The Car That Is On The TITANIC (A 1912 Renault Coupe DeVille)
I'll confess right now that I'm a "rivet counter," a person with a deep interest in Titanic and all about her. I've been to four Titanic exhibits in two different cities, built models of her appearance in both 1912 and 1986, I've written Dr. Robert Ballard (He actually wrote back twice), and I've seen the movie way too many times.
This weekend, of course, is the 100-year mark of her sinking. She hit the iceberg at 11:40 PM local time on April 14th, and sank at 2:20 AM on the 15th. As a stroke of luck, I should be in New York City right about now (April 14 & 15, 2012), and hopefully will see some notable events in the city of her destination, as well as tour some little auto show that's in town.
Not much is left of the pier where she would have docked; the White Star Line was absorbed by rival Cunard, and by 1950 had disappeared. But the interest in Titanic lives on in books, displays, documentaries, a play, and of course in movies.
There was just one car loaded on the ship, deep in her bowels. The car is, according to Hemmings, a 1912 Renault Coupe DeVille, and was owned by William E. Carter, who survived the sinking. I had read long ago that it was actually a 1911 model, but I will not argue with the research that was done here. This Discovery Channel special (at 1:58) illustrates the location of the car in Titanic's First Class cargo hold.
There exists only one known exact copy of the Titanic's car(go), and apparently it's for sale. And rather than just poorly rewrite its description and history, I'll cut and paste the Hemmings description:
"Twin to the vehicle lost aboard the H.M.S. Titanic and made famous in the 1997 James Cameron film of the same name. Restored in 2004 using Lloyds of London records of the original Titanic Renault. Multiple show winner, including Pebble Beach and Amelia Island Concours D’Elegance."
"Purchased from the Barney Pollard estate in 1980 by Arthur Doering, who immediately commenced a full restoration. When it was complete, it won its First Senior and Preservation Status, and received AACA’s S.F. Edge Trophy, which recognizes the year’s most outstanding restoration of a foreign-made automobile entered in a national meet. It also won a Golden Award of Excellence from the Veteran Motor Car Club of America, and the Ed Heltemes Memorial Trophy for the best restored foreign car. Subsequent to that, it was a regular on the concours circuit, where it ultimately earned a First in Class at Meadowbrook Hall."
"In 2000, Mr. Doering sold the car. With the initial restoration some 20 years old, this new owner undertook another frame-off restoration. Inspired by the James Cameron film, “Titanic,” and the famous scene in which the two main characters use the back seat of a Renault Town Car for a private moment, he contacted 20th Century Fox to get more information. In the course of their research for the movie, it turns out that there was, indeed, a 1912 Renault Coupe DeVille owned by William Carter aboard the Titanic when she sank. Insurance records provided by Lloyds of London not only offered proof that this car was a twin to the Titanic Renault, but also detailed specifications that could be followed like a road map during the restoration."
"Armed with the insurance information and 21st century restoration techniques, the Renault was re-restored to its current spectacular condition by 3R Restoration in Denver, Colorado. Now a deep, rich red, it is an exact duplicate of the car currently sitting on the bottom of the Atlantic. Gold and black accents were added throughout, with an abundance of pinstriping to accent all the gorgeous curves and add to its incredibly ornate, Edwardian appearance."
"Upon completion of this second restoration, it was invited to the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it easily completed the 50-mile tour and received a great deal of attention from crowds and media alike thanks to its Titanic connection. It was invited to the 2005 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, where it also completed a 50-mile tour and was judged Best Presentation of Fashion and the Automobile. In September 2007, it was awarded Best in Class at the inaugural Rocky Mountain Concours at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs."
"Today, the Renault remains in true #1 condition throughout, and is absolutely breathtaking in person. The paint is so lustrous and deep that you are tempted to dip your fingers in it as if it were still liquid."
"The front seat is upholstered in rough-grained black leather as was customary with open-front town cars, given their minimal weather protection for the driver. But just because it was for the hired help, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t beautifully finished."
"In back, you’ll find the most luxurious and opulent interior that Renault designers could muster in 1912. Again using the Lloyds of London claim as a blueprint, original-style floral fabrics and wool broadcloths were secured and stitched into the original patterns. As with the exterior of the car, the interior is virtually without flaws and shows no signs of wear."
"Powering this elegant palace on wheels is a 2.6-liter T-head inline 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 12 French horsepower. In reality, it is probably closer to 40 or 50 contemporary horsepower, and is sufficient to allow this car to cruise at a comfortable 35 MPH in top gear. The engine was, of course, fully rebuilt at the time of restoration and runs beautifully today. This car also has the added benefit of an electric self-starter, which is integrated with the generator, and the large Besnard headlights and single taillight are electric."
"The chassis is as beautifully finished as the body, and features a great deal of gloss black paint and ornate pinstriping. And as with the details on the body, you will be able to spend many hours admiring the mechanical components of this car, both for their engineering curiosity and for the quality of the workmanship, with cast aluminum and brass fittings throughout. The wooden wheels have been fully restored, and carry white 815x105mm Excelsior tires."
"Beautiful, interesting, and historically significant, this Renault Type CB can anchor the most elegant collections and is welcome at virtually any event or concours in the world. There are no records of how many Coupes DeVille were built in 1912, but other than this example, I know of only one other—and you’ll have to dive through a mile of frigid salt water to retrieve it. This is an incredible opportunity to own a spectacular brass car with a fascinating history behind it."
So that's probably the best description we'll ever have of the actual car that is on the Titanic.
2003's "Ghosts of the Abyss" suggests that damage done to the car during Titanic's tilting and sinking, the ship's impact with the ocean floor, and many years of underwater decay have probably reduced it to a pile of barely recognizeable debris. There's a riveting account where they think they see one of its fenders.
Even though the car's sheet metal will corrode, its rubber and brass and glass parts should last for quite some time to come. But will they last as long as the legend of The Great Ship will go on (and on)? Probably not.
So if you have an extra quarter mil lying around in a steamer trunk, why not give these folks a call? Who knows... in another hundred years, it might really be worth something!
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Image Credits: The black & white Titanic photograph is from TitanicUniverse.com. The "Titanic" movie car image was found at IMCDB.org. The last four images came from Hemmings.com/Index.php/Tag/Renault. There are many more great photographs of this car here. And National Geographic has recently presented the most amazing images (some interactive) ever produced of today's Titanic.