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Type AI 35/45CV Vanderbilt Racer
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  Renault Type AI 35/45CV Vanderbilt Racer      

  Article Image gallery (13) Chassis (2) Specifications  
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Country of origin:France
Produced in:1907
Numbers built:10
Price new:$15,000
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:February 28, 2020
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Click here to download printer friendly versionRenault was one of the pioneering manufacturers of motoring's formative years. To showcase his latest innovations, Louis Renault introduced the range-topping Type AI or 35CV in 1906. These newly patented features included hydraulic dampers, which came as standard on the Type AI, and a compressed-air starter that was available as a 900 Francs option. Powered by a mighty 7.4-litre four-cylinder engine, the Type AI did follow the other Renault designs of its era as it boasted the scuttle nose with the radiator mounted behind the engine.

Especially the new hydraulic dampers instantly showed their worth at the 1906 French Grand Prix when the even larger engined Type AK took victory at a record pace of 101 km/h. These competition credentials, as well as the great showing of a Renault in the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup, prompted William Kissam 'Willy K.' Vanderbilt Jr. to have Renault built him a Type AI-based racer for the 1907 Vanderbilt Cup. To further sweeten the deal, he encouraged several of his friends to buy a racer of their own. Instead of ordering one car, Vanderbilt ended up with a ten-car order worth a staggering $150,000.

While the Vanderbilt Renaults were built around two Type AI chassis, they were built especially for the task. The 7.4-litre engine produced around 65 bhp and was mounted 60 cm further back into the chassis. As a result, the big radiator was mounted almost dead centre in the car. The engine was mated to an all-alloy four-speed manual gearbox. The final drive ratio of 2:1 allowed the new racer to have an impressive top speed. Naturally, the Type AI racer boasted the newly patented hydraulic dampers and also featured quick-change detachable rims. While all of the new Renault racers were fitted with similar minimalist bodywork, each was finished to suit their respective owner's wishes.

As the ten cars were sold new to the United States most of the racing success were had on the North American continent. One stand-out result was Louis Raffolovitch his victory in the 24-hour race at Morris Park in Brighton Beach. Vanderbilt's personal 'Vanderbilt Renault' did make a well documented appearance on the other side of the Atlantic as he toured it around Europe.

Of the at least ten examples built, five are known to have survived. Four of them are in American hands and were shown together at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Mechanically very sophisticated, the Vanderbilt Racer also remains as one of the very first competition cars built specifically for customers.

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  Article Image gallery (13) Chassis (2) Specifications