Five by Five: The Renault 5 and the Mid-Engine Renault 5 Turbo

If you’re an American over 30, you may have some hazy, not necessarily happy memories of the Renault Le Car, sold here from 1976 through 1983. To Europeans, who will need little introduction, it was known as the Renault 5, a ubiquitous French subcompact that helped to popularize the supermini genre. Although it never sold very well in the States, Renault moved more than 5 million of these cars in other markets between 1972 and 1986, making the “Cinq” one of the best-selling French cars of all time. It also spawned a wild little rally car: the fearsome mid-engine Renault 5 Turbo.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 hatch


A born tinkerer, Louis Renault created his first four-wheeled automobile, a converted De Dion/Bouton cycle-car with a one-cylinder, 1.75 CV engine, in the fall of 1898. The following February, Louis and his brothers Fernand and Marcel established a company, which unveiled its first production cars, the Renault Type A and Type B, at the Paris Salon that June. By 1913, the company, now known as Société Anonyme des Usines Renault, had more than 5,000 employees and built around 10,000 cars a year.

Renault’s success was of course interrupted by two world wars. The First World War brought some profit through military contracts for trucks and even light tanks. World War II was a more difficult period; during the German occupation, the Nazis converted the Renault factory in Boulogne-Billancourt for their own production, making the complex a prime target for Allied bombardment. After the liberation, General Charles de Gaulle nationalized the company in January 1945 as Régie Nationale des Usines Renault. Louis Renault was arrested as a Nazi collaborator and spent some months in prison. He died in October 1945, shortly after his release.

Renault’s first postwar design, the 4CV — a small “people’s car” inspired by the German Volkswagen and developed during the war by Edmund Serre — went into production in late 1946. The 4CV represented a significant shift for Renault, which had previously built mostly large and relatively expensive cars, but it was very successful, selling 1.1 million units through 1960. It was supplemented from 1956 by the popular Renault Dauphine and replaced in 1961 by the Renault 4, the company’s first front-wheel-drive car. Thanks to models like the front-drive 16, one of the first five-door family hatchbacks, Renault did extremely well in the sixties and seventies. By 1970, it was building more than a million cars a year and by 1975, its annual volume was around 1.3 million.

As successful as it was in Europe, Renault floundered in the U.S. The Dauphine had some initial success during America’s so-called Eisenhower recession of the late fifties, but Renaults were not well suited for American driving conditions or tastes. They also weren’t particularly reliable and Renault’s dealer network was small and under-supplied. Several years later, the company acknowledged these mistakes in an unusually frank ad campaign (designed by ad man Richard Gilbert) for the Renault 10, but despite that honesty, later models made little impact on the growing U.S. import market.


In May 1968, a young Renault staff designer named Michel Boué began sketching designs for a new small car, using an illustration of the existing R4 as a starting point. Working on his own initiative, he developed a concept for a small, simple, utilitarian three-door hatchback.

The R4 was still selling well, so there was not yet any official program for a new small car, but Boué’s design made an immediate impression on his superiors and eventually on Renault’s board of directors. Renault president Pierre Dreyfus approved it for production (as Project 122) with remarkably few changes from Boué’s initial conception. It was designated Renault 5.

The R5 shared most of its components with existing Renault models. Like the R4, it had a longitudinal engine and front-wheel drive rather than the transverse-engine layout of the BMC Mini or contemporary FWD Fiat 127 and 128. The engines were pushrod fours of 782 cc (48 cu. in.) and 956 cc (58 cu. in.) displacement. Sole transmission was a four-speed manual transmission, initially with a curious dashboard-mounted shifter. Front suspension was a simple double-wishbone layout with longitudinal torsion bar springs while the rear suspension used trailing arms and transverse torsion bars. As with the R4, the left and right wheelbases were slightly different — 94.6 inches (2,403 mm) left, 95.8 inches (2,433 mm) right — to facilitate mounting of the transverse springs. The Renault 5 was more modern than the Volkswagen 411, but was far from groundbreaking in its engineering. The principal strengths of the “Cinq” were its excellent packaging and clean, unpretentious appearance.

1976 Renault 5 TL front 3q © 2009 Alfredo Acevedo Alfaro (used with permission)
The original Renault 5 was 137.8 inches (3,500 mm) long with an average wheelbase of 95.2 inches (2,418 mm). With a curb weight of around 1,610 lb (730 kg), the base 782 cc (48 cu. in.) engine provided a top speed of about 75 mph (122 km/h). Bumpers were plastic; some later models added similar cladding around the rocker panels. Base R5s had drum brakes, but the slightly more expensive TLs, like this one, had front discs. (Photo: “Renault 5 TL 1976” © 2009 Alfredo Acevedo Alfaro; used with permission)

The R5’s development was a remarkable success for Boué, who was still in his early thirties when he designed it. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer and died in late 1971, around the time the R5 went into production. He was only 35 years old.


The Renault 5 made its public debut on January 28, 1972, and promptly made a splash in the burgeoning “supermini” class, supplementing but not replacing the R4 (which remained in production into the eighties). Along with rivals like the Autobianchi A112, Peugeot 104, and the A112’s Fiat 127 cousin, the R5 fit into a new genre that we now call the B-segment: subcompacts somewhat bigger than the Mini, but smaller and cheaper than C-segment family cars like the Ford Escort. The R5 became the most successful of these early superminis, selling at a brisk pace.

Why was the R5 so successful? It was certainly not because it was a fast car. The base model’s 782 cc (48 cu. in.) engine had only 34 PS (25 kW), while the 956 cc (58 cu. in.) engine of the TL model made 44 PS (32 kW), enough to push the little supermini to a claimed 83 mph (138 km/h). These were later replaced with 845 cc (52 cu. in.) and 1,108 cc (68 cu. in.) versions with a bit more torque, and from 1974, there was a bigger 1,289 cc (79 cu. in.) engine with up to 64 PS (46 kW), but even that provided a top speed of only 94 mph (151 km/h).

In its favor, the Cinq was surprisingly roomy for its modest dimensions, cheap to buy, and economical to run. It had safe, predictable front-drive handling with little of the tail-wagging that sometimes afflicted earlier rear-engine Renaults. While the engines were not powerhouses, they were smooth and relatively quiet in normal driving. Moreover, the R5’s soft suspension and ample suspension travel gave it a comfortable ride over the highly variable roads of the Fifth Republic — a strong point for many small French cars of the seventies and eighties. In all, the Renault 5 was a practical and livable car for European families.

1976 Renault 5 TL front © 2009 Alfredo Acevedo Alfaro (used with permission)
The face of the Renault 5 was the only part of Michel Boué’s design that wasn’t firmly established from an early date; it underwent many variations before assuming its final shape. U.S. models had round sealed-beam headlights until 1980, when they received rectangular sealed-beam units that looked more like the European model’s. (Photo: “Renault 5 TL 1976” © 2009 Alfredo Acevedo Alfaro; used with permission)

Buyers also appreciated the R5’s unadorned styling, which was enhanced by a variety of cheerful paint choices. Like the Mini some years earlier, the R5 unapologetic simplicity allowed it to transcend its humble size and price and become almost chic in the mid-seventies.

