Take Five

Remembering a memorable Renault.

(c) stubs-auto-fr

In 1976, Renault introduced the 5 GTL, a version of France’s best seller which was intended to appeal to more economy-conscious customers. Powered by a detuned version of the 5 TS’ 1289 cc engine, it was a low-revving, relatively unstressed power unit, aimed at reducing fuel consumption – in a rudimentary manner perhaps, predating BMW’s more elaborate attempts at achieving a similar goal with their ETA engine programme the following decade.

At the time at least, it went against the orthodoxy of using a smaller capacity engine to achieve the same goal, (Renault were already offering the Cinq with engines of 845, 956 or 1108 cc capacity), so while the headline economy figures for the GTL were more impressive than the smaller engined versions, the gains really had to be offset against the higher purchase price and the fact that its greater swept volume would place it into a higher taxation band in several European markets. Late in life, the GTL switched to the smaller capacity 1108 unit. Either way however, it proved a successful variant of an already well-liked car.

It is a car I once knew rather well, a 1977 example becoming our family’s second car during the early 1980s. In some ways I perhaps became over-acquainted with it, youthful over-exuberance once involved getting it airborne over a humped-back bridge one spring afternoon. I’m not proud of myself I must add, and despite being convinced I had done irreparable damage, the Cinq seemed to have taken the abuse in its long-travel stride.

It’s also the car in which I later passed my driving test, it’s low-geared steering I recall making the more technical manoeuvres somewhat more taxing than they might otherwise have been. It was, if memory serves, a decently reliable car too, although age, mileage (and misuse) did lead to a few running repairs, including to the gear linkage (a rather convoluted device). I also vaguely recall it arriving back on the end of a tow-rope once, but the reason has been lost to memory.

One curiosity of the GTL (and suggestive of its intended city role) was that the protective side strakes (which matched the bumpers) were more or less unique to the model, and not fitted to the more upmarket or performance variants. Perhaps one reason for this was that despite their prescience, Michel Boué’s well-drawn flanks looked better unadorned.

In addition, the GTL was offered with the same styled roadwheels which adorned the top of line TS model, although it lacked that model’s more generous equipment levels. Nevertheless, the GTL (initially) gained reversing lamps, illuminated heater controls, electric screen-washers and a cigarette lighter over its lowlier TL sibling. The dashboard covering was also of a different (unribbed) finish.

For a car which was something of an outlier in a broad range, the 5 GTL has appeared on several occasions on the pages of Driven to Write. Firstly in 2015 in a piece by former scribe, Sean Patrick, then latterly in 2018 in a transcription of the original from the inimitable Archie Vicar.

All of which might provide some slight diversion from the unremitting tide of contagion. Take care of one another… and please, wash your hands.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

28 thoughts on “Take Five”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. The Renault 5 is definitely worthy of attention, but I’m transfixed by the photo above. What on earth is going on? We ought to be told.

    Stay safe everybody. Keep calm and carry on.

    1. The events depicted in the photo are obviously up to anyone’s interpretation, but I can shed some light on the exact location: This is the corner of Milchstraße & Magdalenenstraße in Pöseldorf, Hamburg. It used to be the address of the flagship store of Jil Sander, the ‘queen of cashmere’, one of the very few German fashion designers of international renown. Her atelier was nearby, and she keeps a home in Pöseldorf to this day.

      She seems to be interested in cars, but appears to be a staunch supporter of the British car industry, having formerly owned an S1 XJ6 and being presently seen behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental GT. So I rather doubt that blue R5 met with her approval.

  2. Here’s a short contemporary road test from Thames TV. They liked the increased refinement from the larger engine and the higher gearing. They thought it was a bit pricey, though.

  3. at the same time the fiat produced the 127. Renault 5 more attractive in my opinion.

    1. Hi John. No, I’m highly unlikely to devote any effort to the Miura or Countach. I’m irrationally fascinated by the mundane and everyday. The more exotic the car, the less it interests me.

      I actually really like the Supercinq, but those indicators remind me of the emoji that is sticking it tongue out to the side of its mouth, hence my attempt at a facelift.

  4. Isn’t it funny how we all differ. I always thought the best looking R5 was the GTL precisely because it had the side strakes! I didn’t like the deeper front bumper on later models though, so when I caught sight of the lovely blue GTL at the top of the article I immediately thought ‘my perfect R5!’

  5. The original 5 really was a lovely looking car, even if it’s mechanical layout was sub-optimal for a supermini. The ‘Supercinq’ successor mainined the distinctive style, but I never quite took to those non-functional strips or grey plastic on the C-pillar. The front indicators wrapping around the corners into the wings so they didn’t align with the edges of the headlamps always looked a little odd too. Still, it was a very clean design overall:

    1. I’m not doing well today…Ingvar doesn’t like my Renault 11 facelift either!

    2. Haha, to be fair “ruined” was maybe a little strong, but I prefer the original. Are you not tempted to improve the Miura and Countach whilst you’re in a designing mood, Daniel? 😉

  6. Hello clever commenters: I would like to ask again about how to embed an image in a comment.
    Can someone write a very plain and fool-proof how-to for this task? My reason is I am running another blog for teaching and I need inexperienced students to be able to put images in their comments. Thanks for your help and patience!

