Serious automobile road racing started in France with major races throughout the country, usually long distances, such as the 1905 Paris-Madrid. They held the first race ever called a Grand Prix, in the Sarthe just outside of Le Mans. A fiercely powerful Renault won that contest in grand form, and this attracted international attention. About that time, millionaire William K. Vanderbilt was deciding to start the sport of racing in America, and he implored Renault to sell him such a car. Considering the expenses of producing even a slightly scaled-down version, Renault insisted that they made 10 cars, and it was up to Mr. Vanderbilt to find buyers for the rest. This he handily did, calling upon his friends, the likes of Guggenheim, Paine, Whitney, Dodge, etc. All 10 (possibly 11) found a home and through the years they became scattered among subsequent owners so that to this day only four and perhaps a fifth have survived.
During their early racing career, these cars had many successes, including winning one of the first 24-hour American endurance races held at Morris Park, New York, a horse racetrack converted for this contest. Subsequent great performances at other tracks ensure the lasting history of these great cars. Ultimately, about half have disappeared, and the others found their way into museums or great collections. Our car has an interesting post-racing history.
Before World War II, there was little interest in collecting antique cars, and more so antique race cars. Antique race cars often went to the junkyard when their competition life expired because they had no practical use otherwise. They saved our car because they used it to carry a large wet canvas around a dusty dirt horse racing track prior to a race, a convenient if not an attractive pre-race event.
In the 1920s, the team of George Waterman and Kirk Gibson collected old cars, and they could find, in addition, a few serious race cars saved from demolition by these stalwart enthusiasts. The Waterman-Gibson duo easily accumulated a group of pre-1910 automobiles, but they seemed to cherish the few race cars that were available even in those early days. Kirk Gibson acquired this car in 1928 and remained in his family ever since!
In the 1930s, five stalwart enthusiasts brought their cars out on the rare occasions where there could be a general interest. These cars included the famous Mercer Raceabout of Cameron Bradley, the Stutz Bearcat of automotive curator at the Smithsonian Institute Smith Hempstone Oliver, the great Bruce-Brown giant Fiat racecar, the famous Vanderbilt cup winning Locomobile “Old 16” now enshrined in the Henry Ford Museum and our Kirk Gibson 1907 Renault racing roadster. A few photographs and videos of the boys proudly showing these cars together in the 1930s survive.
The car passed on from Kirk Gibson Senior to Kirk Gibson Junior who cherished it until he made its permanent home at our Museum. We are proud to display the Renault amongst cars of similar history and vintage and are grateful to the Gibson family for their donation of this historic automobile.