Historic Car Brands



The Renault brand began in 1899 as the Société Renault Frères company, founded by Louis Renault and his brothers Marcel and Fernand. Louis had already designed and built several cars, including one with shaft drive to a live axle that he patented, before teaming up with his brothers, who had worked on the business side of for their father’s textile firm.


1898 Renault Voiturette Type A – Matti Blume


The first Renault car, the Renault Voiturette 1CV, was sold to a friend of Louis’ father, after he took a test ride.

In 1903, Renault began to manufacture its own engines instead of using De Dion-Bouton engines. The first volume sale came in 1905 when Société des Automobiles de Place bought Renault AG1 cars to establish a fleet of taxis.

These vehicles were later used by the French military to transport troops in the early months of World War I, helping protect Paris from the invading German Army. The Renaults earned their nickname: ‘Taxi de la Marne’. 


Taxi de la Marne Renault Type AG – El Monty


By 1907, a significant percentage of London and Paris taxis were Renaults. Renault was also the best-selling foreign brand in New York in 1907 and 1908. In 1908 the company produced 3575 units, becoming France’s largest car manufacturer.

Renault succeeded in the first city-to-city races held in Switzerland, producing rapid sales growth. Both Louis and Marcel raced company vehicles, but Marcel was killed in an accident during the 1903 Paris-Madrid race. Although Louis never raced again, his company remained involved and Ferenc Szisz won the first Grand Prix motor racing event in a Renault AK 90CV in 1906.


1906 French Grand Prix – Edmond


Louis took full control of the company in 1906 when Fernand retired for health reasons. Fernand died in 1909 and Louis renamed the company Société des Automobiles Renault .

At the time, cars were luxury items and the price of the smallest Renaults amounted to 10 years pay for the average worker. However, in 1905, the company introduced mass production techniques to help reduce costs and in 1911, Renault visited Henry Ford’s Highland Park factory and Renault adopted some of Ford’s manufacturing principles.

During World War I, Renault produced the revolutionary Renault FT tank, ammunition and military V8, air-cooled aircraft engines that inspired later Rolls-Royce aircraft engines. The company’s military designs earned Louis the Legion of Honour, for his company’s contributions.


Renault FT 17 – Paul Hermans


Renault also exported engines to American automobile manufacturers, including GJG, which used a Renault 26hp and 40 hp four-cylinder engines.

World War I innovation led to many new products, including the first Renault tractor that was based on the FT tank.

The pre-World War I Renault car had a distinctive shape, because the radiator was placed behind the engine to give a so-called ‘coal scuttle’ bonnet and this continued through the 1920s. Only after 1930 did all models have their radiators out front. 


1922 Renault Model 40 Kellner Town Car – Stephen Foskett


in 1928, when Renault produced 45,809 cars, its seven models were: 6CV, 10CV, Monasix, 15CV, Vivasix, 18/22CV and 40CV. Renault offered eight body styles and the longer six-cylinder chassis were sent to the customer’s coachbuilder of choice.

Renault had two model lines; the economy four-cylinder engine models that in the 1930s bore the suffix ‘Quatre’ and the luxury six-cylinder models that were initially sold with the suffix ‘-six’ that later became the suffix ‘Stella’.


1928 Renault Monasix – Charles 01


In the 1920s the London operation was important to Renault and North America also took exports of luxury models, but domestic makers Cadillac and Packard eroded Renault’s share. 

The 1927 Renault Vivasix PG1 was sold as an ‘executive sports’ model, fitted with a factory steel body and powered by a 3.2-litre, six-cylinder engine and that formula lasted until World War II.

‘Grand Luxe Renaults’, with long wheelbases in excess of 3.7 metres, were produced in small numbers, powered by six- and eight-cylinder engines. From 1928 they sported redesigned suspension that improved handling – important for these powerful cars that could easily exceed 140km/h.

The straight-eight-cylinder Reinastella was introduced in 1929 and culminated in the 1939 Suprastella. Coachbuilders included Kellner, Labourdette, J Rothschild et Fils and Renault bodies. Closed car Renault bodies were often trimmed with interior woodwork by Rothschild.


Renault Vivasix – Kev 22


In 1928, Renault introduced an upgraded specification to its ‘Stella’ line. The Vivastellas and Grand Renaults had upgraded interior fittings and a small star fitted above the bonnet logo. Limited-production Grand Renaults were built using a considerable amount of weight-saving aluminium: engines, brakes, transmissions, floor- and running-boards and external body panels.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Renault was overtaken by Citroën, which became the largest car manufacturer in France, thanks to volume production of innovative and popular cars.


1935 Renault Celtaquate Berline – Lars-Goran Lindgren


However, by mid-1930s all French manufacturers were hit by the Great Depression and while Renault could offset losses through its tractor, railroad and weapons businesses, Citroën filed for bankruptcy and was subsequently acquired by Michelin.


