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Renault Coupe DeVille (Town Car), Red, for sale in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, for $249,900.
Other than this example, I know of only one other—and you’ll have to dive through a mile of frigid salt water to retrieve it.
Chassis number 1226. 12 CV (12 horsepower), 2,614 cc L-head four-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, single driveshaft brake and two-wheel mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 123 inches.
There are cars that are celebrated for their beauty, and others whose desirability stems directly from their mechanical greatness. However, the very best cars are not only beautiful, but also have interesting stories to tell, whether as part of their genesis or through years of remarkable ownership. This gorgeous Renault Coupe DeVille (that’s a town car to those of us on this side of the Atlantic) actually has two incredible stories to tell, and both pale in comparison to its beauty and attention to detail.
The best place to start with this Renault is the car’s ownership history with the late, great Barney Pollard. People in the car hobby may recognize the name Barney Pollard, a collector of some note whose massive collection of old cars was so large and varied that he had it stashed in warehouses throughout the city of Detroit. And when he ran out of floor space, he resorted to hanging the cars from the ceilings of the warehouses like sides of beef. Of course, that meant that the cars were not driven or even accessible, and many remained untouched for decades. It was not unusual to find cars that were completely intact, but with rusted front or rear ends, a result of one end of the car hanging in a moist area, but with the rest of the car remaining high and dry. “Barney’s cars” still show up now and again with these instantly recognizable “flaws. ” In the case of this Renault, the only casualties of its peculiar storage arrangement were crumpled front fenders, although many of the other components were missing entirely by the time it was rediscovered in one of those warehouses.
Arthur Doering, who purchased the car from the Pollard estate in 1980, immediately commenced a full restoration. John Caperton in Louisville, Kentucky restored the chassis, while a restorer in Philadelphia restored the body in its original dark blue color. Perhaps as a result of its unorthodox storage or perhaps because of an easy life prior to Pollard’s acquisition of the car, one doorsill was the only component that required replacement. But sadly, many of the car’s special details, such as the headlights, horns, carriage lamps, and all of the unique beveled glass were lost and had to be recreated or acquired. An international search resulted in correct replacement pieces being located and installed, and where replacements could not be found, new pieces were fabricated from scratch.
When it was complete, it immediately won its First Senior and Preservation Status, and received AACA’s S. F. Edge Trophy, which recognizes the year’s most outstanding restoration of a foreign-made automobile entered in a national meet. It also won a Golden Award of Excellence from the Veteran Motor Car Club of America (of which Barney Pollard was a past president), and the Ed Heltemes Memorial Trophy for the best restored foreign car. Subsequent to that, it was a regular on the concours circuit, where it ultimately earned a First in Class at Meadowbrook Hall.
In 2000, Mr. Doering sold the car, and with that new owner we begin the second chapter of this car’s remarkable history. With the initial restoration some 20 years old, this new owner undertook another frame-off restoration. Inspired by the James Cameron film, “Titanic, ” and the famous scene in which the two main characters use the back seat of a Renault Town Car for a private moment, he contacted 20th Century Fox to get more information. In the course of their research for the movie, it turns out that there was, indeed, a 1912 Renault Coupe DeVille owned by William Carter aboard the Titanic when she sank. Insurance records provided by Lloyds of London not only offered proof that this car was a twin to the Titanic Renault, but also detailed specifications that could be followed like a road map during the restoration. We have included some shots of the car and mock-up used in the movie, and you can see that the mock-up used in a majority of the scenes was quite crude compared to the original. I suspect few would have noticed.
Incidentally, William Carter survived the Titanic disaster and later filed a $5000 insurance claim for the Renault—enough to purchase more than 10 brand new Fords!
At any rate, armed with the insurance information and 21st century restoration techniques, the Renault was re-restored to its current spectacular condition by 3R Restoration in Denver, Colorado. Now a deep, rich red in place of the original dark blue, it is an exact duplicate of the car currently sitting on the bottom of the Atlantic (the car actually used in the film was a 1914 Renault owned by a collector in California). Gold and black accents were added throughout, with an abundance of pinstriping to accent all the gorgeous curves and add to its incredibly ornate, Edwardian appearance.
