Voiture à Vivre [Part Five]

The 5 that really was a Supercar.

Image: lautomobileancienne

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no successful model line can attain true immortality without a competition pedigree, so it should surprise nobody that the Renault 5 gained one alongside its many other accolades. Motorsport had been a somewhat patchy activity within Billancourt in the run up to the 1970s, with the bulk of the heavy lifting being provided by outsiders like Gordini and Alpine[1].

In 1974, the Renault 5 became available in 85 bhp LS Kitée specification, a low-volume model for competition in the newly renamed Renault 5 Elf Cup. 150 were produced for the 1975 season of the race series which proved popular and competitive. Two years later, Dieppe’s technicians had completed their ministrations resulting in the Alpine A5, Renault’s official performance offering. This too would gain a competition career, being campaigned in the World Rally Championship’s Group 2 class, the A5s as fielded by Renault Sport developing 130 bhp. Early results from the 1977 Mille Pistes and San Remo rallies illustrated the promise of the Alpine 5, but the following year, a class victory by Jean Ragnotti in the Monte Carlo event[2] would mark the high point of the A5’s rally career.

Despite the occasional giant-killing performance, the standard R5 was never going to consistently battle for top honours on the rally stages of Europe and further afield. Billancourt’s last full-blooded rally contender was courtesy of Alpine in the formidable shape of the A110, a car so successful it would become as synonymous with the sport as Lancia’s Stratos which subsequently wrested its mantle[3]. This time however, Renault were taking it upon themselves.

Jean Terramorsi, a senior manager at Billancourt’s officie à la Direction du Produit outlined his requirements in 1976, these being lightness, a compact package, a close resemblance to an equivalent production model and minimal changes from homologated production model to rally weapon. It was Bertone designer, Marc Deschamps who formulated the idea of a mid-engined Cinq, producing sketches that when viewed by Terramorsi and Renault boss, Bernard Hanon were greeted with enthusiasm.

Image: autoevolution

Prototype production of what became dubbed projet 822 was assigned to the Alpine facility at Berex, utilising a strengthened and lightened production R5 bodyshell, with suitable modifications to the rear floorpan[4] to house the mid-mounted powertrain. Various engines were considered, including the Alpine A310’s V6 and the Douvrin 2.0 litre four, but eventually a turbocharged version of the Cléon 1397 cc unit from the Alpine 5 was chosen as combining the best compromise of power, weight and durability within Renault’s chosen weight classification. Renault Sport were heavily involved in turbocharger development as part of their nascent Formula One programme at this time, so a turbocharged 5 would also prove a useful punctuation point underlining the carmaker’s newfound commitment.

In the Autumn of 1978, Renault exhibited a non-running mock up at the Paris motor show, which was very well received. The car’s styling had by then been further evolved, both at Renault’s Centre de Style in Rueil Malmaison and by Marcello Gandini, late of Bertone. A month after the Paris show, the first 5 Turbo prototype was demonstrated to the press at Lédenon, demonstrating proof of concept. The following year, a single prototype made its competition debut at the Giro d’Italia. Engine problems however forced its retirement.

That Autumn a Turbo 5 was entered in the Tour de France Auto with Jean Ragnotti and Jean Marc Andrié as navigator. Soon afterwards the same pairing made the Turbo’s WRC debut at the Tour de Corse. Of the seven Turbo 5s which took part, only one finished – the non-works Turbo of Bruno Saby finishing fourth overall. Ragnotti was again amongst the retirees, his Turbo 5 succumbing to alternator failure. The Turbo wasn’t yet a winner, but the promise was definitely there.

Image: The Hyppy

Late January 1981, and the Monte Carlo Rally, celebrating its 70th anniversary was even more keenly anticipated than usual. The big news at the principality that year was the first real test for Audi’s new four wheel drive Quattro, which had annihilated the opposition earlier that month at Austria’s Janner Rally, based around the ancient walled city of Feistadt. Driven by Franz Wittman, the Quattro, which had only been homologated to compete set fastest times on each of the 31 stages.

