Records, the saying goes, are made to be broken. Certainly, records are useful goalposts in life. Guiding stars, if you will.
In early automotive history, France was a leader. They hosted the first auto race, in 1895. They had some of the best automotive engineers, like André Lefèbvre and Ettore Bugatti. And they had a booming automotive industry, with the likes of Citroën, Delage, Hotchkiss, Peugeot, Delahaye, Talbot-Lago, and others.
But even with the innovative Citroën 2CV for everyman and the Facel Vega for elites, France's early success in the auto industry was beginning to wane.
So with the early development of the Rover JET1, Socema-Gregoire, and Fiat Turbina in the late 1940s and early 50s, the boss of small French jet turbine company Turboméca approached Renault with an idea.
Let's put a powerful jet turbine engine in a car, Joseph Szydlowski thought, and set some world speed records.
With experienced engineers heading the program, the Étoile Filante—Shooting Star—was conceived and tested over a period of two years.
At its heart was a Turboméca turbine engine, making 270 horsepower at a fantastic 28,000 rpm, which was mated to a semi-automatic 'Transfluide' transmission. Built around the drivetrain was a tubular chassis with inboard disc brakes and a stunning polyester-fiberglass body.
To put that into perspective, the Formula 1 World Championship-winning car in 1956 was the Lancia D50—285 horsepower and a top speed of around 180 mph…given enough space.
In other words, Renault's machine was cutting edge.
On September 5, 1956, Jean Hebert set the world record for turbine-powered vehicles at 308.9 km/h (191.94 mph).
After his run? The turbine "burnt up." The car was dismantled and stored. It was neglected until recently, when Renault decided to restore it to its original condition.
As fast and innovative as the Étoile Filante was, it wasn't the last attempt at a car driven by a turbine.
But that's a story for another day.