The Renault 5 became particularly attractive in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo of late 1973, which saw a temporary return to fuel rationing on both sides of the Atlantic. Sales for 1974 were up more than 30% from 1973. By 1975, Renault had sold its millionth Cinq.

The success of the R5 inevitably led to many variants. From 1974, there was the Renault 7, a slightly bigger four-door version with a conventional notchback profile, built by Renault’s Spanish subsidiary, FASA-Renault. From 1976, there was a “Utilitaire” commercial version with blanked-out rear windows, aimed at delivery drivers and small businesses. Plusher GTL and (marginally) sportier LS and TS models appeared in the mid-seventies and a three-speed automatic transmission version bowed for 1978.

1976 Renault 5 TL rear 3q © 2009 Alfredo Acevedo Alfaro (used with permission)
As Michel Boué originally designed the R5, the taillights began at bumper level and extended almost to the top edge of the rear window, filling the space occupied on production cars by the black ventilation grilles. The bigger lights were rejected early in the design process because they would have been too expensive for what was supposed to be an inexpensive car (although the R5 cost more than the older R4, presumably the reason the latter survived for years after the R5 debuted). (Photo: “Renault 5 TL 1976” © 2009 Alfredo Acevedo Alfaro; used with permission)

Renault had actually prepared a five-door version of the R5 at the time the three-door went into production, but decided to focus initially on the cheaper three-door, which they judged the better commercial prospect and less likely to cannibalize other Renault products. The five-door finally appeared in 1979 as a 1980 model and also became very successful.

Thanks to the introduction of the five-door — and a second energy crisis — the Renault 5 sold even better in the early eighties than in the late seventies: 711,533 for 1980, 625,984 for 1981, 531,827 for 1982, and 458,004 for 1983. That was all the more remarkable given that it was now a 15-year-old design facing a host of newer rivals.


As big as it was in Europe in the mid-seventies, Renault still had almost no U.S. presence, with only about 250 dealerships nationwide. Although Renault offered several models in the U.S., including the 12, 15, and 17, none had found its niche and sales steadily declined from 1970 on.

Hoping to appeal to economy-minded American buyers, Renault imported the first federalized R5s for the 1976 model year. Available in 5 TL and 5 GTL forms, the U.S. cars were trimmed like their French counterparts, but had 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers, which added about 3.7 inches (94 mm) to overall length, and the French car’s optional 1,289 cc (79 cu. in.) engine, making 58 horsepower SAE (43 kW).

Early U.S. reviews were very positive, perhaps aided by the lavish spread Renault PR director Pierre Gazarian had laid out for the American media at the R5’s press introduction in October 1975. Testers thought some of the R5’s minor controls were unnecessarily quirky, but were impressed with the ride and handling, which were excellent despite copious body lean, and thought the Renault well-built and surprisingly quiet at cruising speed for a contemporary small car. It was in no way fast, but its performance was sprightlier than expected and fuel economy was predictably excellent. The R5 was not the cheapest car in its class, starting at $3,295 — over $100 more than a Honda Civic CVCC — but it wasn’t a bad deal.

Unfortunately, getting American buyers to even consider the R5 proved to be easier said than done. Shoppers who were familiar with past U.S. Renaults weren’t necessarily inclined to buy another, and rival subcompacts like the Civic and Chevrolet Chevette benefited from stronger dealer networks, more marketing muscle, and less checkered reputations. As a result, Renault’s total U.S. sales for 1976, including the bigger cars, were only 6,819 and dealers ended the year with almost 8,000 unsold R5s.

Gazarian’s response was to dump Renault’s U.S. ad agency in favor of Marsteller Inc. (now Burson Cohn & Wolfe). The agency persuaded Renault to dump the R5 designation — which in the U.S. mainly served to tie the Cinq to earlier models of which Americans had been none too fond — and relaunch the car as “Le Car.” An aggressive new ad campaign emphasized the R5’s Frenchness, sporty character, and ties to Renault’s impressive European competition history.

The new marketing direction did sharply improve U.S. sales, albeit not as much as Renault might have hoped. Production peaked at more than 25,000 units for 1980, when Le Car received a modest facelift that added rectangular sealed-beam headlights and a new 1,397 cc (85 cu. in.) engine (a de-tuned, smog-controlled version of the European Alpine/Gordini engine, of which we’ll say more shortly). That was about as good as Renault had ever done Stateside, but still not great.

1981 Renault LeCar badge © 2010 Joost J. Bakker CC BY 2.0 Generic
The R5’s U.S. name, “Le Car,” was suggested by Renault’s American ad agency and puzzled French speakers; in French, “car” implies a coach or carriage, not an automobile. (Photo: “Renault 5 TL Le Car” © 2010 Joost J. Bakker; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

By this time, Renault had moved to strengthen its North American distribution through an alliance with the American Motors Corporation, whose dealers badly needed more fuel-efficient models to sell. Ironically, AMC had been among the first domestic automakers to promote compact economy cars, but by the late seventies, they had fallen well behind the times; their Gremlin and Pacer compacts were bulky rear-drive cars, usually sold with large, relatively thirsty six-cylinder engines. AMC wanted to develop a modern FWD subcompact, but with sales of its existing models sinking rapidly, it couldn’t afford to build one.

In October 1979, Renault bought a 5% stake in AMC, quickly upped to 22.5%. The two companies announced that they would build American versions of future Renault models at AMC’s Kenosha, Wisconsin plant, helping AMC to meet its Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements.

Renault’s investment in AMC, which grew in 1980 to a 46% equity stake, did little for either company. American Motors lost $197 million in 1980 and a further $136.6 million in 1981. The losses prompted Renault and the AMC board to promote AMC president Paul Tippet to chairman, replacing the resigning Gerry Meyers, and install Renault executive José J. Dedeurwaerder as president. French engineers and designers, including former Renault Sport engineer François Castaing, began to appear on AMC’s payroll, a further sign of Renault’s growing influence on AMC’s operations.

Renault continued to pour money into American Motors, but it was to little avail. The federalized Renault 18, launched for 1981, was a flop, while the joint-venture Alliance (an Americanized Renault 9) and Encore (an American version of the Renault 11) were hampered by erratic build quality and poor reliability. All lost money and sales remained weak.

Meanwhile, what buyer interest there had been in Le Car was fading. Despite the addition of the five-door model for 1981, Le Car was now hard-pressed by a generation of newer rivals, including the second-generation Honda Civic, Mazda’s popular GLC, the FWD Toyota Tercel, and the Plymouth Horizon. Some of these competitors were a class bigger than the R5 by European standards, but despite two energy crises, Americans still tended to conflate all B- and C-segment models as “little cars” and generally favored larger ones with more space and more power. The latter was a particular sore point for U.S. Renault dealers; the emissions-controlled 1.4-liter Le Car had only 51 hp SAE (38 kW), compared to 62 hp (46 kW) for a Civic 1300 and 68 hp (51 kW) for the Mazda GLC.

