I was 14 years old when I went to the first Festival of Speed in 1993. And this weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the largest motoring garden party in the world. It feels like just the blink of an eye has passed.
Petrolheads from all over the world will converge in West Sussex at Goodwood House along with almost every major carmaker, historic racecars, bikes and legendary drivers alike to celebrate the occasion.
Last year Renault made a substantial appearance, and this time its pioneering spirit will again be showcased with many landmark vehicles from its 115-year sporting history on display.
There will be all sorts of models either blasting their way up the hill or soaking up the sun at the Concours d’Elegance. The highlights will include the 2013 Red Bull RB9 Renault RS27 Formula 1 car developing more than 750bhp. It’ll be one of the main attractions, as will the 1984 R5 Maxi Turbo featuring those iconic swollen wheel arches and a turbocharged 1.4-litre with 162bhp. The 1981 Monte Carlo rally winner will surely excite the crowd, along with the 1978 RS01 — the first turbo Formula 1 car — the stunning 1977 Group 5 Alpine A310 rally car, a 1902 Renault Type K — one of the world’s earliest racing cars — and last but certainly not least, the extraordinary 1926 Renault Type NM 40CV.
This beast of a machine made a name for itself back in the Twenties when carmakers were doing whatever they could to set new land speed records. And thanks to the construction of many speed rings such as the Montlhéry near Paris, the race to be the fastest was certainly encouraged.
In those days Renault was amongst the front-runners in this ongoing sprint and it relied heavily on the 40CV. With a long, deep bonnet that occupied almost half of its length, it was the brand’s flagship and boasted an enormous 9.0-litre straight six making 130bhp. The Open Tourer set a lap record of 178kph in 1925 and a world record with 3,384.74km covered in 24 hours at an average speed of 141kph — it would have been faster had it not taken so long to refuel.
Renault knew it could achieve faster times, and a year later it was back on the ring testing the Type NM 40CV. This model was far more streamlined than the Open Tourer and featured a specially prepared chassis, a narrow closed body and exposed wheels. The single-seater boasted a radiator positioned behind the engine — speaking of which, the six-pot was tuned to produce 140bhp.
Renault employed 14 pit crew members who received special training to be able to refuel and change the tyres of the car in less than 50 seconds. Renault wasn’t planning on just breaking speed records with this car — it wanted to obliterate them. And it did; the revamped 40CV smashed the 24-hour record by covering 4,167.57km at an average speed of 173kph. These were huge speeds for a production-based car of the day.
It wasn’t long before lighter, smaller racecars were eclipsing its record, but not many could match it for sheer presence. It had a top speed of 191kph, and though it won’t get anywhere near that figure as it meanders up the hill at Goodwood, just seeing this leviathan in action will be eye-poppingly exciting enough.