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SNAPSHOT 270: 1923 Renault 13.9 HP Type MH six-wheeler

The challenge to be met by France in the early 1920s was to link up two important elements of its empire: Algeria and French West Africa.  Between them lay the impenetrable Sahara desert; no railway had yet crossed it, and no one knew whether a car or truck could do this.

The first crossing of the Sahara by motor vehicle was achieved between 17 December 1922 and 7 January 1923, with five Citroën half-tracks.  In 1923, Renault took a different approach with their MH vehicle: multiple wheels to spread the load and operate successfully in rough and sandy terrain.  Although referred to in the literature as ‘Six-Roues’, they had twelve: each of the six wheels was twinned.

The MH was based on an extended 13.9 HP commercial vehicle chassis and used the 75 x 120mm side-valve four-cylinder 2,120cc engine from the 10 HP Renault.  The three-speed gearbox was linked to an additional one with two speeds, giving six forward ratios. The engine drove the first rear axle and, through a cardan shaft, the second.  All rear wheels were braked.  The vehicle was enormous but relatively light at 1,340kg.  With a power output of about 35bhp it could reach a top speed of 30mph.

But speed was not its forte; crossing the Sahara was.  At the end of 1923 a team of these vehicles made their first expedition – from Touggourt in Algeria to Tozeur in Tunisia, in two days. In January 1924 they crossed the Sahara from Gradis (again in Algeria) to Estienne in Niger.

More was to come. On 15 November 1924 M. and Mme Delingette and their mechanic Bonnaure set out to cross Africa from Colomb-Béchar in southern Algeria to Cape Town.  They arrived in South Africa on 3 July 1925, having crossed 35 rivers and built or rebuilt 129 bridges.

Almost all the known images of the six-wheeler show it fully equipped for such feats of endurance, with truck-like bodies, roofs and side-screens to keep out the sand, and front-mounted winches.  But our Snapshot shows a far more elegant construction, probably for initial publicity purposes.  No matter: these machines were tough – and they proved it.

Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive

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