1982 Renault 5 TS © 2009 Spanish Coches CC BY 2.0 Generic
The U.S. Renault Le Car lost ground quickly in the early eighties, but the Cinq remained strong in Europe till the end. This is a 1982 Renault 5 TS with Spanish plates.
(Photo: “1982 Renault 5 TS” © 2009 Spanish Coches; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Renault withdrew Le Car from the U.S. market in the spring of 1983 and from Canada two years later. In late 1986, the French finally decided that any further investment in AMC was throwing good money after bad and agreed to sell American Motors to Chrysler, a deal completed in March 1987. The sale price was estimated at more than $1 billion in cash and stock, but the deal’s big winner was Chrysler, which not only acquired the Jeep brand, but also talented executives like François Castaing, who later became principal author of the innovative platform-team approach that revitalized Chrysler’s design and engineering in the nineties.

Because Le Car had such a marginal presence in the States, American buyers never saw most of the Renault 5’s many variations — particularly the more interesting sporty versions.


As with the Mini, the Renault 5’s modest size and nimble basic handling lent themselves to what today we would call “hot hatch” versions, such as the Autobianchi A112 Abarth or Volkswagen’s Golf GTI. The first of these hot Renault 5s was the Alpine, introduced in 1976.

Alpine — not to be confused with the Sunbeam car of the same name — was founded in the mid-fifties by Dieppe racing driver and mechanic Jean Rédélé. In the early fifties, Rédélé, whose father was a Renault dealer, scored class victories in the Mille Miglia, Tour de France, and Coupe des Alpines using modified Renault 4CVs. He followed those victories by founding Société Anonyme des Automobiles Alpine in 1954. The following year, he launched the A106, a plastic-bodied coupe riding a 4CV chassis. The A106 was the first of a series of Renault-based sport racers, the best-known and most successful of which was the Michelotti-styled A110, launched in 1962.

Rédélé developed a close relationship with the Renault factory, which helped Alpine develop performance hardware for competition. However, Alpine’s business success didn’t match its competition record and by the seventies, the company was on the brink of collapse. Renault finally bought Alpine in 1974, just as Fiat had bought out Abarth a few years earlier. Under Renault’s ownership, Alpine continued to built its rear-engine A310 through 1984 (and the updated GTA through 1991) as well as developing performance parts and performance versions of Renault production cars.

The first Renault 5 Alpine, launched in 1976, was a straightforward upgrade of the basic car, with stiffer suspension; a new five-speed gearbox; bigger tires (if one may call 155/70SR13 “big”) on alloy wheels; and a 1,397 cc (85 cu. in.) version of the standard four with hemispherical combustion chambers and a Weber carburetor in place of the smaller engines’ Solex units, giving 93 PS (67 kW). Costing about 70% more than a 5 TL, Alpine was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 10 seconds seconds and a top speed of 109 mph (175 km/h). It sold respectably well through 1981, with a total production of 59,202 cars. In Great Britain, where Chrysler (and later Peugeot) still owned the name Alpine, the model was marketed as the Renault 5 Gordini, taking its name from Franco-Italian tuner Amédée Gordini, another Renault specialist. In the Spanish market, the equivalent model was called Renault 5 Copa.

The R5 Alpine had obvious potential as a rally car and Renault quickly homologated it for Group 2. Renault 5 Alpines driven by Jean Ragnotti and Guy Fréquelin beat out many more powerful competitors to win second and third places in the grueling Rallye Automobile de Monte-Carlo in January 1978. While this was an impressive and morale-boosting performance, it was clear the R5 was badly outgunned. Even as the Monte Carlo Rally began, however, Renault was already working on something stronger.

1973 Lancia Stratos HF at the 2006 Targa Florio © 2006 Al Dickson (used with permission)
Inspiration for the mid-engine Renault 5 Turbo was the mid-engine Lancia Stratos HF, styled by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini. The Stratos was a formidable Group 4 and Group 5 competitor throughout the seventies, winning three consecutive World Rally Championships. It was powered by the 2,418 cc (148 cu. in.) V6 from Ferrari’s Dino 246. Street versions had 190 hp (140 kW) while racing engines had 280 hp (209 kW) or more. Only 492 of these cars were built in all. (Photo: “Blue Lancia Stratos #2” © 2006 Al Dickson; used with permission)


Back in 1976, Marc Deschamps of the Italian styling house Stilo Bertone had suggested a wild mid-engine version of the Renault 5, probably inspired by the Bertone-styled Lancia Stratos, which dominated the rally scene in the mid-seventies. The idea won the immediate approval of production vice president Jean Terramorsi and his successor, Henry Lherm, who took over after Terramorsi died later that year.

The mid-engine project, coded Project 822, was developed at the Alpine works in Dieppe by a small staff of four engineers — Renault had a substantial competition department, Renault Sport, but the rally car was deemed a lower priority than Grand Prix. Styling, by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini — who had also designed the Stratos — was completed by July 1977. The first prototype was on the road in March 1978 and made its public debut at that year’s Paris Salon.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 front
From the front, the Renault 5 Turbo looks like nothing so much as a standard R5 suffering from an alarming glandular condition. It’s about 3.4 inches (87 mm) lower and 9.1 inches (230 mm) wider than a basic R5 and a good deal heavier.

Early in the development of Project 822, the engineers in Dieppe considered using the 2,664 cc (169 cu. in.) “PRV” V6, which had recently been added to the Alpine 310, but opted instead for a turbocharged version of the standard R5 Alpine’s 1,397 cc four. The FIA “factored” turbocharged engines as having 1.4 times their actual displacement, but a turbo version of the 1.4 L engine could still compete in the under-2,000 cc (122 cu. in.) class, where it would be more competitive.

Even for the mid-seventies, the turbo engine’s specifications were unremarkable. It substituted Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection for the Alpine/Gordini car’s Weber carburetor, but had only two valves per cylinder and used neither overhead cams nor dry-sump lubrication. Compression ratio was reduced from 10.0:1 to 7.0:1 to allow the engine to survive up to 13 psi (0.9 bar) boost from a single Garrett AiResearch T3 turbocharger. In street form, the turbo used an air-to-air intercooler mounted in one of the bulky flared fenders; more elaborate and effective intercoolers were fitted to competition cars.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 rear
From the rear, the Renault 5 Turbo’s substantially greater width is readily apparent. The standard tires were metric-sized Michelin TRX, 190/55HR340 in front, 220/55VR390 in back. The engine and transmission occupy most of the rear compartment, leaving very little usable cargo space. Naturally, there is no rear seat!

