Louis Renault built his first car in 1897. It featured a major innovation that became the basis of Renault's fortune - the first 'direct drive' gearbox. Renault believed that demonstrating his car's performance would increase sales. On Christmas Eve in 1898, he bet that he could drive his machine up the steep grade of the Rue Lepic in Montmartre. He won the bet and landed 12 orders. If a solo climb up a steep Paris street could get his business started, racing victories would ensure its future. By 1902, Renault cars had won several city-to-city races, and Renault became a major manufacturer. From 1946 to 1961, Renault manufactured the diminutive rear-engined 4CV, and the racing versions took many class wins. Another small car that made a big hit was the Renault 5, produced from 1972 to 1984. With 180 to 350 horsepower, the mid-engine R5 Turbo rally version was an impressive performer. Renault has become a major force in rallying, road racing, and Formula One, introducing turbocharged F1 engines in 1977, and building normally aspirated engines for the Williams F1 team in the 1990s. Renault Sport has produced performance variants, including the outrageous 150-mph Sport Clio V6 - a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive version with a Renault 3-liter V6 behind the front seats.

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