Speed Legends – The Nervasport des Records

For Renault, the launch of the Nervasport was a strategic commercial offensive. Lauded for its comfort, road-holding, safety and relatively affordable price, the car was a true replica of models coming from the United States.
The press praised its attributes during long-distance testing but Louis Renault wanted more. He commissioned Auguste Riolfo, head of testing, to design a car that could attack records on the circuit at Montlhéry. The aim was to associate the Nervasport name with extreme power and aerodynamics.
Riolfo’s team kept the original chassis and 8-cylinder, 4.8 litre engine. The body, on the other hand, came in for a lot of attention. In order to preserve the project’s confidentiality, there was no question of calling in an outside contractor. It was Marcel Riffard, an engineer and designer of Caudron-Renault aeroplanes, who was given the job of designing the ideal shape. Supported by a wooden frame, the skin, made of hammered sheet metal, clearly showed its links with aviation.
On Tuesday, 3 April 1934, the Nervasport set off at the Montlhéry track at 3:37 in the afternoon. Its objective: to travel 6,300 km in forty-eight hours. The team was made up of four technicians from la Régie, selected for their qualities as drivers: Roger Quatresous, Léo Fromentin, André Wagner and Georges Berthelon.
Although each one of them was completely focused on his task, a certain numbness crept in after a few hours. The team followed the timetable to the letter, changing drivers every three hours and refuelling taking thirty-five seconds – i.e. fifteen less than in the days of the 40 CV – and laps completed in forty-eight seconds.
A little more than three hours in, it was everyone to action stations: the water temperature was climbing alarmingly. The mechanics detected a crack in the bottom of the radiator. Although the radiator was topped up regularly, the leak got worse and the number of stops made affected the average speed.
To carry out repairs, all there was were the parts and tools in the vehicle’s spares kit. Someone then had a great idea – to fill the original fuel tank, not used in the record attempts, with water and to connect the electric fuel pump to the cooling circuit to compensate for the leak. Using a length of hose and a copper pipe, some wire and Chatterton tape, the mechanical geniuses were able to get the Nervasport to complete its forty-eight-hour journey in triumph.
All objectives were ultimately met, with 8,037 km on the clock, achieved at an average of 167 kph. With three all-category world records and nine new international records in the three to five litre class, Louis Renault had solid arguments to support his communication campaigns!
However, a month later, the Nervasport’s achievement was eclipsed by a Delahaye. Devastated, the team decided to attempt records over seventy-two hours. In less than two months, Auguste Riolfo’s men developed a new car, based on the Vivasport chassis. Marcel Riffard also reviewed the way it was copied, so as to refine the bodywork lines and improve aerodynamic performance.

On 11 August, Renault was back at Montlhéry. At a cruising speed of 180 kph, Roger Quatresous and Léo Fromentin drove the first shifts. In the middle of the night, it was Georges Berthelon’s turn to take the wheel. Laps continued to be reeled off until half past three, when an explosion was heard on the track. When help arrived, it was already too late for the driver, who had been thrown clear when the accident occurred. The car burnt up and was completely destroyed.
That tragic episode was a hard blow for Renault and the automotive industry in general. It was no surprise that management decided to suspend the programme. It would be another twenty years before another record-breaking Renault took to the track at Montlhéry. And that car was the Étoile Filante.
In 2014, Renault decides to restore life in Nervasport of the records.
Renault Classic is going to achieve this mission by means of the Renault Design Division and the various subcontractors. Their coordinated actions are going to allow this extraordinary project to take life and to run on the race track of the autodrome of Linas-Montlhéry on May 20th, 2016, about 80 years after the records beaten in 1934.