Although the turbo engine was a fairly straightforward derivative of the regular production item, the rest of the car bore only a nodding resemblance to the standard R5. Budget limitations precluded the tubular space frame the engineers wanted, so they instead expanded the standard R5’s rear track by about 10 inches (25 cm) and installed a cradle to carry the still longitudinally mounted engine and five-speed transaxle, the latter derived from the unit in the Renault 30 and Alpine A310. Since the engine now occupied the space through which had previously passed the standard car’s transverse torsion-bar springs, the 822 got an entirely different double wishbone suspension derived from that of the A310. The standard fuel tank, meanwhile, was replaced by a large, centrally mounted two-section tank.

All the changes left the 822 with something of a weight problem. Group 4 cars had a legal minimum weight of 1,862 lb (845 kg) while the later IMSA GTU cars were around 1,650 lb (750 kg), but even with plastic fenders and aluminum doors, hood, roof panel, and hatch, the street version weighed 2,140 lb (970 kg), compared to about 1,875 lb (850 kg) for the front-engine R5 Alpine. The mid-engine car was also none too aerodynamic; the bulky dimensions and blocky shape made for a mediocre drag coefficient of 0.44.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 hood scoop
Although the engine was now located where the rear seat used to be, the R5 turbo’s radiator and battery were left up front along with the spare tire, for better weight distribution. Renault also added a fiberglass tube about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter ahead of the former firewall to maintain front-end rigidity and crash safety. Front/rear weight distribution was 40/60.


Sorting this hodgepodge of parts and getting the bugs out took almost two years, so production of the mid-engine car didn’t begin until May 1980 and the first street cars, called simply Renault 5 Turbo, didn’t go on sale until July 1.

In production form, the Renault 5 Turbo carried a base price of some 140,000 FF (equivalent to perhaps $26,000–$27,000 at the time), about twice as much as basic Renault 5 L. For that price, you got highly conspicuous looks, 160 PS DIN (119 kW) at 6,000 rpm), and an eye-popping new interior treatment. Designed by Renault interior designer Marion Villain, it featured wild geometric shapes, an abundance of gauges, vividly colored carpeting, and optional leather/velour sports seats. The engine cover was carpeted as well, in part to help control interior noise levels; nonetheless, full-throttle acceleration produced a hair-raising (and ear-ringing) 90 dB shriek.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 rear 3q
Because the R5’s standard transverse torsion bars would have interfered with the mounting of the transmission, the Renault 5 Turbo got a new rear suspension with double wishbones and coil springs, essentially similar to that of the Alpine 310. Four-wheel vented discs were standard; the front brakes were borrowed from the Citroën CX, the rears from the Renault Fuego.

Straight-line performance in this form was appropriately brisk, if not quite ferocious: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in between 7 and 8 seconds and a top speed of perhaps 126–127 mph (203–205 km/h), limited more by drag than power. Racing versions had more boost and considerably more power: perhaps 180–210 PS (132–155 kW) for early Group 4 rally cars, 270 hp (201 kW) for GTU. Renault Sport later offered high-output kits for European street cars, offering 180 or 200 PS (132 or 147 kW).

The R5 Turbo was tricky but highly entertaining to drive. Even in street form, the engine was quite peaky, a characteristic that became more pronounced as more boost was added. The abrupt power delivery added to the mid-engine Cinq’s penchant for dramatic tail slides, something wholly alien to the regular R5. This was a great crowd-pleaser on the WRC circuits, but the R5 Turbo could spin readily if mishandled. In compensation, the mid-engine car was very agile, excelling at the sort of antics that had made the original Mini Cooper so beloved a generation earlier: careening around corners at lurid angles and then exploding out of roundabouts, tires squealing and engine howling. It was all a lot of fun, if not for the faint of heart or high of insurance premium.

Alpine managed, with some difficulty, to build 400 mid-engine Cinqs by the end of 1980, allowing the new car to complete its Group 4 homologation in time for the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally, in which Jean Ragnotti achieved the mid-engine Cinq’s first WRC victory. He followed that by winning the Tour de Corse in May 1982.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 front 3q
In the best Detroit tradition, the Renault 5 Turbo was somewhat longer, lower, and wider than the regular R5. Overall length was 144 inches (3,660 mm), with a wheelbase of 95.7 inches (2,430 mm). Early R5 Turbos were available only in red or blue metallic, but the later Turbo 2 could be ordered in a variety of colors, including this pearl white metallic.

In 1982, the original production car, of which Renault had sold 1,820 units, was replaced by the cheaper Renault 5 Turbo 2. The Turbo 2, which debuted at the 1982 Paris Salon, used the same engine as the original street car, but traded its aluminum exterior panels for steel, bringing curb weight to around 2,315 lb (1,050 kg). Unfortunately, the unique interior was also sacrificed, again to reduce cost. The Turbo 2 remained in production through 1986.

At the same time, Renault introduced a more conventional Alpine Turbo (called Gordini Turbo in the UK, Copa Turbo in Spain). This was essentially the outgoing front-engine Alpine/Gordini/Copa, fitted with wider tires, four-wheel discs, and a mildly turbocharged engine making 110 PS (82 kW). It was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h in 9 seconds or so and had a claimed top speed of 115 mph (185 km/h). That was somewhat slower than a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but in compensation, the Gordini was also more than 10% cheaper. British testers had great praise for the Renault’s ride and handling, although by then they considered it cramped and unrefined compared to newer hot hatches.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 intake
1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 intake outlet
Aside from allowing space for bigger tires, the Renault 5 Turbo’s flared fenders contain the air-to-air intercooler for the turbocharger and an engine oil cooler to help the engine survive the stress of producing 114 hp/liter, a respectable figure even today. Fuel filler supplies the centrally located 24.6-gallon (93-liter) fuel tanks, which are located roughly where the rear-seat footwells used to be.

The R5 Turbo’s rally success was short-lived. Although it remained a strong competitor through the middle of the decade, it had a tougher time under the new Group B rules, where it faced formidable all-wheel-drive rivals like the Audi Quattro. Even so, if it did not always win, the R5 Turbo was consistently a top-10 finisher.

The last major competition version was the limited-edition MAXI 5 Turbo, of which Renault Sport built 200 copies for Group B homologation. The MAXI 5 had aluminum roof panels, broader fender flares to allow wider tires, and a retuned 1,527cc version of the familiar turbo four with less lag and substantially more power: a nominal 350 PS (257 kW). Jean Ragnotti used one of these cars to win his second Tour de Corse victory in May 1985, beating out many powerful AWD challengers. It was the R5 Turbo’s last hurrah in WRC competition, although the cars continued to compete until the cancelation of Group B in 1986.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 badge
Introduced in 1982, the Renault 5 Turbo 2 was intended to be cheaper to build and less expensive than the original R5 Turbo. It had the same layout, engine, and suspension as the original, but dispensed with the original car’s aluminum exterior panels and unique interior, using instead the dash and interior trim of the standard Alpine/Gordini. Renault built 3,167 R5 Turbo 2s between 1982 and 1986; this is a 1985 model.


