1907 Renault AI 35/45 Vanderbilt Racer

This car was the Ferrari Enzo of its day-exclusive, fast, beautiful,
and exciting-but not really a racer

Renault’s reputation was made in the open-road races of Europe at the turn of the 20th century, in cars built and driven by Louis Renault and his brother Marcel. Even though Marcel was killed in the 1903 Paris-Madrid race and Louis quit racing, the company itself only took a year off.

Competition was the most effective way to promote Renault’s products and demonstrate speed and reliability. In 1905, Renault built a 12.3-liter monster for Gould Brokaw’s entry into the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island. Driven by Maurice Bernin, it did not finish, but captured the Eagle Rock, New York, hillclimb later that year.

For 1906 the ACF announced the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France, the grand prize in automobile competition. Organized on a 103-kilometer circuit over public roads located east of Le Mans, it was held over two days, with six laps scheduled each day. Open to all comers, it was vital for competitive manufacturers. Renault rolled out a new, purpose-built racecar, the Type AK, powered by a giant 13-liter, four-cylinder engine with shaft drive. Driver Ferencz Szicz pulled out an immediate lead, taking the opening day well ahead of his closest competitor. He was so far ahead on the second day that he was never threatened.

The performance of Szicz in the Grand Prix and Brokaw’s Renault in the Vanderbilt Cup caught the attention of William Kissem Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt, like many of his wealthy counterparts, was an early enthusiast and in 1907, he arranged for a run of sporty Renaults to be built. Patterned after the 1906 Grand Prix de l’ACF winner, they were based on the lighter Renault AI chassis and built specifically for his friends. Sleek, powerful and reliable, they were ideal for an afternoon’s entertainment on the smooth, banked, and protected Long Island Motor Parkway. (Courtesy of Gooding & Company)

Thor Thorson

Thor Thorson - SCM Contributing Editor

Thor grew up in northern Iowa. His father bought a red Jag XK 150 in the late 1950s, and that was all it took; he has been in love with sports cars , racing cars and the associated adrenaline rush ever since. He has vintage raced for more than 20 years, the bulk of them spent behind the wheel of a blue Elva 7. When he’s not racing, he is president of Vintage Racing Motors Inc., a collector-car dealer and vintage-racing support company based in Redmond, WA. His knowledge runs the full spectrum of vintage racing, and he has put that expertise to good use for SCM since 2003.

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