On this day in auto history - October 24th

Sun 24th Oct 2021

It was on this day in 1944 that famed French industrialist Louis Renault - one of the most controversial figures in motoring history - died at the age of 67 whilst awaiting trial for Nazi collaboration in France.

Born into a wealthy Parisian family, the enigmatic but supremely-gifted Renault - dubbed France’s answer to Henry Ford - is viewed by historians as one of the prime pioneers of the automobile industry, having founded the company which bears his name along with older brothers Marcel and Fernand in 1899.

Following the premature deaths of his two brothers, Louis took full control of Renault in 1909 and led it to become one of the world’s largest vehicle manufacturers en route to receiving a prestigious Legion of Honour for his massive contribution to France’s war effort during World War I.

However, World War II was a completely different story.

When his homeland was occupied by Nazis forces, Renault was coerced into building some 30,000 vehicles for the German armed forces rather than hand his business over and see his 40,000-strong workforce forcibly relocated to Germany.

Famously claiming he was ‘giving the Germans butter so they wouldn’t take the cows’, Renault always claimed that his actions were justified. However, he was viewed by many in his homeland as a traitor and was duly arrested following French liberation in response to an intense left-wing media campaign.

Having died just four weeks after his incarceration amid rumours of torture and murder, Renault was tragically never given the opportunity to plead his innocence at a trial and thus his legacy continues to divide opinion some 70 years on.