THE VANDERBILT RENAULTS

The first name that comes to mind with early American motor racing is Willie Vanderbilt. He was organizing his own races in Newport, Rhode Island and dabbling in Grand Prix racing in Europe. His Newport races would move to Long Island and become the Vanderbilt cup – the most important of all motor races in America in this period. 

In 1906 Willie Vanderbilt recognized a small market for a cutting-edge racing car. High level racing cars in this period were purpose built, huge displacement, highly temperamental machines raced and supported by the factories. Vanderbilt went to Renault to see if they would produce batch of their state of the art 35/45hp racing car for his American friends. Vanderbilt secured approximately 10 orders and paid Renault $150,000 for the batch of racing cars. Each of the racers were identical mechanically but would vary slightly in coachwork details.
The 35/45 proved the perfect racer for customers, extremely refined and sophisticated but durable and not overly brutish. It was a super car the owner could still crank himself. 

Based around the potent Type AI engine but with a dramatically different chassis layout. The engine and transmission were placed nearly two feet farther back in the frame – as far back as one could place it and still have some semblance of a drive shaft. The Type AI engine is mated to a four-speed alloy gearbox – with an ingenious scroll wheel that translates the H pattern fork selection into a progressive all in a row shift pattern. A miniature drive shaft connects the transmission to the Renault trademark drive axle. The iconic Renault radiator is fed by thermosyphon and mounted nearly on centre where its significant heft effects the handling the least. The long elegant hood and radiator combination have an amazing windshield like effect in diverting the air over the occupant’s heads while driving at speed.

The Renault’s presence on the American race scene was known right away when Louis Raffolovitch won the 24hour race at Morris Park in Brighton Beach. Another Renault 35/45 Vanderbilt would win the same race in 1909 as well. Many other victories were massed by the Renaults often in the hands of amateurs while at the same time proving their merit as a superb high-performance road car. 

After two visits to Tieton under my belt, the hunger to try something different was growing.

On arrival in Seattle in 2017 for Tieton 5 I had with me the Mercedes Flatpack with its next foray. ELECTRIC. To say I was a little under prepared was an understatement. I had naively thought you could fabricate a bracket to hold an electric motor, chuck a battery in it and go mad. 

While the scramble to make all this work in a couple of days in Seattle was going on I was also watching a very cool Itala Peking to Paris cart being built alongside me. 

Gordon Bennett, Inter city races and RAC reliability trials from the turn of the century have long always stirred my imagination for how the pioneers motorists did it. I spent more time checking the Itala out than sorting the Mercedes.

Earls reasons for building the Itala also struck a chord with me. I think there is more to just racing these little cars. The fact people were starting to crash them and becoming obsessed with lowering them and going faster was losing their appeal to me. 

So lets do the opposite, go higher with a more gentlemanly seating position and enjoy the surroundings with some A to B touring. Where just getting to your destination is the prize.

After putting a gas motor back in the Mercedes for the Gordon Bennett run it was clear that Electric would need to be shelved for the tangent I was headed on. Also what could be better than Driving the Gordon Bennett than doing it in an Edwardian.

A short drive in the Itala sold it for me.  

On return to New Zealand the Gittreville Edwardian rules were studied and the challenge was put out to wouldbe builders. An Antipodean Adventure. 100s of kilometres Scenic backroads of New Zealand the idea to be carrying everything to keep you self-sufficient for a few days at a time. Tent, food, tools, beer the lot.

While it was a long shot to get overseas entrants there was a bit of interest

I thought I would quickly build a simple car to prove the concept. Logic was to build the Renault as it was already partly developed in my head for the flat pack Tieton car.

With a body mocked in cardboard and no real seat I took it to Ninety Mile beach for a test drive. It performed surprisingly well in soft sand and confirmed a leg over the sand dunes could be a tribute to “traversie du Sahara” 

Another keen Cyclekartist in New Zealand’s south island was building a De Dion for the trip. 

With Most entrants not making the start line it was left to the two French teams to make the journey. 

The De Dion with its wooden chassis driving with a riding Mechanic the entire journey won the event.

The Renault has since driven the Forgotten World Highway and has also returned to Northland for more runs on the sand. In my opinion when you are driving an Edwardian cyclekart on a gravel back road it truly takes you back 100 years and you can fully appreciate how the early drivers had it. Very similar power, speed and comfort but with the reliability of a Honda.

She isn’t the first Edwardian cyclekart but she has possibly done the most miles and hopefully inspires a few more to be built. 

Engine:  Honda GX200 
TAV:  Cheap Chinabuilt
Drive ratio: The proven 6/1 #40 chain
Brakes: Separate Mechanical disc Foot and Hand
Chassis: 60×30 channel from a machine packing crate
Steering: Austin 7 box with traditional style drag link 
Length: 2.6m
Wheelbase: 1.97m
Width: .99m

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