    1. Good morning, Richard. Here you go.

      Embedding Imgur Photos in Posts on DTW:

      Imgur offers you different links to your uploaded photo, but only one option works to embed the photo directly in your post. How you find the correct link depends on the device you’re using.

      Using an Android tablet:

      1. Upload the photo to Imgur.

      2. “Touch and hold” on the image for a couple of seconds.

      3. A window will pop up giving you s number of different “Share to” options.

      4. Touch the “Copy URL” icon.

      5. Paste that URL into your post.

      I’m sure there’s a correct technical term for “Touch and hold” on a touch-screen device. What I mean by this is to place your finger on the image and keep it there until the window pops up.

      Using a Windows Laptop:

      1. Upload the photo to Imgur.

      2. Right-click on the image.

      3. A window will pop up giving you a number of different options.

      4. Click on “Copy image address”.

      5. Paste that URL into your post.

      Hope this is helpful!

  7. This brings back mostly happy memories of the 5TL had from 1979 to 1983.

    The officially sanctioned answer to the heavy steering was to increase front tyre pressures from 24psi to 27psi. It brought a slight reduction in effort with no obvious detriment to traction or roadholding. As part of the 1979 specification review 5TL tyre width was reduced from 145 to 135 to reduce steering effort. Later – post ’81 – cars had a lower geared steering rack which dulled the steering’s responsiveness and crosswinds controllability.

    Both of the family 5TLs had the dashboard gear shift. Easily mastered, mechanically simple, and ideally positioned for those who drive with both hands on the steering wheel. The floor change linkage was a mechanical engineer’s nightmare task, and completely unnecessary. 4 and 6 drivers were well used to the dash change. In their perverse Gallic way, Renault never offered an alternative to the 16’s column shift, but saw fit in the 5’s case to pander to Northern Europe’s preference for a lever on the floor.

    Through various specification rethinks, the GTL continued to be an oddity in the range, with those side shields and an assortment of unusual seats. In September 1981 the GTL’s high-torque 1.3 litre engine was replaced by a 1.1 with the same output and slightly better official mpg. This engine was shared with the 5TL, effectively making the GTL just a trim level. Its status was restored in December 1982 when it was upgraded with a five speed gearbox, the TL had to wait until the run-out ’84MY for this.

    Over a 12 year production life, European 5s changed little externally from the Boué original: wheels, reversing lights, trim signifiers and door count apart, the only visible revisions were separation of the three door’s lock and push button, and for ’83MY a revised front bumper with a discreet (but not discrete) chin spoiler.

    On the locks matter, security was bloody awful in the early cars. The Ronis and Neimann door locks wore out in a couple of years, and could be opened easily with a penknife or nail file. A complete set – two doors and hatch – cost less than £5.

    1. The dashboard mounted ‘umbrella handle’ gearshift was a characteristic feature of cheap cars.
      From 2CV, Dyane, Ami6/8, R4/5/6 to Trabant. For the Renaults with their gearbox in front of the engine it was a logical and straightforward solution. Column mounted gearshifts were popular in France and Italy (remember the first Giulias had a column mounted gearshift, not to mention diverse Lancias). DS and Peugeot 204/304, 404, 504 L were good company for an R16.
      There’s a number of people driving around in R4s with the R5 Alpine engine and gearbox, the latter converted to the dash mounted gearlever which is much better than the contorted linkage of the donor car.

  8. Hi Eoin,

    I understand you had the 1977 model. It’s a shame you didn’t have the 1979 model with its hypnotic dashboard, especially the passenger side, that curved 3-parts receptacle facing the passenger was, to me, so original but also soothing.

    1. It’s a neat piece of work isn’t it. I always envied the later interiors over our GTL’s rather drab black cabin (with added smoke damage…)

  9. Whilst the GTL idea started with the R5 it reached its peak when applied to the R4. The formula was the same, with an oversized 1108cc engine throttled down to the same 34bhp as lesser models, but with a much healthier 55lb/ft of torque at 2,500rpm, allied to diesel-like gearing, grey side skirts and body addenda and partial cloth trim. Renault ultimately shifted 2.1 million of the things and it undoubtedly gave the R4 the new lease of life it needed to continue selling well into the 1990s.

    I run a 4 GTL as a daily driver and it’s still a remarkably good choice for someone in need of small, practical, cheap to run transport. The high torque output relative to the weight means it’s easy to stay ahead of the general flow of traffic, or at least keep up with it, and the little Renault can climb hills tenaciously. The long gearing (at 20mph/1,000rpm fourth is the same as most modern small cars’ fifth) means long distance cruising is a relative breeze. Mine also benefits in the useability stakes by having the later R5-based dashboard and front disc brakes.

    ‘the gains really had to be offset against the higher purchase price and the fact that its greater swept volume would place it into a higher taxation band in several European markets.’

