My brilliant career.
1975 was not a year to be recalled with much fondness across the global automotive industry, as the effects of Yom Kippur 1973 hit home. A number of carmakers would not survive the year, while others would undergo painful reinventions under dramatically altered circumstances. Renault, to some extent insulated by French Government stewardship, would undergo change too, Pierre Dreyfus, the CEO who had steadfastly guided them for two decades had elected to retire, nominating Bernard Vernier-Palliez in his stead. Prior to his departure, Dreyfus made another significant appointment, luring design-lead Robert Opron to defect from the failing Citroën in order to bolster Renault’s styling armoury.
Meanwhile in 1975, as Steven Spielberg’s prosthetic shark was chewing through scenery, props and Robert Shaw in cinemas everywhere, and while 10 CC’s “I’m Not In Love” was doing something similar amid the pop charts, the R5 was establishing itself as France’s favourite car. Not only perfectly pitched to the market, but post-1973, it was ideally placed to capitalise upon the changes in European buying habits the geopolitical fault lines had wrought. Later that year, Renault introduced the range-topping 5 TS – mechanically identical to the now superseded LS model, but gaining the additional features and luxuries downsizing buyers appreciated.
With the search for frugality now front and centre of thinking throughout the industry, Renault engineers, fitting an R5 with a detuned version of the 1289 cc TS engine, mated to a higher final drive ratio, demonstrated not just how such a combination would improve flexibility but use notably less fuel. Introduced in 1976 as the GTL, the economy 5 sat between the TL and TS in the model hierarchy, and was externally distinguished by ribbed body side cladding – curiously, the only R5 model at the time so equipped.
But it wasn’t all hair shirts and privation. With a thriving track racing series (the Renault Elf cup) and some success in the junior formulae of the international rally championships, Billancourt recognised an opportunity to provide a halo version, the 1976 R5 Alpine being Renault’s performance gambit. Using an expanded 1397 cc version of the Cléon engine, breathed upon to provide 93 bhp and a clean pair of heels, while stiffer anti-roll bars and springing reined in the otherwise lurid roll-angles. External changes were relatively subtle, confined to suitably wider, more purposeful looking road wheels and tyres, a deep front spoiler-cum Cibié fog lamp arrangement, and some relatively subtle A5 striping along the flanks. Inside, it was very much à la TS, but a perforated three spoke steering wheel lent a more sportive touch.
In ethos, the R5 was more of a lover than a fighter, so it was never wholly convincing in the role of performance hatchback, even if the species itself could be said to have originated in France. Despite this, the Alpine/ Gordini 5 certainly looked the part, (the lowered ride height helped) even if the contemporary Golf GTi rather eclipsed it in sales, performance and reputational terms. But neither Renaultsport nor Alpine’s Dieppe skunkworks were entirely finished with the Cinq just yet.
1979 would mark the R5’s only significant facelift, if indeed the barest massaging its exterior would receive could justify the term. Outer changes being virtually imperceptible, illustrating not only the impossibility of improving upon the car’s appearance, but also Renault’s good sense in not interfering unnecessarily with a highly successful formula. Inside, the story was somewhat different, the 5 being in receipt of a new design moulded dashboard and refreshed cabin ambience, the new arrangement being improved from an ergonomic perspective, even if it was probably eclipsed (in bracing modernity terms at least) by that of the previous year’s Citroën Visa.
During the scoping phase, styling prototypes had been made of a four door R5, which for a number of reasons was not proceeded with. But times change, as do circumstance – there being two quite convincing reasons for Renault to press ahead with a four-door body at this juncture. The first being that any non-compete arrangement with Peugeot was well and truly dead by the late ’70s and secondly, it was by then abundantly clear that the flatlining Renault 6 model could no longer be maintained in the marketplace.
So whatever objections that might have held sway within Renault as regards a five-door model were negated by the indisputable force of commercial logic. Certainly, the five-door’s appearance gave little for its critics to latch onto, being wholly consistent and well executed. Despite sharing the same overall length and wheelbase as the standard car, the five-door body did not look truncated or ‘pinched‘. In fact, while few would suggest it a better looking car than the three-door model, it did not appear as an afterthought. Introduced alongside the facelifted standard car in 1979, the five-door was offered in TL, GTL or Automatic versions.
With the sales graph on an unerring upward trajectory, and its popularity beyond both doubt and the combined efforts of rivals to unseat it, Renault had been in no particular hurry to carry out a mid-life facelift. Fortuitously, the revised 5 range, far from fading in middle age, would go on to attain its sales peak in 1980, a remarkable performance for a model line, well into the second half of its career. October 1981 would witness a final set of changes to the mainstream 5 range, with the debuts of the Alpine/ Gordini Turbo and the luxurious TX model – the latter model featuring a 63 bhp version of the 1397 cc Cléon unit, power steering, a luxury interior and a very full specification.
Having topped the European sales charts from 1980 to 82, the Renault 5 met its twin nemeses the following year. Hitherto unassailable, despite its age and by now unfashionable engine layout, the advent of the up-to-the-minute FIAT Uno and Peugeot 205 finally made the Cinq both look and feel its age. Renault had a new car in hand, and in 1984, the all-new Supercinq was announced.
The 5 had been rationalised in the run up to the Super 5’s launch. Special editions were rife throughout the Cinq’s lifespan, but in its final years models dubbed Campus and Laureate would become the default. In time-honoured French tradition, the original car continued in limited form after the introduction of its replacement, but by the Summer of 1985, following a thirteen year run, the Cinq was no more – in Europe at least.
La Cinq est mort, vive la Super Cinq.
 At a 1975 meeting between Robert Opron and Bernard Hanon, the Citroën chief designer, already disillusioned by the Peugeot takeover, was sufficiently impressed by the Renault Vice-President to jump ship.
 Apart from the 1978 R5 Automatic, which also gained a black vinyl roof for good measure.
 Owing to a conflict with Chrysler Europe over the use of the Alpine name in the UK, the emboldened A5 employed the otherwise dormant Gordini name in Britain and Ireland.
 The larger capacity unit was mated to a five-speed gearbox sourced from the Renault 16 TX model.
 The 1973 Simca 1100 Ti is commonly regarded as the first official ‘hot-hatch’.
 The mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo and A5 Turbo will be profiled separately.
 The most obvious being confined to black coloured bumper shields (and side panels on GTL and Auto models).
 According to Renault’s Jean-Claude Maraselli (as recounted to Car Magazine, April 1973) however, the cause of this rejection was both on aesthetic grounds and because it proved a less practical proposition than envisaged. As writer/historian, Jean-Louis Loubet outlined however (see part one), there were other reasons for Renault’s rejection of the four-door bodyshell, which does suggest Maraselli adopting something of a party line here.
 There was a small weight penalty incurred with the five-door bodyshell, owing to the strengthening required to mitigate the lack of torsional rigidity over the original body.
 The 1979 facelift also debuted the larger capacity 1108 cc engine in both TL and GTL models, the latter still featuring a longer final-drive and improved economy over the TL model. A five-door TS model was offered in some non-European markets and in the US, Le Car was offered with the five-door body in 1981.
 Echoing its predecessor, the 205 was launched with a five-door body only, although Peugeot would offer a three-door version later. The Uno was launched with both bodystyles from day one.