THE EXTRAORDINARY COMEBACK OF THE RENAULT-RIFFARD TANK

RENAULT-RIFFARD TANK

5 DECEMBER 2019

THE EXTRAORDINARY COMEBACK OF THE RENAULT-RIFFARD TANK

Goodwood Festival of Speed, July 2019: fans applaud as the Renault-Riffard tank races past them, Michel Leclère at the wheel. Few people are familiar with this model, and even fewer know that collector Philippe Rucheton had rescued it from the scrapheap 50 years earlier, and that only recently it had been a static display piece at the Briard Museum.

 

The car’s chequered history entered a new chapter at the beginning of 2018, when Renault Classic snapped it up at the Artcurial auction held at the Rétromobile Show. At the time, it was in no fit state to drive: the engine block was cracked, the radiator leaked, and the severely damaged body had been fitted with 2CV rear wings that obstructed the front wheels!

5 DECEMBER 2019

THE EXTRAORDINARY COMEBACK OF THE RENAULT-RIFFARD TANK

The task of restoring this fabulous machine to its former glory fell to François Chiron of the Renault Classic team. He spent a full six months preparing it for that first race at Goodwood and subsequent appearances at the Mornay Festival (with Chiron himself as driver), as well as the Epoqu'Auto show in November 2019. At the three-day show, the visiting public were left open-mouthed when they saw what was previously thought to have been an ‘extinct’ Renault model, and whose history was unknown to them.

 

The backstory of the Renault-Riffard Tank is a long and complicated one. The car was created as Guépard (French for cheetah) in the 1950s. It had a tubular chassis, a prepared 4CV engine (1063 engine, AAC Ferry no. 6, twin Weber 32 carburettors, and lighter weight and more balanced mobile equipment), together with a Claude gearbox (5 gears in 4CV housing). Its rear axle was borrowed from Renault Juvaquatre, and its “wireframe” front axle was taken from the first generation 4CV, with a 1063 steering rack covered by elegant bodywork that was right on trend with the prevailing fashion.

RENAULT-RIFFARD TANK close-up
RENAULT-RIFFARD TANK close-up of steering wheel

5 DECEMBER 2019

THE EXTRAORDINARY COMEBACK OF THE RENAULT-RIFFARD TANK

The Guépard was driven by Paul Bobet in the 1954 Bol d’Or, but following a crash Bobet turned to renowned engineer Marcel Riffard to help remodel the bodywork with a view to taking on the world speed record for 750cc models.

 

Riffard was born in Argentina, but it was in France that he made his name as a pioneer in aviation technology, gaining skills and knowledge that he later transferred to the building of cars. Riffard was working for the aircraft manufacturer Caudron when Renault bought out the company, and the mathematician and aerodynamics expert was included as part of the deal. Caudron-Renault prototypes came hard and fast under Riffard’s leadership, and soon he was using his talent to create the bodywork for a specially-designed Nervasport. The car headed for the Montlhéry circuit, where it beat three world records across all categories and nine international records in the 3- to 5-litre category.

5 DECEMBER 2019

THE EXTRAORDINARY COMEBACK OF THE RENAULT-RIFFARD TANK

Riffard’s influence was soon felt on the production line, too, where the cars’ profiles started to soften and become sleeker. In 1956, Riffard enlisted coachbuilder Heuliez de Cerizay to build the aluminium wing-shaped body characteristic of the tank today, which was directly inspired by the aviation industry. To that body and the Renault 4CV engine and rolling elements, he added a five-speed “Claude”-type gearbox and a Renault Juvaquatre rear axle. The Renault-Riffard Tank was born.

 

Under its new guise, the Renault-Riffard competed at Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry several times in 1956 before being taken on by the Agaci driving school following another crash. Here it was unused and almost scrapped in 1968 before being rescued by Philippe Rucheton who, unable to fit into the car’s small cockpit, sold it to Mr Leymet. Leymet in turn sold it to the Briard Museum a few years later, before Renault Classic acquired and fully restored the car.

RENAULT-RIFFARD TANK front end

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