French production of the original Cinq ended in 1986. In all, Renault built 5,471,709 first-generation R5s, including almost 5,000 mid-engine turbo cars. The Iranian company Pars Khodro (now owned by SAIPA) continued to build modified versions of the first-generation R5 until 2002, first as the Sepand, later as the PK, making various minor styling changes and substituting mechanical components from Kia and Mazda.

The second-generation Renault 5, popularly known as “Supercinq” (“Superfive”), actually bowed more than a year before French production of the first-generation cars ended, bowing for the 1985 model year. In development since 1978 (as Project 140), the Supercinq was all-new, but its styling, credited to Marcello Gandini, looked enough like the original Cinq to confuse a casual observer. Under the skin, the new car was essentially a shrunken version of the Renault 9/11 platform, trading the Cinq’s double wishbone front suspension for cheaper MacPherson struts and mounting the engines transversely rather than longitudinally. Engine choices were the 1,108 cc (68 cu. in.) four also used on later first-generation cars or the normally aspirated 1,397 cc (85 cu. in.) engine with either 60 or 72 PS (43 or 52 kW); there was also a 1,595 cc (97 cu. in.) diesel.

Inevitably, the Supercinq was neither as beloved nor as long-lived as its predecessor. The more modern Clio effectively superseded it in 1990, although budget versions of the Supercinq remained in production until the end of 1996.

From early 1985 to 1990, there was a front-engine GT Turbo version of the Supercinq, replacing the old Alpine/Gordini, but there were no exotic rally versions like the R5 Turbo. A true successor to the old mid-engine car didn’t arrive until 2001, with the launch of the Renault Sport (or Renaultsport) Clio V6.

Initially built for Renault by TWR, the Clio V6 used the 2,946 cc (180 cu. in.) six from the Renault Laguna and other big French executive cars, mounted behind the front seats. It was powerful — 230 hp (169 kW) to start, later 255 hp (188 kW) — but the six-cylinder car’s considerable weight (over 3,085 lb/1,400 kg) meant that it wasn’t as fast as the specifications implied.

2003 Renault Clio V6 side © 2007 Chris Harrison (used with permission)
A Renault Clio V6 on the move. This is a Phase 1 car, although it has the taillights of the revised Phase 2 models, introduced in 2003. While the early cars were built by TWR, the latter went bankrupt in February 2003. Subsequent Phase 2 cars were built by Valmet in Finland and assembled at the RenaultSport works in Dieppe. While very powerful by hot hatch standards, the Clio V6 was also quite pricey and thus sold in limited numbers. (Photo: “Renaultsport Clio V6 Mk1” © 2007 Chris Harrison; used with permission)

Moreover, the driving experience couldn’t match that of the quite good and much cheaper front-engine, four-cylinder Clio RS and Sport 172, a consequence of the V6’s additional mass, a higher center of gravity, and understeer-biased suspension tuning. The Clio V6 rode well, but felt more stodgy than agile. Worse, the general stolidity belied the mid-engine car’s potential for abrupt trailing-throttle oversteer. The issue was not that it would hang its tail out, which was to be expected and could have been fun, but that the transition was not clearly telegraphed or easy to catch, making it a flaw to avoid rather than a virtue to exploit.

Later iterations, with a reworked suspension, more power, and different gearing, were both faster and better sorted. However, the Clio V6 remained very expensive — nearly 10% more than a Volkswagen Golf R32, itself none too keenly priced — and sales were slow. It was dropped in 2005.


The original Renault 5 will never win any awards for cutting-edge engineering or sexy styling, but its sheer lack of affectation has a certain charm. It is that rarity: a simple, basic automobile that doesn’t purport to be a fighter plane, a prewar Classic, or a wild animal. Renault and others have attempted to recapture that unassuming spirit many times, notably with the Twingo, but we’ll go out on a limb and say the Cinq’s closest modern heir is the Tata Nano. The Nano is even less sophisticated than the old Cinq, but it appears to be a cunning exercise in automotive minimalism, founded in similar values. It will not impress the modern Ford Fiesta driver, accustomed to satellite radio, backup sensors, and GPS navigation, but it’s not intended to. The Nano, like the R5 or the old 4CV, doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not.

In an entirely different sense, we could say the same of the Renault 5 Turbo. If it looks like a bizarre Frankenstein exercise concocted by a handful of over-caffeinated rally fans, that’s not all that far from the truth. That the Turbo looks and feels faintly deranged is to be expected; the fact that it works surprisingly well is almost a bonus.

R5 Turbos are extremely rare here; our white photo subject is one of perhaps 200 gray-market Turbo 2s imported to the States. Parts and service are hard to come by, and we don’t know how we’d explain it to the insurance company. Still, if we had the money, we’d be tempted — particularly if we could get license plates reading “LE WHAT?”



Information on the development of the R5 came from from David Abrahamson, “For Your Information: Renault 5 Alpine,” Car and Driver Vol. 22, No. 11 (May 1977), p. 30; C. Billequé’s French site (2009–2014, www.renault-5. net, last accessed 5 August 0215); Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Patrick R. Foster, The Story of Jeep (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1998); Karl Ludvigsen, “The Renault that Rumbled,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #55 (March 2010); L’Editrice Dell’Automobile LEA, World Cars 1973 (Bronxville, NY: Herald Books, 1973), World Cars 1979 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1979), World Cars 1982 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1982), World Cars 1984 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1984), and World Cars 1985 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1985); Jan P. Norbye, “The new logic in small-car engineering,” Popular Science Vol. 206, No. 2 (February 1975), pp. 56–59; “Renault 5 Review and Test Drive,” Unique Cars and Parts, n.d., www.uniquecarsandparts., accessed 14 September 2009; Renault Inc., “From a Country that Just Built the World’s Fastest Train…” [advertisement], Popular Mechanics Vol. 156, No. 6 (December 1981), p. 13; “Introducing Le Car” [advertisement], Car and Driver Vol. 22, No. 11 (May 1977), p. 13; “Le Sports Car” [advertisement], Popular Mechanics Vol. 150, No. 3 (September 1978), p. 31; “Read what the experts say about Renault 5” [advertisement], Popular Mechanics Vol. 146, No. 1 (July 1976), p. 13; Renault S.A., “Renault Icons – Renault 5” (video), n.d., www.renault. tv, accessed 14 September 2009; Edouard Seidler, Let’s Call It Fiesta: The autobiography of Ford’s Fiesta (Newfoundland, NJ: Haessner Pub., 1976); Ray Thursby, “French Fry,” Special Interest Autos #188 (March-April 2002), pp. 41-45; Mark Wan, “Renault 5 (1972),” AutoZine, n.d., www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Renault/ classic/R5.html, accessed 14 September 2009; and the R5 Wikipedia® entry,, accessed 14 September 2009. Driving impressions came from John Christy, “Renault Le Car GTL Deluxe,” Road Test May 1978, pp. 60-64; Jim Dunne and Ed Jacobs, “40-mpg imports,” Popular Science Vol. 218, No. 2 (February 1981); “Giant Test,” CAR, July 1979, pp. 60-69; “Giant Test: Fiat 127DL, Renault 5TL, VW Polo N,” CAR, August 1975, pp. 48-56; “Giant Test: Honda Civic, Allegro 1100, Renault 5TL, Ami Super,” CAR, November 1973, pp. 66-74; “Giant Test: VW Polo -v- Peugeot 104 -v- Ford Fiesta -v- Renault 5 -v- Fiat 127 -v- Mini 1000,” CAR March 1977, pp. 42–49; “Giant Test Special: Renault 5TX -v- MG Metro -v- Ford Fiesta XR2 -v- Citroën Vista GT -v- Fiat 127GT,” CAR June 1983, pp. 108-116; “Giant Test: Town & Country Club,” CAR August 1994, pp. 104–121; Bill Hartford and Michael Lamm, “First Hand Report: Driving the Renault 5,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 145, No. 1 (January 1976), pp. 134-137; “How the Volkswagen Golf GTi compares,” Autocar 4 April 1981, reprinted in VW Golf GTI 1976-1991 Limited Edition Extra, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2005), p. 25; Friedbert Holz, “Grosse Klasse, Kleine Masse (Vergleichstest: Ford Fiesta 1300S – Renault 5 TS),” Sport Auto January 1980, pp. 82–86; “Road Test: Renault 5TL,” Motor Road Tests 1980, pp. 128-131; “Road Test: Volkswagen Golf GTi,” Motor 27 November 1982, reprinted in Volkswagen Golf GTI 1976-1991 Limited Edition Extra, pp. 36–39; Chris Rees, Fantasy Cars: An A–Z of the World’s Best Contemporary Classics (New York: Hermes House, 1999); and LJK Setright, “Fly Babies,” CAR April 1980, pp. 66–70.