1936 Nervastella – Exxodus


Renault was finally forced to face the economic crisis in 1936 and spun off its foundry and aircraft engine divisions. Between 1936 and 1938, a series of labour disputes, strikes, and worker unrest spread throughout the French automobile industry. The disputes were eventually quashed by Renault in a particularly intransigent way and more than 2000 people lost their jobs.

After the French capitulation in 1940, Louis Renault was forced to produce trucks for the Nazis. In March 1942, the RAF sent low-level bombers to the Paris plant and the surrounding area, causing extensive damage and heavy civilian casualties. The factory was rebuilt, but bombardment by the US Army Airforce followed in September 1943.

After the Liberation of Paris, in September 1944, the gates at Renault’s plant reopened, but in an atmosphere of mistrust between capitalist collaboration and communist resistance.


Renault Vivastella – Peter Schmitz


The provisional government accused Louis Renault of collaborating with the Germans and he was arrested on 23 September 1944, as were several other French automobile-industry leaders. Renault’s harsh handling of the 1936–1938 strikes had left him without political allies and no one came to his aid.

General de Gaulle was keen to resist Communist Party attempts to monopolise the political dividends available to resistance heroes and the government ‘requisitioned’ the Renault factories – the only businesses so treated.

Louis Renault died in prison one month later, under highly suspicious circumstances.

On 16 January 1945, Louis Renault’s company was formally nationalised as Régie Nationale des Usines Renault. In subsequent years, the Renault family tried to have the nationalisation rescinded by French courts and receive compensation. In 1945, and again in 1961, the Courts responded that they had no authority to review the government’s actions.

Under the leadership of Pierre Lefaucheux, Renault experienced commercial resurgence, but with labour unrest that continued into the 1980s.


Renault 4CV – Berthold Werner


In secrecy during the war, Louis Renault had developed the rear-engined 4CV that was launched in 1946. The 4CV proved a rival for the Morris Minor and Volkswagen Beetle and sales of more than half a million were achieved by 1961.

Renault debuted the conventional two-litre, four-cylinder Renault Frégate in 1951.


1959 Renault Fregate Transfluide – Garage de l’Est


After the success of the 4CV, Lefacheux continued to defy the postwar French Ministry of Industrial Production, by directing the development of its successor, the Dauphine. Renault also sold the Renault Floride roadster.


Renault Dauphine – Berrit


Renault Floride S – Lothar Spurzem


Renault then launched two successful cars – the Renault 4 (1961–1992) and the Renault 8. The Gordini racing version had great performance fo the time, but rear weight bias was a problem. (Allan Whiting had an R8 and loved its comfy ride, but the handling was tad dodgy…)


1966 Renault R4 – Berthold Werner


The larger rear-engined Renault 10 followed the success of the R8 and was the last rear-engined Renault. The company achieved success with the more modern and more upmarket Renault 16, a pioneering hatchback launched in 1966, followed by the smaller Renault 6.


Renault R8 Gordini – G Wafton


From 1962 to 1967, Renault assembled CKD kits of US-made AMC Rambler Classic sedans in its factory in Belgium. Renault lacked large luxury cars in its product line and the ‘Rambler Renault’ was an alternative to Mercedes-Benz’s ‘Fintail’ cars. Renault partnered with AMC on other projects, including a rotary concept engine in the late 1960s.

In the mid-1960s, Renault Australia was set up in Melbourne. The company produced and assembled the R8, R10, R12, R16, sporty R15, R17 coupes, R18, and R20. 


1974 Renault R17 Coupe – John Shepherd


Renault Australia also built and marketed Peugeots. From 1977, they assembled Ford Cortina station wagons under contract and the loss of this contract in 1981 closed the Renault Australia chapter.

In October 1969, the Renault 12 arrived, combining the engineering philosophy of its hatchbacks with the more conservative ‘three-box’ design. The four-door Renault 12 model fitted neatly between the Renault 6 and Renault 16 and was a success. 

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the company established subsidiaries in Eastern Europe and South America, and forged technological cooperation agreements with Volvo and Peugeot. In 1970 Renault produced more than a million cars in a single year, building 1,055,803.


1969 Renault R12TL – Snooopy 1974


The compact and economical Renault 5 model anticipated the 1973 energy crisis when it was launched in 1972 and was another success.Throughout the 1970s the R4, R5, R6, R12, R15, R16, and R17 maintained Renault’s market position and new models were the Renault 18 and Renault 20.

Renault acquired a controlling stake in Automobiles Alpine in 1973.

When Peugeot acquired Citroën and formed PSA, the group’s collaboration with Renault was reduced, but in 1980, Renault produced 2,053,677 cars and LCVs. The cars were the Renault 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 30.

Also in 1980, Renault partnered with AMC and that led to a controlling 47.5-percent share. The partnership resulted in the marketing of Jeep vehicles in Europe and the Jeep XJ Cherokee was definitely a joint Renault/AMC design.

A surprising side effect of the AMC linkup was that Renault felt the effects of the Arab League boycott of companies doing business with Israel, where AMC built Jeeps. Plans to sell the Renault 9 in the Middle East were mothballed as a result.

