The very 1st cornerstone of a huge empire, this voiturette, designed and built by Louis Renault, was never intended to be sold. The story of this car, designed and produced in just three months, reads like a real Christmas tale.
1898. Paris was having a party. Cafés-concerts, crinolines and carriage rides were the order of the day. France was prosperous and industry was booming.
The son of a rich family of haberdashers, Louis Renault started work as a draftsman at Delaunay-Belleville. But he was more interested in technical matters than in business. He set up his own workshop in the family garden shed in Boulogne-Billancourt, where he designed and built a small car for his own use.
By Christmas 1898, the voiturette was ready. He drove to Montmartre, where he celebrated Christmas with his brother Marcel and some friends. When they teased him about the curious machine parked outside, he made a bet with them. With a passenger sitting next to him, Louis drove up the 13% gradient of the Rue Lepic several times, before returning to the restaurant. His friends were so impressed by the vehicle that was so easy to drive that they ordered one on the spot and some of them even made a down payment! On that Christmas evening, Louis Renault took 12 firm orders. The legend had begun.
The company Renault Frères was founded just a few weeks later. The empire was born.
A young man in tune with his times
Displayed to the public in June 1899, the Voiturette Type A gained rapid renown.
The lightweight and well designed voiturette, which was 1.86 meters long, already applied many of the principles of the modern automobile. The car featured a front-mounted single-cylinder engine, a new transmission system with a cardan shaft and a 3-speed direct drive gearbox patented by Louis Renault.
Louis was able to expand his company with the royalties paid by other manufacturers who used his patent. The house in Boulogne-Billancourt quickly became a factory. The Ile Seguin was soon to become the heart of the French automotive industry.
Sporting and commercial success
The success of the Type A Voiturette was based on its simplicity. Robust and easy to maintain, it was also easier to manufacture than its competitors. In 1899, 60 people made 71 automobiles. By 1901, output had shot up to 290 vehicles.
The Voiturette Type A was not just a commercial success. It also carried off a clutch of trophies in road races. Driving the car themselves the Renault brothers notched up a string of victories. In 1899, they won the Paris-Trouville, Paris-Ostend and Paris-Rambouillet. In 1901, Louis won his 1st international race: the Paris-Berlin.