1914 Renault ready to roll at 100 years
“This car was delivered to the French Army to be used as a staff car during World War I,” Doug Tomb, the current owner of the 1914 Renault says. Tomb explains his 1914 Renault EK Voiturette has been restored to its original colors: French Army Grey and French Army Blue. Typical of cars of that era, an abundance of brass is evident.
Tomb reports that the whereabouts of his car in the years between World War I and World War II is a mystery. He has heard reports that the Renault spent the duration of World War II hidden under a haystack in central France. When peace was restored the Renault was displayed in a French museum before being acquired by an innkeeper on the Loire River.
By 1970 the Renault had fallen on hard times. Fortunately, it was rescued by an American who was representing the John Deere Tractor Company in Western Europe. In 1977 he took the car home to Washington. With technical assistance from the Renault Museum in Paris the rare car was restored during the next few years. Then the reliable French automobile was driven on antique car tours every year since the restoration. But under the saying of “all good things must come to an end” the car was offered for sale in the spring of 2010.
Tomb investigated, liked what he saw and purchased the outstanding French automobile. Since he lived 3,000 miles away in Virginia, the 1914 Renault was not delivered until five long weeks later in July 2010.
The 1914 Renault EK Voiturette has a pair of brass acetylene headlights, two kerosene carriage cowl lights and one kerosene taillight. There is no brake light. There are four mud guards (better known today as fenders). There are no bumpers and the spare tire is on the right side.
Only the left side has a door. Both the hand brake and gear shift lever are operated with the driver’s right hand. The driver must be prepared to double clutch while shifting the straight cut gears.
Everything in the progressive shift linkage is linear, front to back. With the shifter all the way to the rear, the car is in Reverse. Moving forward one notch puts the transmission in Neutral. Another notch forward is First — then another Neutral followed by Second then another Neutral and all the way forward is Third.
Like most cars in 1914, this Renault has no battery or starter. Firing up the magneto ignition is accomplished by turning a hand crank. The tires are mounted on wheels, each one with a dozen wooden spokes. On the floor boards inside the Renault are three foot pedals, accelerator, brake and clutch, which are familiar to present day motorists.
While seated behind the five-spoke steering wheel the driver can leave the flat, one-piece windshield positioned vertically, folded open or folded flat. Opening the engine hood exposes the 9-horsepower, two-cylinder engine. The vulnerable radiator is positioned behind the engine to protect it from road hazards of a century ago. With the 10-gallon gasoline tank in the cowl full there is no limit to the adventuresome possibilities.
“When new,” Tomb says, “you could burn up the road. Believe it or not this car can go 40 mph.”
Tomb continues the previous owner’s practice of actually driving the car instead of turning it into a static museum piece.
“It’s fun to drive” he admits. As the Renault nears the 100th anniversary, Tomb acknowledges that he is merely one in a long line of custodians who have caringly kept the 1914 Renault going all these years.
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