top gear. In so doing he created one of the definitive designs of the early motorcar era.

Production of similar cars by the Renault Freres began in 1899 and sales soon exceeded the expectations of all but the company's founder. Early cars had radiators on the sides of the bonnet but dashboard-mounted radiators were introduced in 1904 and were a feature of Renaults well into the 1920s. Almost from the beginning Louis and Marcel Renault were among those who raced their products. They were outstandingly successful, the ultimate triumph coming with the firm's emphatic win in the world's first Grand Prix at Le Mans in 1906. The tragedy was the death of Marcel in the 1903 Paris-Madrid race.

After Marcel's death Louis Renault came to own over 98% of the company and with no one to restrain him he gradually became more and more autocratic in his style of management. He strongly disliked dependence on outside suppliers and from 1903 the firm was making its own power units and buying in only such essential items as ignition systems and tyres.

The engineering integrity of Renault's products, coupled with the publicity that came from motor racing achievements, saw Renault as the largest and most successful French motorcar maker by 1907. This situation was not to change until after the Great War when Citroen and Renault battled it out year after year for the leading position. When France was liberated in 1944 Louis Renault was accused of collaboration (probably unfairly, but these were turbulent times) and he died before any trial was held. The firm was nationalised in 1945 and today is France's largest motor vehicle manufacturer.


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