I think the biggest thing that kept me from being a preteen girl in the late '90s, other than my age and gender, was an inability to sit through the movie Titanic without retching. Still, there's no denying the impact of the movie, or the pivotal role played by a certain windows-dripping-with-condensation 1912 Renault.
We all know the now-iconic boning-in-the-car scene, a rear seat romp foggy enough to allow both preteen girls and elderly lechers alike to enjoy it. But this weekend's 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic has us wondering — was the French car from that scene really on the Titanic? And could the scene truly have happened? Yes, and no.
Let's start with the first, and most basic, question: Were there cars on the Titanic? Yes. Although there's still some debate as to how many, noted Titanic expert Dr. Paul Lee, in his book "The Titanic and the Indifferent Stranger," provides cutaway images showing a location in the cargo hold specifically reserved for cars.
Unfortunately, because the actual cargo log book was lost with the ship we don't know precisely how many cars there were. But Gilbert Bureau of The Veteran Motor Car Club Of America claims that the Titanic likely carried about 30 cars, based on the math that there were about 125 first-class passenger "heads of families" and about 20 of them likely either were returning their personal cars home or had purchased new cars in Europe, with maybe a remaining five belonging to second-class passengers.
As far as what kind of cars — Bureau believes:
"They were evidently luxury automobiles. With all due respect, I cannot imagine a Ford T or a Brush Runabout in the flanks of the Titanic. The cars were mainly European and more specifically of French lineage; because in those days, European cars were very popular among the wealthy few in America."
But, because there's no photos of the cargo hold, we can't really be sure what cars were actually down there.
Except for one.
Although the cargo log may have been lost, the official cargo manifest does exist, and lists among its entries (which include such various sundries as a case of toothpaste, rolls of linoleum, and some bales of hay) "1 cs auto" belonging to "Carter, W.E.".
"Carter, W.E." refers to Titanic survivor William Earnest Carter, a wealthy Bryn Mawr, PA resident who had purchased a 1912 35 HP Renault Town Car, and was shipping it back home.
So, we know there definitely was a 1912 Renault on the Titanic, and, at least partially (and likely), looked like the one in the movie scene below.
But it's the first part of that entry that casts severe doubt over the possibility of the fictional coitus scene — the "cs." The notation means "case," implying the car was crated. And that brings up another question —buying a rolling chassis without coachwork having been provided was very common. But, likely, despite being crated, due to the claimed insurance value of the car ($5000), it suggests the car did have coachwork, and was not just a rolling chassis.
That said, we can't really be sure exactly what it looked like. Or how suitable it was for a nice, sweaty humping.
However, what's also not clear is if it was actually assembled, or just parted up inside of a big wood crate. In fact, even if it was assembled, it is highly unlikely it would have been stored on its wheels, which were wooden-spoked and not great with side loads, etc. More likely, it would have been palletized, with the axles resting on wooden blocks — as opposed to how it was shown in the movie — on a kind of "car sled." But if fully assembled and palletized, that doesn't rule out it's use for clandestine boning, so there's still a possibility there. But it would still likely be in a giant box made out of wood to protect it.
And since cinematically the scene would have suffered if a wooden crate was used, it makes sense why the car was shown as it was in the movie. The movie Renault was restored based on the Lloyds of London insurance claims, so there's a good chance the car actually did look like the car shown in the movie. And while real 1912 Renaults were used in the movie, the one from the famous scene was a bit different. As a commenter — and likely props person from the movie — explains on the Internet Movie Car Database:
That scene was filmed in a mock-up car, built as a disposable prop just for the movie. It sat on a salvaged Model T rolling chassis with a sheet-metal replica body and no mechanical gear at all. The interior was blue velvet glued to plain plywood seat forms. Kate Winslet, in an interview, noted that she and Leo were covered in Vaseline to look all sweaty. When Cameron yelled "Cut!", they were both covered in blue strands of velvet, stuck to their sheen of Vaseline. The car itself was made to resemble the Renault Town Car shipped aboard the Titanic, but was NOT a genuine anything! It was built to be destroyed in the flooding scene by Adams Custom Engines of Reno, Nevada.
So, there you have it: There was a Renault like in the movie, but it may have been partially disassembled and was certainly in a crate. So for those of you who demand absolute accuracy in your movie-inspired fantasies, please adjust accordingly.