Additional information on the R5 Turbo came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “Alpine-Renault Sports Cars,”, 25 May 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ alpine-renault-sports-cars.htm, accessed 15 September 2009; Stu Copping, “Stu’s Renault 5 Site,” n.d., www.angelfire. com/weird/ renault5/, accessed 15 September 2009; Gavin Green, “Skye and Goodbye,” CAR March 1987, pp. 98–107; Csaba Csere and Don Sherman, “R5 Turbo versus R5 Turbo,” Car and Driver Vol. 27, No. 2 (August 1981), pp. 63-66; Ian Eveleigh, “Renault 5 Turbo: Birth of an icon: 1980,” Evo February 2008, www.evo., accessed 15 September 2009; “Giant Test: Colt 1.4 Turbo -v- Renault 5 Turbo -v- Mazda 323 1500GT,” CAR, December 1982, pp. 76-83; Brian Laban, “B Cars,” Performance Car August 1987, pp. 34–43; “Renault 5 Turbo” (n.d., Uniquecarsandparts., accessed 15 September 2009); “Renault R5 Maxi Turbo,” Slowly Sideways UK, n.d., slowlysidewaysuk. com/ database%20-%20renault%205%20maxi.html, last accessed 5 August 2015; Renault S.A., “Renault Classic: Alpine A106,” n.d., en.renaultclassic. com/ the-renault-car-collection/, accessed 15 September 2009; Mark Wan, “Alpine A110 (1962),” AutoZine, n.d., www.autozine. org/Archive/ Renault/ classic/ A110.html, accessed 15 September 2009; “Alpine A310 (1971),” AutoZine, n.d., www.autozine. org/Archive/ Renault/classic/ A310.html, accessed 15 September 2009; “Lancia Stratos (1972),” AutoZine, n.d., www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Lancia/ classic/ Stratos.html, accessed 15 September 2009; and “Renault R5 Turbo (1980),” AutoZine, n.d., www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Renault/classic/ R5_Turbo.html, accessed 14 September 2009; and the Wikipedia entries for the Lancia Stratos (, accessed 15 September 2009) and Renault 5 Turbo (, accessed 14 September 2009).

Details on the Renault Clio V6 came from the Wikipedia entry (, accessed 15 September 2009), Matthew Franey, “Hot Bothered? CAR December 2000, pp. 72–76; Peter Grunert, “Wide of the Mark: Renaultsport Clio V6,” Top Gear December 2000, pp. 44–46; and Mark Wan, “Renault Clio II” (30 August 2003,, www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Renault/old/ Clio_II.html#V6, accessed 15 September 2009).

Additional background on Renault’s marriage to AMC came from Chad Quella, “AMC – The Spirit Still Lives (history of American Motors Corporation” (n.d., Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 15 September 2009); Steve Corbin’s paper “RIP American Motors, 1954-1987” (12 April 1998, www.skidmore. edu/ ~pdwyer/ amc/ stevecorbin.htm, accessed 14 September 2009); Patrick R. Foster, The Story of Jeep (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1998); and the Wikipedia entry for American Motors (, accessed 15 September 2009).

Historical exchange rates were estimated based on data from Werner Antweiler, “PACIFIC Exchange Rate service, Foreign Currency Units per 1 U.S. Dollar, 1948-2009” (2009, University of British Columbia, fx.sauder. All equivalencies cited in the text are approximate and are provided for illustration and informational purposes only — this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!


Add a Comment
  1. Didn’t the Renault 5 have a different length wheelbase on each side?

    1. You’re quite right. I forgot all about that when I wrote this up; the text has been amended accordingly. For the record, the wheelbase was 2,403 mm (94.6 inches) left, 2,433 mm (95.8 inches) right.

      The reason for this trick, which Renault also used on the 4, was that it had transverse torsion bars. Having the slightly different wheelbases kept the torsion bars from overlapping without any sort of cunning linkages or geometrical tricks, and with minimum cost.

  2. I own a renault 5 turbo 2, 1981. It is a great car, but tires for it, are hard to get, so I would like to change the wheels for 15 inch or 16, but have not idea what to buy. Do any body knows what should I get.

  3. Oops, that should have been “transverse torsion bars.” The last two words were accidentally deleted in an earlier revision. Fixed.

  4. I think it can be mentioned that there were ties between Renault and AMC already before the launch of the 5, with Renault assembling and marketing Ramblers as Renault Rambler for the european market in the 1960s.Also the red car has dutch registration plates from 1979 which makes it a European 5 which always had rectangular headlights.
    Thanks for such a great,fun, informed and informative website btw.

    1. Rein,

      Thanks for the information on the reg plates. I’ve corrected the photo and caption.

      AMC had relationships with a number of other companies to assemble and market its cars in markets where AMC itself didn’t really have a presence. AMI in Australia (later bought out by Toyota) was the largest of those; there were probably others that I’m not thinking of. Such relationships were quite common in the fifties and sixties — even Daimler-Benz had deals like that.

