The Renault Type AG (Renault Taxi de la Marne)

The First World War did more than anything else to convince the “poor bloody infantryman” that the motor car was a good thing.

Within a month of the start of the war the German army was in sight of the Eiffel Tower, but 600 Paris 1905 Renault AG taxis were requisitioned to take half a division of infantry overnight to the front, and the Germans were repelled during the First Battle of the Marne. And so the car was known thenceforth as the “Renault Taxi de la Marne”.

The Renault Type AG was a four-wheeled car with an 1200 cc twin-cylinder engine of just 8 horsepower (hp).

The engine was mounted at the front under a curved “coal scuttle” bonnet (or hood) and drove the rear wheels. The top speed was only around 25 mph, or 40 km/h (source:

From 1912, the G 3 version of the Renault Type AG was made for the taxi company Compagnie Générale des Voitures à Paris, with left-hand drive.

Up until then many cars on the Continent were fitted with right-hand drive, in fact in Italy cars drove on both the left and right sides of Italian roads until Mussolini made them see sense! Most racing circuits ran clockwise, thus favouring a right-hand driver.

The taxis were fitted with a landaulet body, which meant that the passengers were fully protected by glazed doors and a convertible fabric roof. There was a glazed division between them and the driver, who had no proper weather protection and no windscreen. The whole thing weighed about 1100 kgs, and cost 5700 French Francs, or around $50,000 today.

The Renault company was one of the first names in the motor industry. The brothers Marcel Renault and Louis Renault were some of the the most famous men in international racing, but during the 1903 Paris to Madrid race, Marcel was killed.

Due to some wild driving, Marcel Renault, who had started in 60th position, had nearly reached the front of the pack. He then had a huge accident at Couhé Vérac and died two days later, never regaining consciousness:

“Between Couhé-Vérac and Ruffec N.10 is a fast road, but it is a treacherous road for all that, with a gentle left-hand bend beyond Chaunay and a similar bend to the right in the Forêt de Ruffec. But Marcel Renault was going great guns along it in 1903, and having started Number 63, was overhauling Théry, one of his most formidable opponents in the light-car class, who had started fourth on his 30-h.p.

Decauville. Renault, the winner of Paris – Vienna the year before, and no novice at the game, decided that he could get by, his car lurched into the drain at the side of the road, swung round twice and overturned on top of the unfortunate driver, who died shortly afterwards. All unconscious of the tragedy, his brother Louis was still fleeting onwards to Bordeaux.” (source: Motor Sport, June 1903)

Louis Renault was tough, and even though his brother had been killed he oversaw the production of the Renault AG just two years later.

He introduced mass-production texhniques. Until then cars were luxury items and the price of the smallest Renault at the time was 3000 francs (₣3000); equivalent to ten years pay for an average worker.

Due to economies of scale the Renault became affordable and soon was the best-selling foreign brand in New York in 1907 and 1908.

The Battle of the Marne: How Soldiers Took Taxis to the Front Line

So how did the little Renault taxicab go to war?

On September 6, 1914 General Gallieni commandeered six hundred taxicabs at Les Invalides in the centre of Paris to carry soldiers to the front at Nanteuil le Haudouin, over thirty miles away. Each taxi carried five soldiers, four in the back and one next to the driver.

Only the rear lights of the taxis were lit, and the following drivers were ordered to follow the lights of the taxi ahead. The taxis, following city regulations, ran their meters! And in the end the French government paid the total fare of 70,000 francs. (source: wikipedia)

The unexpected arrival of three thousand soldiers by taxi was claimed to have been crucial in stopping the German advance.

It was the first occasion when motor transport was used in war to move large numbers of infantry forward to the lines of battle. However, like many stories of this kind it was somewhat exaggerated. General Gallieni recorded in his memoirs that the taxis were late, and the attack had already been repulsed.

The little taxi that went to war had a hugely beneficial effect on French morale. The Renault AG taxi was seen as the nation’s saviour, and to this day a Marne taxicab is displayed in the exhibit on the battle at the Musee de L’Armee at Les Invalides in Paris.

A red and yellow Renault taxi displayed in a museum.
Renault AX with the famous “coal scuttle” shaped bonnet

Renault taxis in Singapore

Renault taxis can still be seen working today, not in Paris but in Singapore. These are Renault Latitude models, an executive car made by Renault Samsung Motors (source: wikipedia)

Where Can I Find a Renault AG Taxi for Sale?

Specialised auctions are the best place to find a rare Edwardian car of this kind. Bonhams sold a very similar car for £89,500 (US$ 119,874) inc. premium on 4 Nov 2011 in London. But it might be cheaper just to pay the fare. (source: Bonhams).

Did you know…

..that Rolls-Royce once made engines for Renault? In 1914 Rolls-Royce had a large modern factory in Derby, crucial for the war effort.

The British government, desperate for proven aero engines for new biplanes persuaded the company to tender for the manufacture of fifty aero engines to an air-cooled V8 Renault design, and eventually Rolls-Royce received and fulfilled orders for 220 Renault 80 hp engines at between £400 and £426 each (£40,000 each today).

Renault’s sales success with the AG taxis helped them to expand into aero-engine manufacture. But who would ever have thought that Rolls-Royce once made engines for Renault?!

In fact Henry Royce was not impressed by the Renault V8 engine design. It had eight cast-iron air-cooled cylinders in two lines of four cooled by a centrifugal fan attached to the tail-end of the crankshaft.

This fan just wasn’t enough and the engines had to be run on a deliberately over-rich fuel mixture. The fuel was actually cooling the insides of the cylinders!

If the mixture was too lean the engine could be seen glowing red hot. Cracked cylinders, burnt exhaust valves and seized engines soon followed.

The Royal Aircraft Factory, a government-funded research establishment tried to solve this by developing aluminium air-cooled cylinders, and this idea was used much later by the Porsche 911 air-cooled cars.

The Royal Aircraft Factory engineers had to solve problem after problem on the Renault V8: the next one was thermal expansion.

The tops of the cylinders were much hotter than the bottoms and so the metal would expand more at the top than the bottom. The result was conical bores; very confusing to a piston travelling up and down!

The solution was large fins at the top graduating to little fins at the bottom as you can confirm if you look at a motorbike engine in the car park (source: Merlin).

The Renault engine contract led Rolls-Royce into making their own aero-engines such as the immortal Merlin, and they now make the best aero-engines in the world. And partly thanks to the little Renault Taxi that went to War.