Audi fielded two works-prepared 300 bhp Quattros for the Monte, driven by Hannu Mikkola, the pre-race favourite and Michele Mouton. With most rival teams offering somewhat dated opposition, Renault, who had not won the event since 1973 would be the Audi’s primary works threat. Two Renault Sport R5 Turbos would start, driven by Ragnotti and Saby.

The rally got under way amid drier conditions than expected, there being less snow than in previous years. Mikkola set the early pace until a mistake caused him to collide with a bridge parapet, severely damaging the car and losing his lead. A subsequent brake failure later in the race led to his retirement. Mouton had no better fortune, her Quattro plagued by contaminated fuel. Audi retired the car[5].

The race lead now fell to privateer, Jean-Luc Thérier in a Porsche 911 SC, but caught out by snow dumped upon the otherwise dry road by ‘race fans’ seeking a spectacle, he crashed luridly, narrowly avoiding a sheer drop. Some three minutes behind, Ragnotti’s Cinq then assumed the lead, which he would hold to the end, giving the Turbo 5 its first WRC victory. 1982 proved less of a success; ironically, it was Germany’s Walter Röhl driving an Opel Ascona 400 who became WRC champion that year, the last gasp of a dying era.

Image: motor1

Group B regulations would come into force for World Rallying in 1983, allowing huge increases in power outputs, mated to four-wheel drive. Having proved the concept with the Quattro, the older rear-wheel drive rally machines were no match for the Audi’s four-wheel drive traction or power. Renault debuted a new, more powerful 240 bhp Group B Tour de Corse Turbo 5 for 1983, but Audi made it stick that year and the next, Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist swapping palmarès.

While benefiting from its compactness, its light weight and mid-engined layout, the Turbo 5 however suffered from a lack of traction, a consequence of its comparatively narrow wheelwells. For the 1985 season, this would change, the Turbo undergoing a major makeover. Now dubbed the 8221 Maxi, this heavily modified and lightened version also received a larger, more powerful 1526 cc engine developing 350 bhp.

Image: Favcars

The ’85 championship went to Timo Salonen driving a Peugeot 205 T16, double humiliation for Renault with their great domestic rival beating them both in competition and in car sales. While a further evolved four-wheel drive Super-Maxi was considered, the tragic events of the 1986 season forced the FIA’s hands and Group B was banned for 1987. The Turbo 5 continued to race, but not at the very top level, 1985 marking the works Turbo’s final year of WRC competition.

Like all similar machines, the Turbo 5 was required to be developed both as a road car for homologation purposes, requiring a somewhat different approach. The resultant car would, like many competition models, be something of a parts bin raid – suspension and brakes would be sourced from the Alpine A310, with the gearbox from the Renault 30. The 1.4 litre Cléon engine, with its Garret T3 turbo, developed 160 bhp in roadgoing trim.

Production of the 400 Renault 5 Turbos required for homologation began at Alpine’s Berex facility in the Spring of 1980, the factory being given over entirely to this task. The process was convoluted, owing to the specialised nature of the car. Standard R5 bodies were taken from Flins and modified by coachbuilder, Heuliez, before being shipped to Berex for assembly. Composites were employed throughout for weight saving, while the roof and doors were in aluminium. The cars were available in two colours: Olympic Blue or Grenadine Red. The interior was designed by carrozzeria Bertone and was somewhat unorthodox with its right-angled steering wheel spoke design and modular dash layout.

Image: classiccars.com

In 1980, just over 800 Turbo 5s were delivered, the car’s steroidal appearance lending it a slightly menacing but unique appeal. Many would be in for a career in some form of motorsport – or a one way ticket into the foliage. For 1982 a larger intercooler was fitted and steel replaced aluminium for the door skins. 536 were built that year and a further 352 in 1983. The following year the Turbo 2 was announced – a slightly rationalised, slightly cheaper version, losing the bespoke Bertone interior for that of the production front-wheel drive Alpine 5 Turbo and the earlier car’s aluminium roof panel. Apart from a special run of 200 larger engined Group B Turbo 2s, the car remained largely unchanged until production ceased in 1986 with 3167 Turbo 2s built.