      Another interesting connection is IKA in Argentina. IKA was established by Kaiser in 1955, making both local versions of Kaiser cars and Jeeps. In the sixties, IKA also made a deal with AMC to market Rambler cars, including some unique local concoctions like the Torino (a blend of Rambler American and Classic pieces powered by a Willys Tornado six). Around the same time, IKA also started assembling Renaults, beginning with the 4. In 1970, Renault bought out IKA, but continued building some of the AMC-based cars afterward — the Torino remained in production until the early eighties.

      I don’t know how much those deals had to do with the later merger, if anything, but clearly the companies were not strangers.

  5. While it wasn’t a big success in the United States, the R5 was a bigger success in Canada because half of the Canadian sales was in the province of Quebec and was sold until late 1986. A local ad agency did some nice tv ads of the R5 with the catchphrase "Le Chnac", here the links. They’re all in French.

  6. The Le Car Turbo as sold Stateside was still front engine, & suffered from the same reliability issues as all Renaults did [which may have much to do w/ why Nissan keeps a tight lid on its links to Renault to date. ;) ]

    Still, in the black & red livery, it was a very sexy beast for a sub-compact in its day. Total chick car tho’, like the original Miata & the VW Cabriolet [nee’ Rabbit Convertible]: I kinda doubt any Le Car sales in the States were to men, except maybe in the case of a dad for his daughter.

    1. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of the front-engine 5 Turbo being officially sold in the U.S. As mentioned in the text, in Europe there was a front-engine Alpine Turbo (known as Gordini Turbo in the U.K.), but I haven’t seen anything about an officially federalized version. There was a U.S. version of the Fuego Turbo from mid-1982, though, with 107 hp from 1,565 cc.

      1. You’re right.. Alpine Turbo never sold in the US. The Fuego turbo was great driving car but the turbos wore out quickly. The 2.2 OVC Fuego with a 5 speed was my favorite. The 3 speed automatics were a disaster

  7. You alluded to fuel rationing reappearing in Europe and America following the 1973/4 OPEC embargo.

    Certainly ration books were issued in the UK at the time, but rationing was never officially introduced.
    I remember at the time fuel was often hard to obtain, and a lot of gas stations would only sell to regular customers or limit sales to a few gallons per customer.
    I understood refining volumes changed very little during this period, the main cause of shortages was that almost everyone went to the gas stations and completely filled their tanks at the same time, rather than buying a few gallons each week as was normal practise.

    Prices took a hike but not by a great deal.
    There were many other factors in the cost of gas (petrol over here), refining costs and duties and taxes made the cost of the actual crude oil much less of a factor.

    Was fuel officially rationed in North America, either nationwide or by individual states?.


    1. So far as I’m aware, there wasn’t a return to rationing in the World War II sense, with books of ration stamps or coupons being issued on a per-household basis, but there were at certain points (at least in some areas) officially mandated restrictions on fuel purchases such as limiting people to buying petrol on specific days based on whether certain digits of their car’s license plate (number plate) were odd or even and limiting each sale to a specific number of gallons. So, if one were being technical, one would probably call that de facto rationing or just complex purchase restrictions. The price of petrol also increased rather dramatically after being very static for quite a few years.

  8. I was a Renault dealer from 76-82 and was one of the top sales dealers in the US. Won a trip to Paris on the Concorde. The LeCar was excellent driving small car and the with the sunroof it was a fun car. The problem was its complexity with all the emission controls required. Also, by adding A/C was the straw that broke the camels back. It was very difficult to work on.

  9. “The R5 was Renault’s first unibody.” Are you 100% sure?

    While I find no reason to doubt you, I find this surprising. Were the Renault 12, 15/17 and 16 not unibody designs?

    1. Ack — I’m not sure now where that line came from, but it’s obviously incorrect. (Yes, the 16 and a variety of other earlier Renaults were unit-bodied.) I’ve amended the text. Thanks for the correction! That’s an embarrassing glitch.

  10. It happens; I am pretty sure you meant they replaced the semi body-on-frame R4 with a monocoque design. Glad I could help.

    1. I have a feeling that one came from the Renault documentary on the 5 and was probably a point lost in translation. Ah well…

  11. I had a Renault 5 when I was still in school, and have fond memories of it. It was cheap but it wasn’t half bad. The skinny tires were great in the snow. It never left me stranded, and I could work on it myself.

  12. Great write-up on a significant car. So successful that Renault could only replace it by the Super 5, which kept the original car’s styling cues (though it was quite different underneath).

    Never ceases to amaze me how Renault and the other French marques never did crack the US market. Whether rear-engined (Renault), RWD (Peugeot) or FWD (Citroen), they always faltered. There were plenty of French cars in South America, Europe, Africa, parts of Asia… so what is it about the US market that made them a fish out of water?

    Minor corrections in your Renault timeline: the first 4CV cars were presented at the first post-war Paris car show (October 1946) and Dauphine came out mid 1956 (Geneva car show).

    1. Thanks again for the corrections; I’ve amended the text.

      I think the biggest problems for the French were that they didn’t have strong enough U.S. organizations, never had a good reputation for reliability in U.S. conditions, and that they didn’t have enough prestige to make up for it. (Just a few issues…)

      American buyers above all want known quantities, particularly when it comes to cheaper cars. This is something that European buyers and manufacturers often fail to understand (and for which the British often have contempt, although they’re just as guilty of it in different ways), but I think it’s a bigger concern for most Americans than whether something is interesting, exciting, or even prestigious. A lot of popular cars in this country, whether made or designed here or not, are sort of like the products of big fast food chains: It may not be great, it may not even be very good, but when you walk in the door, you know exactly what you’re going to get and how much it’s going to cost. As soon as you start adding question marks to that formula, your product immediately becomes a niche item.

      If Renault had been able to have a thousand U.S. dealerships, if there were inexpensive parts for every U.S-market Renault in every auto parts shop in the country, if rebuilding an R5 gearbox were part of the curriculum of every high school auto shop class, they probably would have done pretty well, flaws and all. The trick is that to get to that point, they would have had to offer some consistent virtues compelling enough to the mass market to build up a reputation. The 5’s main selling point here was fuel economy, and you could get that from various other B- and C-segment cars that didn’t cost any more and had much less shaky reputations.

      The problem for a car like the 5 specifically was that there’s really never been a strong incentive for Americans to own cars like that. We don’t have legal constraints on length or width (the only area where you get into issues is if the car is over 80 inches wide), fuel prices are such that the cost difference between an A- or B-segment car and a C-segment one is not substantial, and while I think a few states still base annual license fees on the old RAC taxable horsepower formula, the difference isn’t enough to make someone rush out and buy an old long-stroke British car to beat the system. On American roads, driving a small car is a disadvantage at least as often as it’s useful. As awful as urban traffic is, we don’t have to deal with narrow European city streets and parking spaces are usually of pretty constant size. If you have to park on the street a lot, a short car can be useful, but when you find yourself staring up at the four SUVs boxing you in on the freeway at rush hour, you start wondering if it’s worth it.

      The French also never really did enough to develop products specific to the U.S. market. The successful imports did and the results are pretty obvious.