    In France at least horsepower and final drive ratio were also taken into account when deciding tax bands, which is how the GTL models, with their low power outputs and long gearing, managed to remain in the same or lower tax bands than their regular counterparts. For instance, the standard Renault 4s were by the late-70s in the 5CV bracket but the GTL managed to sneak into the 4CV bracket.

    1. Nice to hear that someone is still using and enjoying their R4. The GTL was indeed a good fit for the car, although like its R5 equivalent, it made it a little more expensive to run here in Ireland. R4’s were assembled in Wexford, on the East coast, and were notorious for premature rot. We never really got the hang of carmaking over here.
      Thanks for stopping by.

    2. Hello Hex: thanks for that comment. Lucky you to run an R4 as a daily driver. The last time I saw one in the wild was in Lisbon in November. Here in N Europe they have had a poor survival rate. It´s the 2CV you see going about, if you see anything like this at all. It´s a remarkably enduring bit of work, the 4 but cursed by the Renault Charter (Line 45, Section3: “No Renault design should be cherished by the owner…” Thanks to Robertas for sending me the Goodwin Translation (2011) of that Charter, by the way. I suppose that overall in Europe there are more than enough survivors for there to be a good after-market supply of part and material. If you would care to post a photo I for one would love to see it.

    3. Hopefully I can get the hang of posting photos here.

      The bodywork’s a bit tatty at the moment (it’s receiving a set of new bumpers this week) but it’s planned to take it off the road next winter for a repaint, the chassis itself is actually quite solid and well rustproofed. It seems they built this one to last.

    4. Hello, Hexagon, and welcome. I always liked the way that Renault sprayed the formerly chromed bumpers on the 4 and changed the colour of the grille to match the side cladding. It modernised the design, to a small degree at least.

      I would also like to see a photo of your 4GTL, if you might oblige.

      Below are the instructions for posting photos via Imgur, if you want to eliminate the “frame” that appears in your photo above.

      Embedding Imgur Photos in Posts on DTW:

      Imgur offers you different links to your uploaded photo, but only one option works to embed the photo directly in your post. How you find the correct link depends on the device you’re using.

      Using an Android tablet:

      1. Upload the photo to Imgur.
      2. “Touch and hold” on the image for a couple of seconds.
      3. A window will pop up giving you s number of different “Share to” options.
      4. Touch the “Copy URL” icon.
      5. Paste that URL into your post.

      I’m sure there’s a correct technical term for “Touch and hold” on a touch-screen device. What I mean by this is to place your finger on the image and keep it there until the window pops up.

      Using a Windows Laptop:

      1. Upload the photo to Imgur.
      2. Right-click on the image.
      3. A window will pop up giving you a number of different options.
      4. Click on “Copy image address”.
      5. Paste that URL into your post.

      Hope this is helpful!

    5. Hello Hex: thanks for that. That´s a beauty. I like that one. You can see where they were coming from with the first version of the Kangoo. It´s not an obvious copy and paste, more the feeling of joyful practicality. What a very likeable car. Do you like the Kangoo, by the way? I do, especially in its early more jolly form.
      The R4 is an interesting design because it´s clearly not one of those knowing “designer led” cars of the more recent times. I would suppose the design team was small and probably not soaked in research. Yet the result is pleasing, sensible and with enough quirkiness to make it human. I miss that kind of design. And we can´t go back. Innocence once lost cannot be regained.

    6. Funnily enough I get to drive a Mk1 Kangoo van most weekends at work so I’m in the lucky position of being able to compare the two first hand. It’s clear that the Kangoo manages to capture the essential concept of the R4 without having to pastiche any of its details, although the interior is very much a 1.5 scale Twingo replica. Renault clearly paid great attention to simplicity when designing the Kangoo: the windscreen’s held in with a rubber seal, plastic trim is only used internally to cover up the inner mechanical working of things and painted metal is the norm, the speakers are in the dashboard rather than the doors to simplify the wiring and early models lacked a tachometer or electric windows.

      Like the R4 the floors are clad with practical rubber mats and as with later 4s the interior functions equally well as a shelving unit as it does providing passenger space. We also have a Mk1 Berlingo on the fleet and it feels throroughly pretentious with its carpets and door cards. The driving experience is also quite similar between the R4 and Kangoo, except the latter is bigger, considerably heavier and has power assisted braking and steering. The Kangoo doesn’t ride as well as the older car but on the debit side it needs to be pushed quite hard through corners to generate R4 levels of body roll.

      The design process of the Renault 4 was much like that of the 2CV. Renault CEO Pierre Dreyfus laid down a very specific and demanding list of requirements for the new car (as well as its intended retail price) and then left his engineers to figure it out for themselves. Whilst Citroen could rely on Michelin’s generous chequebook and give the 2CV engineers largely free reign, Renault’s engineers in the 50s were stuck to a tighter budget and after various experiments with flat twins and the like, they lifted the powertrain largely unchanged from the 4CV and moved it to the front of the car for cost reasons. This is the reason for the R4’s (and thus the R5’s) peculiar engine layout, which apes the Traction Avant and DS.

      The engineers eventually came up with this, which with a lot of finessing by the stylists became the Renault 4 we’re all familiar with.

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