In September 1956, the streamlined Renault Etoile Filante set four world speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats, two of which still stand.
Earlier this month, the Etoile Filante (Shooting Star in French) was back on the alkaline surface in Utah, and along with it the French automaker sent a Renault Dauphine, a car celebrating the 60th anniversary of its first sale in the American automotive marketplace.
A half-century ago, the French streamliner reached 308.9 kph (192 mph) in a project to show how the Renault engineering team was applying aircraft technologies to automotive design after World War II.
When war ended, Joseph Szidlowski, head of Turboméca, which produced turbine engines, started producing smaller versions for smaller applications, including the Alouette helicopter. To promote his engines, he approached Renault about using his turbines to power cars. Renault chief Pierre Lefaucheux assigned three engineers — Fernand Picard, Albert Lory and Jean Hebert to create an experimental vehicle, Etoile Filante.
With its turbine engine producing 270 horsepower in a tubular frame vehicle wearing an aerodynamic polyester body, the car broke records in its class at Bonneville, hitting 308.9 kph (192 mph) in the kilometer and 308.85 kph over a distance of 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). The later record still stands.
Despite the records, Renault opted not to pursue turbines to propel its vehicles.
“Even so,” Renault said in its news release about the car’s reunion with Bonneville, “the Étoile Filante stands as an epoch-marking machine, in a class of its own.
Joining in the reunion was a Renault Dauphine prepared by Renault Classic and driven by Nicolas Prost to a class speed record of 76.541 mph. The record was for a Classic Gas coupe produced between 1928 and 1981 with an engine displacement between 754cc and 1,015cc.