US releases in the 1980s included the Renault Alliance GTA two-litre and the Renault Fuego coupé. The Alliance was followed by the Encore that was a US version of the Renault 11.  

In 1982, Renault become the second European automaker to build cars in the USA, after Volkswagen. However, Renault became the target of customer complaints about poor quality and sales plummeted. Eventually, Renault sold AMC to Chrysler in 1987, after the assassination of Renault’s chairman, Georges Besse by Action directe.

The Renault Medallion (Renault 21 in Europe) sedans and wagons were sold from 1987 to 1989 through Jeep-Eagle dealerships. Jeep-Eagle was the division Chrysler created out of the former AMC. Renault imports ended after 1989. 


Renault 5 Maxiturbo – Jaime Mas


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Renault increased its involvement in motorsport, with inventions such as turbochargers in its Formula One cars. Renault’s Head of Engines, Georges Douin, orchestrated the installation of turbocharged engines across much of the Renault range, beginning in 1980. 

The company’s road car designs were revolutionary, when the second-generation Renault 5, the European Car of the Year-winning Renault 9, and the most luxurious Renault yet, the aerodynamic 25, were released in the early 1980s. At the same time, poor product quality damaged the brand.

Renault’s top of the range model in the 1980s was the Renault 25, launched at the end of 1983. 

The Renault 9 was replaced by the Renault 11 hatchback and the long-running Renault 18 was replaced by the Renault 21 early in 1986. 

By 1984, Renault was losing a billion francs a month and George Besse cut costs dramatically. After his murder, Raymond Lévy took over the reins and by the end of 1987, Renault was more financially stable. 


Renault Clio X98 Hatchback – Karlis Dambrans


A revitalised Renault launched successful new cars in the early 1990s, including the 5 replacement, the Clio that was the first new model to have a nameplate rather than a numeric identifier. The Clio was voted European Car of the Year soon after its launch, and was one of Europe’s best-selling cars in the 1990s.

Other launches included the innovative Twingo in 1992 and the third-generation Espace in 1996.  The Twingo was roomier than any previous cars of its size and Twingo sales reached 2.4 million in Europe. (Allan Whiting hired one in France in 1994 and loved its nimbleness and economy.)


Renault Twingo – Harnas Kalisz


It was eventually decided that the company’s state-owned status was a detriment and Renault was privatised in 1996.[

Renault’s President, Louis Schweitzer gave to his then deputy, Carlos Ghosn, the task of cutting costs for the period 1998–2000, by reducing the workforce, revising production processes, standardising vehicle parts and pushing the launch of new models. 

Talks with BMW, Mitsubishi, Nissan, PSA and others were held and yielded a relationship with Nissan, whose negotiations with Daimler had stalled. Signed on 27 March 1999, the Renault–Nissan Alliance was the first of its kind involving a Japanese and a French company.

In the same year, Renault bought a 51-percent majority stake of the Romanian company Dacia, which over years had produced more than two million cars Renault 8, 12 and 20 derivatives. In 2000, Renault acquired a controlling stake of the South Korean Samsung Group’s automotive division.


Renault RS7 – Morio


Renault introduced the turbo engine to Formula One when they debuted their first car, the Renault RS01 at Silverstone in 1977. The Renault team continued until 1986. From 1989 Renault supplied engines to the successful Williams-Renault car.

Renault took over the Benetton Formula team in 2000 for the 2001 season and renamed it Renault F1 in 2002. In 2005 and 2006 the team won the Constructors’ and Drivers’ titles (with Fernando Alonso).

Renault powered the winning 2010 Red Bull Racing team, and took a similar role with its old team in December 2010, when it sold its final stake to the investment group Genii Capital, the main stakeholder since December 2009, ending Renault’s direct role in running a F1 team for the second time.Renault bought the Enstone-based team for the 2016 season, rebranding it Renault.


Renault Megane RS – M93


In the twenty-first century, Renault developed a reputation for distinctive, outlandish design. The second generation of the Laguna and Mégane featured ambitious, angular designs that turned out to be successful. Less successful were the company’s more upmarket models. 

The Avantime, a unique coupé multi-purpose vehicle, sold poorly and was quickly discontinued while the luxury Vel Satis model also disappointed, but the design inspired the lines of the second-generation Mégane, the maker’s most successful car. 


Renault Safrane Biturbo – Lebubu 93


In April 2010, Renault–Nissan announced an alliance with Daimler. Renault supplied Mercedes-Benz with its brand new 1.6-litre, turbo-diesel engine and Mercedes-Benz provided a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine to Renault–Nissan.The resulting new alliance developed a replacement for the Smart, based on the Twingo.

In 2013, Renault formed a joint venture with Dongfeng Motor Group named as Dongfeng Renault, based on a failed previous venture with the Chinese company Sanjiang, but bailed out of that arrangement in 2020.

In November 2018, Renault’s CEO Ghosn was arrested by Japanese officials for allegedly underreporting his Nissan’s salary, following an internal review conducted by the Japanese company. Carlos had more luck in prison than Louis Renault did, getting smuggled out of jail and transported to Beirut.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

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