The Renault Etoile Filante has returned to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA where, six decades ago on 5th September 1956, it famously 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 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), proving that passion has no age.
The record-breaking Étoile Filante (meaning “shooting star” in French) is a prime 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, Turboméca’s boss Mr. De Szidlowski, a leading expert in turbine engines, started making small power units for applications such as the famous 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, exceptionally talented engine specialist Albert Lory, and engineer and test driver Jean Hébert. The outcome was the Étoile 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, USA. A few moments later, the world speed record had been broken. The Étoile 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 Étoile Filante stands as an epoch-marking machine, in a class of its own.
* Record established by Nicolas Prost in a Renault Dauphine. The Frenchman was officially clocked at 76.541mph on the morning of August 14, 2016, following technical scrutineering. The 956cc-engined car (N°9561) beat the existing CGC record (Classic Gas Coupé) for cars made between 1928 and 1981 and an engine capacity of between 754cc and 1,015cc.