The Renault That No One Knew

Automotive history is full of lost treasures. From the rediscovery of CSX2287 and its strange legacy to the seemingly endless number of barn finds that have cropped up in recent years, there is no shortage of great stories to be told. With that, this month we take a look at one of the earliest instances of a lost automotive treasure.

On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic. History remembers the 1,503 people who died in the tragedy—more than half of the 2,224 passengers aboard. But a story you may have never heard is the one surrounding the fate of the only car on board.

The Titanic’s  cargo manifest—having survived aboard the Cunard liner Mauritania—listed one automobile “case” onboard the fated ship.  The car in question: a 25-hp 1912 Renault Type CB Coupe de Ville owned by Titanic first-class passenger William Carter of Bryn Mawr, PA.

Purchased by Carter in France, the Renault featured a 2.6-liter “L-head” inline 4-cyl engine that afforded the car a cruising speed of 30-35 mph.  Unlike many of its contemporaries, the Renault featured a sleek, sloping nose with the radiator positioned behind the engine. Additionally, and unlike many cars of that era, the Renault featured a shaft drive (not a chain drive), which was helpful on the less than ideal roads of the day.

The Mystery Of The Deep

Carter, then 36, was traveling with his wife Lucile and children Lucile and William, as well as the couple’s maid, manservant and chauffeur from Southampton. The Renault itself was stored in the port side Orlop Deck storage area. The Carter family survived, but the car a total loss, having sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic along with rest of the ship’s cargo totaling some $420,000.  Carter later filed a claim against White Star Line for the value of the Renault ($5,000) with Lloyd’s of London.

It is through this claim that the identity of the vehicle was provided. No known photographs of Carter’s car exist. He died in 1940. In the years since the ship’s discovery at the bottom of the north Atlantic, several expeditions have attempted to locate the car. Though no conclusive findings have been made, one research team captured a photograph of what appeared to be the car’s left front wheel and fender. After more than 100 years on the ocean floor, however, it’s not likely much would remain of the car today.

That said, a nearly identical Renault was featured in James Cameron’s 1997 film, while another fully-restored example has been making the concours rounds for the last several decades.

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