  13. Renault also looked at developing a transverse-engined Mini-rival called the R2 sitting below the Renault 5, the R2 and successor Mini-rival projects would eventually evolve into original Renault Twingo.

    The following French link goes into more detail.

  14. Perhaps so many European Manufacturers failing to crack the USA market was because they were busy building enough cars to satisfy their home markets. Also the UK makers had an established market in the former empire states. Indeed for some time after WW2 the UK was exporting more cars than any other country!. Likewise the French had their former colonies to send cars to.
    Which begs the question; why did VW succeed in North America?. One factor was there would be strong resistance to buying anything German in the immediate aftermath of WW2, perhaps much less so in the USA where many servicemen never went to Europe to fight. Also VW offered a simple car that could withstand American driving conditions. It wasn’t a very good car in any driving or comfort parameter, but turned out to be reliable and simple to fix when it did go wrong.
    Renault built cars with a very Gallic character, Italian cars likewise had Latin character, and British cars were very, well, British. Swedish cars had their own Scandanavian aure as well. Perhaps German cars appealed to Americans who wanted unpretentious transport offered by VW, or fine engineering and didn’t object to the hefty premium required for a Mercedes Benz.
    It is worth noting that the imports that have sold well in North America all have a reputation for reliability as a common factor.


    1. A lot of American servicemembers did fight in Europe, although how that impacted their feelings about German products is complex and really depends a lot on whom and where you’re specifically talking about. It’s perhaps a facile point, but the U.S. is much, much bigger than Europe and has a huge amount of significant regional variation in both culture and driving conditions!

      The downfall of many a foreign automaker in the U.S. was a combination of products that didn’t suit U.S. conditions and lack of a service network. The Volkswagen Beetle managed to skate on both points because it could withstand extended trips on American highways (not necessarily comfortably or adroitly, but without melting down) and because Volkswagen made a concerted effort to build a parts and service infrastructure. Nissan and Toyota eventually succeeded because while their early products didn’t manage either feat, they kept at it rather than throwing in the towel, inspired in no small part by the fact that Japan’s automotive economy was growing rapidly at the same time.

      The real dilemma for European makers was that the investment involved in making their cars viable in the U.S. market was a lot greater than their immediate sales justified. (Why invest millions in engineering and tooling for a market where you’re selling low five figures?) I think that was a bigger factor than the issue of national character; for instance, Americans would probably have appreciated the Gallic knack for achieving good ride quality in small packages, but other factors became dealbreakers.

  15. French cars were characterized by lightweight not very crash resistant bodyshells combined with high ratio top gear in order to achieve the fuel economy and cruising speed from the small engines necessary for economy in high fuel price and engine sized tax regimes in European markets. This lightweight engineering was unsuited to ham-fisted mechanically unsympathetic drivers, but perfectly suited to the majority of European drivers.(MGA twincam engines being another example) The engineering of Peugeots in particular
    was more than adequate for punishing Africanconditions when driven sensibly.

  16. While it would have entailed Renault producing two 1.6-litre engines, it is a shame the Cléon-Fonte never grew to 1.6-litres except in parts of South America as well as Romania (via Dacia) and Turkey, at least for the Renault 5 / Renault Super 5 / Renault Express and Renault 11 / Renault 9.

    There was also the 90 hp 1596cc variant used in the Volvo 343 Oëttinger, which gives some insight as to what a 1.6-litre version of the 92 hp 1.4-litre Renault 5 Gordini/Alpine and 108-118 hp 1.4-litre Renault 5 Alpine / Renault Super 5 GT Turbo would have put out along with the mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo.

    1. I think it very unlikely Renault would consider investing in developing two engines of the same displacement, particularly if one was for a low volume car.
      GM is perhaps the only auto maker that was big enough to have different engines very similar in design, size, and output, for each of its divisions, and that was being rationalised out in the 1980’s.


      1. The Renault 5 and Renault 11 plus related models were large volume cars, the more potent 1.6-litres would have allowed them to compete in the Hot Hatch sector particularly in non-turbocharged possibly productionized 105 hp 1.6-litre Alpine/Gordini spec.

        The 1.6 Cleon engine could have also found its way into the Renault 18/Fuego, Renault 21 and Renault 19 in European/Western markets.

        It was also possible to reduce overlap between the 1.6-litre C-Type / Cleon and 1.6 A-Type engines to have been resolved by having the latter (already capable of 1647cc) further enlarged to 1774cc via a 82 mm bore / 84 mm stroke, thereby slotting between the 1.6 C-Type and 2.0 Douvrin engines.

        Renault appeared to have little issue producing overlapping engines what with the Cleon / Energy and X engines.

        Interestingly the A-Type was also originally conceived to produce a 2.2-litre 6-cylinder version of the 1.6-litre A-Type for the Renault 114 Project that was intended to replace the Frégate (and predated the Renault 16).

        1. Meant to say.

          It was also possible to reduce overlap between the 1.6-litre C-Type / Cleon and 1.6 A-Type engines simply by having the latter (already capable of 1647cc) further enlarged to 1774cc via a 82 mm bore / 84 mm stroke, thereby slotting between the 1.6 C-Type and 2.0 Douvrin engines.

      2. It should be said that it’s not uncommon for automakers to have different engine families that overlap in displacement range, particularly if they’re of different vintages. Examples that spring to mind are Toyota’s R-system, T-system, A-system, and S-system fours, all of which started in the 1.5-liter (ish) range — albeit not all at the same time. The R engine had greater growth potential (as evidenced by its late 2.2- and 2.4-liter iterations), but was physically larger and a fair bit heavier than the later T engine. The A and S engines replaced the T and R, but because the latter were quite widely used, it was a gradual transition. Similarly, a lot of Japanese manufacturers had small sixes that overlapped their four-cylinder engines in displacement and output.

        So, it’s not all that unusual, whether for logistical reasons (which is mostly why GM did it), as an overlap between design generations, or just different applications (like the difference between fours and sixes of similar displacement).

        1. Seem to recall Honda being another carmaker to have overlapping engine families.

          Regarding the 1.6 C-Type and 1.6 A-Type engines, it is likely that both would have been replaced by the 1.6 F-Type engine anyway. The two engines would also have been used in different models since it is unlikely the A-Type would have fitted into the Renault 5 and Renault 11 (plus related variants).

          Allegedly there was also scope for the PSA-Renault X engine to be enlarged to 1.6-litres, which was later used in the updated PSA TU engine.

  17. While the Renault 5 / 7 carried over the C-Type engine, apart from the larger Renault 14 is it known whether the jointly-developed PSA-Renault X-Type was ever seriously investigated for use in the Renault 5?

  18. Do any weight figures exist for the Cleon-Fonte / C-Type engines as well as the latter K-Type and D-Type engines?

    The only figure available online appears to be the related Renault Energy / E-Type engine’s 238 lbs / 108 kg, which chronologically slots between the Cleon-Fonte and K-Type engines.

    1. Data might exist in French-language sources with which I’m not familiar, but I don’t have any figures for them.

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