Upon completion of this second restoration, it was invited to the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it easily completed the 50-mile tour and received a great deal of attention from crowds and media alike thanks to its Titanic connection. It was invited to the 2005 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, where it also completed a 50-mile tour and was judged Best Presentation of Fashion and the Automobile. In September 2007, it was awarded Best in Class at the inaugural Rocky Mountain Concours at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
Today, the Renault remains in true #1 condition throughout, and is absolutely breathtaking in person. The paint is so lustrous and deep that you are tempted to dip your fingers in it as if it were still liquid. You could spend hours examining the details, ranging from the incredibly ornate pinstriping, to the brass fixtures and lights, to the beautifully constructed trunk. Note that all of the glass in the car, save for the windshield, is heat-treated beveled glass. Renault’s signature shovel-nose hood and firewall-mounted radiator give this car a very distinctive look and unparalleled sight lines from the driver’s seat, making it a very easy car to maneuver on the road. As the photos show, the only notable exterior flaws are some paint chips on the black body molding just below the leather driver’s seatback.
This car has the added benefit of an electric self-starter, which is integrated with the generator, and the large Besnard headlights and single taillight are electric. A beautiful Cicca python-style horn is on the driver’s side, while a second Klaxon unit is on the passenger’s side. Note the beautifully finished wood that surrounds the engine compartment and matches that which trims the tops of the driver’s compartment doors and forms the dashboard.
The front seat is upholstered in rough-grained black leather as was customary with open-front town cars, given their minimal weather protection for the driver. But just because it was for the hired help, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t beautifully finished. Note the embossed diamond pattern in the door panels, a pattern that is repeated on the front of the seat cushion. The wooden dashboard is simple, with only the switch for the magneto and an ammeter mounted in the center. The shifter and hand brake controls are to the driver’s right, and follow a familiar H-pattern, with reverse located forward of 1st gear. A beautifully restored wooden steering wheel feels massive in your hands, but makes the car feel surprisingly agile on the road. The pedal arrangement is contemporary, with the accelerator up and to the right, the brake pedal in the middle, and the clutch on the left. This is a car that requires very little familiarization before driving it, and it feels remarkably modern for a 100 year-old vehicle.
In back, you’ll find the most luxurious and opulent interior that Renault designers could muster in 1912. Again using the Lloyds of London claim as a blueprint, original-style floral fabrics and wool broadcloths were secured and stitched into the original patterns. The back seat is a comfortable sofa for two, with two occasional seats that fold out of the bulkhead between the driver and passenger compartments. There are silk shades on all the windows, and a convenient storage pouch between the jump seats. The side windows can be raised and lowered using the pull strap, which has buttonholes to hold the windows in place when retracted. A flexible speaking tube relays instructions to the driver, while three separate bud vases give the gardener something to do in the garage. As with the exterior of the car, the interior is virtually without flaws and shows no signs of wear.
Powering this elegant palace on wheels is a 2.6-liter T-head inline 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 12 French horsepower. In reality, it is probably closer to 40 or 50 contemporary horsepower, and is sufficient to allow this car to cruise at a comfortable 35 MPH in top gear. The engine was, of course, fully rebuilt at the time of restoration and runs beautifully today. It starts quickly and reliably using the massive starter/generator mounted at the front of the engine, and a pair of new Optima batteries in a tray underneath deliver more than enough cranking power to ensure fast starts. The original updraft carburetor mounts directly to the head, and is a beautiful copper and brass assembly. Renault’s traditional firewall-mounted radiator has been expertly restored and is assisted by a massive fan on the flywheel. Together, they’re more than capable of keeping the engine cool—during my visit with the car, it idled happily throughout the photo session in 75-degree heat without issues. Fuel is gravity fed from a gas tank mounted at the base of the windshield.
The chassis is as beautifully finished as the body, and features a great deal of gloss black paint and ornate pinstriping. The solid axles are suspended by semi-elliptic leaf springs that have also been striped to match the body. Braking is via external contracting drums on the rear wheels and a large single drum on the driveshaft, and together they are more than adequate to stop this relatively light vehicle. And as with the details on the body, you will be able to spend many hours admiring the mechanical components of this car, both for their engineering curiosity and for the quality of the workmanship, with cast aluminum and brass fittings throughout. The wooden wheels have been fully restored, and carry white 815x105mm Excelsior tires.
Beautiful, interesting, and historically significant, this Renault Type CB can anchor the most elegant collections and is welcome at virtually any event or concours in the world. There are no records of how many Coupes DeVille were built in 1912, but other than this example, I know of only one other—and you’ll have to dive through a mile of frigid salt water to retrieve it. This is an incredible opportunity to own a one-of-a-kind car with a fascinating history behind it.
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Engine:2614 cc l-head inline-4
Location:Warrensville Heights, Ohio