The post-war period saw the boom of the aerospace industry. In France, a handful of engineers decided to apply aeronautic technologies to cars. The result was the Étoile Filante (shooting star). A meteoric success!
An engineer’s dream
The Étoile Filante was the brainchild of Joseph Szydlowski, the boss of Turboméca, a turbine engine company. In 1945, Turboméca started producing small-scale models of these powerful reactors in order to equip, for example, the renowned Alouette helicopters. Szydlowski was convinced that this technology could be used by the general public, and contacted Renault to discuss an application for the automotive industry. No sooner said than done! At the time, Renault was looking around for new engine technologies and it liked the idea of setting a new world speed record.
Renault President Pierre Lefaucheux called in 3 experienced engineers to develop a trial vehicle: Fernand Picard, design manager, Albert Lory, a talented engine specialist, and Jean Hébert, an engineer and pilot. The trio created an exceptional vehicle, built around a powerful turbine developing 270 hp at 28,000 rpm. With its tubular polyester-clad structure and aircraft-style stabilizers, the Etoile Filante was almost 5 meters long!
Conquering the USA!
As curious as he was courageous, Jean Hébert volunteered to drive the trial vehicle. A number of successful tunnel tests were carried out between 1954 and 1956. The 1st open-air test was organized on September 5, 1956 near the Bonneville salt flats in the US. The Étoile Filante reached a top speed of 308.85 kph, setting a new world record that still stands.
Covered by journalists from around the world, and particularly in the US, the exploit boosted Renault’s reputation in this country. The Dauphine, launched for export at the same time, would benefit indirectly from this success.
The most accomplished model in its category
After this magnificent record, the Étoile Filante quickly burnt out. Its bold futuristic design could have appealed to customers of the time, but the turbine was not geared to the needs and constraints of a passenger car. A number of manufacturers were initially interested in this technology but rapidly shelved their projects. All that remains today is a magnificent machine built to break records, the most accomplished model in its category.