I had the opportunity to write about the Belgian national car museum Autoworld in last month’s post with the Belgian racing legends at Le Mans. While the permanent exhibition is also worth a visit, Autoworld usually hosts four to six major thematic exhibitions a year, where several dozen thematic vehicles occupy the main gallery on the first floor. In between the main exhibitions, two ground floor exposition spaces are available for smaller (sometimes ad hoc) exhibitions encompassing about a dozen cars. The Le Mans expo was such a temporary show, now its time to present the current major exposition that pays tribute to the 120th anniversary of French car manufacturer Renault.
More than 40 vehicles illustrate the history of Renault, as the company shares the 20th century economic and political history of France, with the second age of industrialisation and mass production to the very top of today’s globalised economy. The company also dared into variety of automotive and business ventures, from the very first Grand Prixes ever, to the manufacturing of armoured tanks. Renault has an extensive body of work, and while it does not operate a central Museum like the ones in Sochaux, Stuttgart or Munich, it upkeeps a massive collection of historical cars, that often tour the continent as a virtual museum.
One hundred twenty years ago, Louis Renault built his first small car carrying his name, that introduced several innovations. It might look small and simple by today’s standards, the car had a universal joint drive, a self-developed three-speed gearbox with direct drive and a reverse gear.
The pre-WWII section showcases a wide variety of automobiles from the very first Renault of 1898 to the luxury mastodons of the 40’s.
For those who visited the Retromobile 2018, some of these cars might be familiar, minus the tanks that were rolling in from the French Tank Museum.
Renault grew into the largest automobile manufacturer in France, not only with cars in all sizes and performance classes but also with delivery vans and lorries, and the exhibition showcases a few interesting examples. Renault built the first closed car back then, and they claim to have invented the category of minivans with the Espace. There is of course the out of box thinking two-door monospace Avantime (a series production car, for the record), but nothing prepares us for the shock that the main exhibit delivers.
One of the central pieces of the show is the craziest Renault ever conceived, the 900 Concept from 1959. The sober number as model designation is certainly not in line with the crazy concept car, for which the designers mast have been smoking some really heavy stuff (I guess, a name like Renault Absynthe would rather fit the car). Essentially it is a monospace that resembles a backward driving station wagon (with a bonnet in the back). It was motorised by a V8 that was born of bolting together two four-cylinder engines. Here I was thinking, if there is a company that saved a lot of money with the invention of Photoshop, that is got to be Renault!
The exhibition’s strongest section covers sport and race cars. Renault immediately excelled in the first automobile races in automotive history, with Louis and his brother Marcel at the wheel. But when Marcel Renault died in a crash in a 1903 Paris-Madrid race, it was the end of competition for Renault. I recall, that Renault was proud to bring the winning car of the very first Grand Prix to the Retromobile 2016.
This time, the exhibition’s race car section departs a bit later, with Renault’s world record breaking gas turbine car from 1954. The Renault Étoile Filante (Shooting Star) was Renault’s only attempt at designing a gas turbine-powered car that broke the land speed record for turbine-engine cars at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, reaching an average speed of 307.4 km/h.
After the war, the brand quickly revived its interest in competing, now via the Gordini and Alpine teams, but that is just two of many successful teams. The exhibition showcases successful rally cars such as the Alpine A110 that bagged the worlds very first rally championship title and the Group 4 spec Renault 5.
Renault has also been very active in F1 for over 40 years. They became engine supplier for leading teams like Lotus and Williams, and nowadays Red Bull and McLaren, in addition to their own factory Renault racing team. As engine supplier Renault is the third most successful ones in the history of F1. The exhibition presents only one F1 car, one that actually did not excel in conquering titles.
The bulk of the exhibition is located in the gallery but the two smaller exposition spaces in the ground floor are also occupied by Renaults. As usual, the exhibition is reinforced by thematic collection of small scale models. The exhibition remains open until the 2 September, and can easily be accessed in the centre of Brussels. It is an interesting proposition during any visits to Brussels, especially when paired the impressive War Museum.