Classic Cars

Renault Voiturette Type A (1898)

May 26, 2011

Renault Voiturette Type A 1898In 1898 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 in just three months. The car was just for his use and was never intended to be sold.

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 Freres was founded just a few weeks later.

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 revolutionary universally jointed driveshaft and a three-speed gearbox with a reverse, and with the third gear in direct drive. This system was patented by Louis Renault.

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. Louis was able to expand his company with the royalties paid by other manufacturers who used his patent.

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 Renault won his 1st international race the Paris-Berlin.