Renault Crated or not

Earl Chapman

Jan 2, 2005
A good friend of mine is a member of The Horseless Carriage Club of America, a worldwide organization dedicated to pre-1916 "Brass era" vehicles. I've always been unsure as to whether or not Carter's Renault was crated. The Titanic's cargo manifest reads "W.E. Carter, 1 case auto" which indicates that the car was shipped as cargo, rather than baggage. The manifest also "suggests" that the vehicle was crated, i.e. 1 case auto. I asked my friend if he could clarify how vehicles were shipped by boat about this time. Here is his response:


On the Renault limo, it was traditional for new cars to be shipped to
dealers totally knocked down and crated. If this were a new vehicle, it
surely would have been shipped this way. However, vehicles which had been
in use were never to my knowledge disassembled and crated for shipment,
either by rail or by ship. The typical means of preparation for shipment
was to remove the wheels (since the wood spoke wheels could not take a lot
of shock side loads and the early fabric reinforced tires were always a
problem) and place the axles on supports on a wood platform. This also
facilitated loading and unloading on a ship which was typically done using
a crane and sling. The platforms had attachment points for the sling.
Also, at this time longshoremen were not used to handling wheeled vehicles
and only dealt with crates and palletized large items such as carriages,
railway cars and the like.

Thus, as I told you, the on-board scene in the movie was not likely correct
since it appeared that the vehicle was sitting on it's wheels. However, it
would have been theoretically possible to have entered the vehicle for the
tryst as it was depicted. The movie scene was apparently done in the
baggage rather than the cargo section of the ship. Passengers generally
had access (though only with supervision) to the baggage areas, but almost
never to the cargo areas which were generally sealed. Were a Renault
crated, as a new vehicle would have been, it would be cargo. A clue here
would be whether the Renault appeared on the baggage or cargo manifest,
assuming that these were separate. Of course if it were a new Renault,
then the dockside scenes in the movie would have been incorrect. Another
scenario would be that the owners had a Renault limo in Europe and ordered
an identical or similar car to be delivered in the US. In that case, it
surely would have been crated for shipment. The fact that the Renault
apparently delivered the passengers to the ship places the vehicle on the
quay shortly before sailing suggests that this may well have been the case.
It is unlikely, but possible, that the vehicle could have been prepared
for shipment by palletizing it in time for loading after discharging its
passengers on the quay since this could have been done in a few hours.
However, it would have been totally impossible to knock down a vehicle so
complex as a Renault limo and get it crated in time. This would have taken
several days.

Still another very likely scenario would be that the vehicle delivering
passengers on the quay was provided by the local dealer, having sold them a
similar vehicle for delivery in New York. That was often done by the very
rich in that time period. Prior to the first World War, European
automotive design, particularly in the area of large and expensive cars,
was way ahead of the US. Thus it was fairly typical for the very rich to
import limos and other prestigious vehicles and the European dealers often
made demo units (always with chauffeurs) available to customers of these
high priced machines while in Europe.

While I have no idea if such information exists for Renault vehicles, we
have historians in the US who have fairly good factory records for vehicles
built in the early years, particularly for the expensive, low volume
vehicles. It's definitely possible that these records exist for Renaults
in that time period. That might shed some light on the subject if one were
to really dig.

Whichever of these options really occurred, the movie scriptwriters
obviously took some liberties. The minimum would be that the vehicle was
on a pallet, not it's wheels, in the baggage room. The maximum would be
that it was a second new vehicle, knocked down and crated, in the cargo
hold in which case the tryst scene would have been totally incorrect.

My friend also knows the person who supplied the car to James Cameron for his movie, Titanic and is going to put me in contact with him. He may have picked up some tidbits in the process of doing the shooting. He (and an accomplice) drove the car in the movie scenes so he was there with the filming crew.

Earl Chapman
Montreal, Canada
Jan 29, 2001
Hello Mr. Chapman,

BTW...the gentleman who supplied the Reanult prop for Cameron's epic film..."TITANIC", hails from Sparks, NV, a quaint 30 mile by automobile from my hometown, Carson City, NV. As an aside, a female member of the special effect team is also orignally from Reno,
NV...sotr of the parent city of Sparks...:)

There was a joke of old which went..."Reno is so close to H__L that you can see Sparks!".

Michael Cundiff
Carson City, NV

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