Image: completecar.ie

You can’t win them all, and while the Turbo 5 could be considered a minor success, it was certainly a victim of both timing and circumstance. Motorsport is a tough business; it’s questionable just how much Renault gained, be it on the rally circuits or the Formula One race tracks. But the Turbo proved a useful halo model – for the model line itself and for Renault as a whole, not to mention something of a legend in its own right – the R5 that truly was a Supercar.

[1] Amédée Gordini sold his business to Renault in 1968. The French carmaker then took a controlling interest in Alpine in 1974, merging it with Gordini to form Renault Sport in 1976.

[2] Ragnotti’s Alpine 5 came second overall, with the A5 of Guy Fréquelin third. The winner was Jean-Pierre Nicolas in a Porsche 911 – the nunelfer prevailing in snowy conditions throughout the rally. Ragnotti would also post a third place in the Rallye Côte d’Ivoire in October 1978. Alongside his works Renault duties, Jean Ragnotti, who would become synonymous with the Turbo 5 was also a stunt driver for the film industry. 

[3] The Alpine A110’s success was something of an embarrassment for Renault, but was probably instrumental in la régie taking over the specialist carmaker.

[4] The 5 Turbo bodies were 5 cm longer than normal.

[5] Mouton’s Quattro had received a tow during the stage in question, so Audi team management elected to retire the repaired car, since it would have been disqualified anyway.

From 1981 to 1984 a successful and hotly contested one-make track series, The Renault 5 Turbo European Cup ran as a prelude to the Formula One races and as a pre-race attraction at the 24 heures du Mans.

Renault Sport would reprise the Turbo 5 with a series of roadgoing mid-engined V6 Clio models.

Sources: Motor Sport/ WRC.com/ Autocar/ Evo/ Renault Classic

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

18 thoughts on “Voiture à Vivre [Part Five]”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. Although I like it I always thought the Turbo was too different from the standard 5 to be a successful halo car. I perceived it as a separate car altogether, probably because the engine is in a different place and the rear wheels are driven instead of the front. It is aggressive too and the regular 5 has a very different character. Maybe that is just me.

    It has so many gauges on the dashboard. This must be one of few if not the only production car to have separate gauges for water temperature, oil pressure, oil temperature, amps, speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, turbo pressure, oil level and a clock. Throw in the red and blue colors and the asymmetrical steering wheel and you have one of the most recognizable interiors in the car industry. Not bad at all.

    1. to you and me it’s quite different, but to the average Joe on the street I’d bet it was very good marketing to have anything vaguely resembling a Renault 5 out there racing in rallies and on tarmac!

    2. Lancia beta coupé/spider/HPE dashboard

      It’s all there except for the turbo pressure.
      The turbo 5 followed the same formula as the later 205T16 which certainly didn’t do any harm to 205’s sales numbers. At that time manufacturers wanted their competition cars to bear a reconisable similarity to the products customers could buy rather than special weapons like A110 or Stratos.

    3. I was fully aware of the Lancia’s dash. It is one gauge short.

  2. Thank you for reminding us of this little hero and of the mentality and atmosphere around rally sports in the Seventies and early Eighties in romanic countries.
    A big fan of the sports in this era and of the Stratos in particular it causes me physical pain to see the designation WRC used in connection with them. WRC for me clearly only means the set of rules for the WRC championship of today where media oriented cars do media oriented events and both have absoutely nothing to do with rally sports at the time of the 5 turbo.

    Two short remarks:
    Audi’s quattros weren’t that all conquering as the press and Audi’s marketing would want you to believe.
    In 1983 Walter Röhrl with the Lancia rally 037 didn’t become world champion once more only because he deliberately did not want to. Walter Röhrl had a contract with Lancia that entitled him to do whatever events he liked (asphalt based like Monte Carlo, San Remo, Corsica) and miss the ones he loathed (RAC, Sweden, Greece, Safari) and he would have needed just one more event with position three or better to become champion once more, something the notoriously publicity-shy Walter missed because he considered it a nuisance to be famous.

