When we attended the RM Auctions in Scottsdale 2008, a 1912 Renault Type CB Coupé de Ville really caught our attention as it drove up on the block. Its extraordinary design and distinctive front shape, caused by positioning the radiator behind the engine to give a so called "coalscuttle" bonnet, was the impetus for us to research the history of the car maker.
Like other auto manufacturers that are still around today, such as Ford and Fiat, the Renault Corporation was created due to the initiative and genius of one man, Louis Renault. Louis was born in February 1877 and was the youngest of five children. His father made his fortune in the trade of fabrics and buttons and his mother was the daughter of wealthy merchants. Louis Renault had a passion for mechanics and new techniques at an early age that made him neglect his studies and spend most of his time in the workshop where Léon Serpollet used to build his racing steam cars.
After his military service, Louis turned a De Dion-Bouon cycle into a four-wheeled small car equipped with one of his inventions: a universal jointed propeller shaft that included a three-gear box with reverse, with the third gear in direct drive. He patented this principle in 1899. This little car, soon to be named the Renault Type A, was the inspiriration for Louis Renault to become an auto manufacturer when he won a bet with friends that it could drive up the slope of Lépic Street in Montmartre. Afterwards, he received twelve orders for the car.
In 1905, Louis Renault went from a niche car maker to a mass producer with an order of 250 taxi cabs. In two years time, Renault had over 1,500 taxi cabs on the streets of Paris and exported a good number to London, New York, and Buenos Aires. Renault’s luxury cars, like the Type CB Coupé de Ville, were expensive for the average worker, so it was the taxis, buses, and commercial vehicles they produced that made the company the largest automaker in France.
Today, Renault is a privately held company well known for numerous revolutionary designs, security technologies, and motor racing. It’s also Europe’s number one brand for cars and light commercial vehicles.