The Renault Etoile Filante returned to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where, six decades ago on September 5th, 1956, it clocked up a speed of 308.9kph (192mph) to establish four new world records — two of which still stand to this day.
Meanwhile, to celebrate 60 years since the Renault Dauphine first went on sale in America, Renault Classic dispatched a Dauphine to the 2016 Bonneville Speed Week (13-19 August) where Nicolas Prost, driver for Renault e.dams in the FIA Formula E Championship, established a new class record 76.5mph (123.1kph). The Frenchman was officially clocked at 76.541mph on the morning of August 14th, following technical scrutineering. The 956cc-engined car (Number 9561) beat the existing CGC record (Classic Gas Coupe) for cars made between 1928 and 1981 and an engine capacity of between 754cc and 1,015cc.
The record-breaking Etoile Filante (meaning “shooting star” in French) is an example of how engineers sought to carry over aircraft technologies into automotive design during the aviation-infatuated period following the Second World War.
When war ended in 1945, Turbomeca’s boss De Szidlowski, a leading expert in turbine engines, started making small power units for applications such as the Alouette helicopter. Very eager to raise public awareness on what he considered an immensely promising technology, he approached Renault with a high-profile concept in mind. Renault boss Pierre Lefaucheux went ahead and commissioned development of an experimental car from a highly experienced team of three: project manager Fernand Picard, talented engine specialist Albert Lory, and engineer and test driver Jean Hebert. The outcome was the Etoile Filante, with a polyester body on a tubular structure and a turbine developing 270hp.
On 5th September 1956, the whistle of the powerful turbine ricocheted around the salt lake of Bonneville. A few moments later, the world speed record had been broken. The Renault Etoile Filante had reached 308.9kph (192mph) over a kilometre (0.6 miles), and 308.85kph (192mph) over 5 km (3.1 miles), a record that still holds today. Despite its virtues, turbine technology proved ill-adapted to automotive applications, and neither Renault nor any other carmaker would take the concept any further. Even so, the Etoile Filante stands as an epoch-marking machine, in a class of its own.
Renault Etoile Filante and Dauphine at Bonneville – Photo Gallery