    Renault made about forty turbo 5s to a specification called ‘Cévennes’. Those cars more or less followed the specification of the works racers Bruno Saby used. They came with a full roll cage and all kinds of additional stiffening and bracketing like an additional front cross member and steering gear subframe. Engines came in a tune to customer’s choice of 160, 180 or 200 PS to be further worked upon. These cars – or the few of them that have survived – sell at astronomic prices nowadays.
    One standard 5 turbo has been built as a precise replica and is the absolute spectators’ favourite at demonstation runs. According to the owner the most difficult feature is the aggressive power characteristics with a sudden jump from 40 PS to 200 PS when the revs go beyond 4.000 rpm which has already cought him out once and led to a write-off after a collision with a tree and the building of a second replica.
    An original Renauot 5 turbo Cévennes

  3. Good morning Eóin. I remember the 5 Turbo well enough but had completely forgotten about that amazing interior. Did Renault subcontract the design to Lego? 😁

  4. This took me back to when I was 14 and very much in love with this little rocket; of course not having a driving license yet and lacking in funds anyway I had to content myself with a 1:24 scale model; I dug up this photo I made of it at the time but the model itself has unfortunately gone missing years ago:

    Two or three years later at the Amsterdam RAI car show this 5 Turbo as piloted by then Dutch racing sensation Jan Lammers was on display and warranted exposure to one of my 36 “shots” (how things have changed with digital):

    1. On the migration from analogue to digital: in 2018 I attended a talk given by Chelsea Football club’s more or less official photographer. He had pretty well created the role for himself in the 70s. Back then he had a budget for exactly two rolls of 35mm film a week. So, an upper limit of 72 exposures for all games, publicity shots, the lot, in one week. By 2018 Chelsea were recording over 1000 images a week. Even allowing for the extraordinary pouring of money into top flight soccer over the last 30 years (to say nothing of Chelsea’s particular journey!) that’s an enormous jump in output…

    2. I hope there was enough in the budget for some of those photos to be colour, Michael. Then again, if they were mainly going to be used in newspapers, they might as well have been in black and white.

  5. Ah, the Turbo, French madness at its best, at the cost of the quirky unagressive charm that so characterises the car it was based on. Thanks, Eóin.

    I wonder if Renault ever considered to make it three for three and actually build the Twin’run concept (5-5 Turbo, Clio-Clio V6, Twingo-Twin’run):

  6. Was not aware of the 85 hp 1289cc 1974 Renault 5 LS Kitée, anticipates the 92 hp 1397cc 1976 Renault 5 Alpine / Gordini / Copa.

    An evolved 4WD Super-Maxi would have been a sight to see, although Gerard Roussel and his team developed a homemade 4WD system to rallycross their 5 Maxi Turbo.

    Would Renault have achieved better rallying success in Group B had they decided on a different path in place of the 5 Turbo?

    1. At time the 5 turbo was conceived there was no Group B, therefore it would not have made sense to focus on success in that category.
      When Group B arrived they could not have based a rally car on the proposed Alpine coupé because Group B mandated that certain parts of the body (A and B posts and everything in between) be taken from a car in current mass production. That’s why every 205T16 started life as a standard three door 205, why rally 037 bodyshells started as Montecarlos, RS200 as Sierras and why it was a clear cheat of Audi with the Sport quattro to use the A posts of the saloon on a car clearly based on the rest of the coupé and that’s why Lancia restarted Montecarlo production to have something to base the 037 on.
      The turbo 5 suffered the same fate as the 037. Both were impressively effective in the early days of Group B but once AWD cars were fully developed they stood no chance. Lancia paid the price for having been too early and Renault had the wrong (too old) car.

    2. Meant to say rallying in general as the Alpine alternative to the 5 Turbo was viewed as a more direct successor to the A110 than the A310 was.

      As it was would agree the alternative was unlikely to significantly improve on the 5 Turbo’s results in the absence of AWD, however taking into consideration plans for the larger GTA to feature both Quadra AWD as well as a 2-litre Turbo engine and applying into a smaller package, it would have provided Renault with the right ingredients to do better in rallying in general including Group B.

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