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.
FORTUNES OF WAR
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.
THE DYING DESIGNER
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.
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.
CHIC CINQ: THE RENAULT 5 DEBUTS
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.
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.
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.
RENAULT LE CAR
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.
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.
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.
RENAULT 5 ALPINE AND GORDINI
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.
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.
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.
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.
TAKING IT TO THE STREET
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
NOTES ON SOURCES
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 Renault-5.net (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. com.au, 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, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_5, 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,” HowStuffWorks.com, 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. co.uk, 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. com.au, 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 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancia_Stratos, accessed 15 September 2009) and Renault 5 Turbo (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_5_Turbo, accessed 14 September 2009).
Details on the Renault Clio V6 came from the Wikipedia entry (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_Clio_V6_Renault_Sport, 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, Autozine.org, 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 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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. ubc.ca). 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!