One wouldn‘t believe that discoveries like that are still possible: A more than a hundred years old Renault which never underwent a restoration and has stayed in the same family since it was built. A car where virtually everything is still in original condition and shows only slight traces of use – the paint, the leather upholstery, even the delicate fabric covering the interior of the passenger compartment. Also from a technical perspective all parts are in place and working.
Such an exceptionally find – a Renault 22/24hp coupé chauffeur from 1913 – was on offer on the 6th of February 2015 with the renowned French auction house Artcurial. The car’s truly unique condition is illustrated by numerous high-resolution images on the company’s website.
The Renault has spent all his life with the same family which lives on a chateau in the Languedoc area in Southern France. The great-grandfather of the current owner had bought the car without a body and commissioned Renaudin et Besson in Paris to build one. The passenger compartment was lavishly appointed with leather and damask lining whereas the chauffeur sat on a bench in front of it, albeit protected by a light hood. The dashboard was equipped with instruments made by Kirby Beard & Co. who also were suppliers to Rolls-Royce at that time.
As for the lighting a combination of different solutions was chosen. In order to keep the risk of short-circuiting low, only an electrical interior light was fitted which was supplied by accumulators beneath the floor. The brass head-lamps, however, use gas that is supplied by a pressure tank mounted on the running board, whereas the taillight is operated by oil. According to the owner, the head-lamps used to be sent ahead by train in case of longer journeys. This was to avoid damage by flying stones on the still unsurfaced roads.
Probably the toughest test of the car’s abilities came when the First World War broke out in August 1914. Back then, the owner’s father was on a language course in England. As England declared war on Germany a few days before France, the French embassy in London asked the family by telegram to collect the young man, immediately. Thus, the Renault was sent off to Calais with the chauffeur, laden with a whole set of spare tires. While driving at night was hardly feasible, the journey of almost 1,000 km was accomplished in only two days thanks to continuous driving from dawn to dusk.
Eventually in the late 1920s, the faithful Renault was decommissioned. Properly preserved it remained in its garage on the family’s estate, In order to take the load off the springs, blocks were put beneath the axles. The engine was turned over regularly, so that the moving parts would not seize.
Only at one occasion, the Renault experienced adventurous times again, as the German Wehrmacht retreated from Southern France in autumn 1944 and requisitioned all available vehicles in the area. The local headquarters of the occupying forces had ordered that also the Renault was to be made roadworthy. Perhaps the car was designated for an officer, but most probably the German soldiers had no idea how old the car actually was. At any rate, the Renault was put on its wheels again, which resulted in immediate failure of the fragile tires. As no replacements were at hand, the car escaped being requisitioned. It was put back on its blocks again and slumbered on without being disturbed again. Thus the Renault managed to survive untouched and with a splendid patina until today.
Unfortunately, the car has not yet found a new owner. It was offered on the same day as the spectacular Baillon collection was auctioned off by Artcurial, but it was not sold. This is probably not only due to the ambitious estimated price of 300-500,000 euros, but also to the much larger attention that the Baillon barn-find received thanks to worldwide press coverage. Apropos, the following link leads to an overview of the and the often breath-taking prices they fetched.
Let’s hope, the Renault will be acquired by a true enthusiast sooner or later, someone who is less interested in prestigious marques and potential price gains but wishes to preserve this unique witness of a bygone era for future generations.
Source: Michael Schlenger