Renault 5 GTL Review

This looks very much like an authentic period review of the 1976 Renault 5 GTL by revered motoring writer Archie Vicar.

1976 Renault 5 GTL: source

The text first appeared under the headline “Another New Renault” in The Amman Valley Chronicle and East Carmarthen News, June 5, 1976. The original photographs were by Douglas Land-Windermere. Due to the effects of xylophagic fungi, the original images could not be used.

This article was initially published on DTW in October 2018.

Renault, Renault, Renault. This firm does try hard and is to be commended for its efforts to keep up with trends sooner or later. That means they are once again on the “hatchback” bandwagon, or staying on the bandwagon in the case of the 5 tested here today. The 5 appeared on the market in 1972 and the firm is sticking with the formula of front-drive and a hinged opening panel on the rear of the car in place of a proper separate boot.

It remains to be seen if British buyers can eventually accept this novelty but in the meantime, Renault UK continue to offer variants of the car in the hope more sales can be garnered.

1976 Renault 5 GTL: source

That means the GTL is now part of the Renault catalogue. What is it? In brief, it’s an entrant in the smaller car class, with a 1,289 cc four-cylinder ohv engine, a Solex carburettor and rack and pinion steering.

Outlandish as all that may seem, it makes a certain kind of sense (if you begin the day with a Gauloise and two glasses of Pernod at least). Typically, most small cars have small engines: one litre’s about your lot at the poverty end of the market. Renault have packed what amounts to a 1.3 into the frail body of the 5, choked it with a minuscule carburettor (probably Solex’s tiniest unit) and it results in a flat torque curve.

That means most of the power appears early on and never really increases no matter how hard you stamp on the pedal. The torque is good enough, much more than the 5 TL at about 62 lb ft of twist.  Finally, the gearing is as tall as Westminster Tower, at 20.7 mph per 1000 rpm. So, at a modest 3000 rpm the car is good for a steady 60 and so returns 42 mph, 2 mph more than Citroën’s frightening Ami.

The rest of the car is much the same but in the name of research and to test claims made by Renault of adjustments to the seating foams, we took the car on an Iberian tour. First stop was the Allegra Restaurant in Port Talbot where we had a fine lunch of caldereida, cebolada, dobradinha (cow’s stomach) washed down with plenty of Setubal (a bit thin). The first leg of the trip took about an hour. The traffic in Ammanford beggared belief. It allowed a lot of opportunities to test the disc/drum brakes (adequate) and the feelsome rack and pinion steering. No sign of back pain at all.

We took the nice mountain roads through Afan and headed to Abergevanny. The steering really has improved since the early days of the 5 and the car proved to tend towards the entertaining, especially on the wet and slippery roads of the district. Understeer, did you say? It’s still ferocious and in the event means the car isn’t at all cheering to drive even if first impressions suggest otherwise.

The same goes for throttle reaction. Unlike, say an Alfa Romeo or perhaps certain Peugeots, easing off the throttle does nothing but slow the car down. The attitude doesn’t alter. So we slowed down for a hearty dinner to digest the experience: the Palmela Restaurant where I had a lovely cabidela, some cafreal and bacalhau com natas which is a kind of cod in cream sauce.

A bottle of Bairrada and some nice 17 year old Madeira added some festivity to the occasion. My notes say “Good Madeira. Good roadholding on wet and very wet surfaces. Michelin ZX. Tyre squeal. Land-Windermere shouting.” The dinner and the lemonade calmed him. Aren’t his photos good?

Image: weilinet

You’ll need premium four star to keep the 5 GTL fuelled and SAE 20W740 is the preferred lubricant. The ashtray is a small drawer and not very good.

From Abergevanny to Crossgates where we pulled up for the evening. No sign of backpain despite the three stints at the wheel. I’d say the restaurant seating was far more harmful to the old spine than the R5’s buxom chairs. As luck would have it, the B&B in Crossgates was run by a lovely Portugese couple who provided a fine slap-up supper for Land-Windermere and I so

Continued on Page 18

(The original text in the Amman Valley Chronicle and East Carmarthen News ends here without explanation.)

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

22 thoughts on “Renault 5 GTL Review”

    1. I like to think he was abducted by space aliens while enjoying an evening smoke, sitting on the bench overlooking Great Malvern. Cardiac arrest is more likely though. He smoked a good deal.

  1. I never dreamed I would see mention of Ammanford and the Amman Valley Chronicle on these pages – my late mother was a native, and her sister would mail back copies of the paper to us. Very apt on ‘Mothers Day’.

  2. Ah, the redoubtable Archie Vicar. His writing style reminds me of the sort of auto reviews that featured in mainstream newspapers back in the day, long on opinions but rather short on facts and figures. Still glad to see he has been disinterred, so thanks, Richard. 🙂

    1. A bit like social media with regard to opinions v. facts….. Speaking of which, a quick ‘google’ of Archie Vicar brings up a website called autoshite.com claiming that this was a pseudonym of George Bishop, first editor of Small Car & Mini Owner (forerunner of Car). Fact or fiction?

  3. I suppose he must’ve challenged the directional stability of his test cars a great deal after all those… refreshments. Interesting tidbits about the torque and tall gearing, though, must make the car more relaxed to drive.

    Also interesting is his scepticism about the hatchback. Was the same felt around the continent at that time, or was the UK slower to change (I know they were with respect to front wheel drive, it having a reputation for being expensive and difficult to maintain or repair)?

    1. The hatchback scepticism just echoes the general prejudice about the format at that time. I get the impression motoring writers can´t help reporting on what they think others think. Even if the feature in question is acceptable you get caveats like this: “The ability to wind down the windows for fresh air does seem like a good idea but I am not sure if other drivers would like it” or “While front wheel drive is a assuredly good idea, there´s a lot of prejudice directed at it and so buyers may consider avoiding it”. Or “until we´re sure this feature is wholly accepted we´ll continue to remind you that some people may not like it and so you ought to not like it either”.
      Poor Jaguar and Alfa Romeo were probably destroyed by listening to motoring hacks pass on the received wisdom that diesel was a no-no for them or that Jaguar should never do an estate car.

    2. “The ability to wind down the windows would seem a nice addition, but buyers might want to consider that their car gets awfully drafty with the windows down…”

      “This car has excellent indicators. Those currently driving an Audi or a BMW might want to look elsewhere…”

      Glibness aside, journos are supposed to gauge the public opinion and balance that with their own (whilst retaining some semblance of objectivity). There is, however, the lazy way of doing so by just writing what you think people want to hear (or as large a proportion of people as possible, resulting in the kind of knee-jerk conservatism you describe); a more diligent way would be to explain a feature, give your opinion as a journalist and then ruminate about the possible opinions of others, perhaps even try to educate you readership. Keeping that interesting and understandable takes skill and effort. Otherwise, there is of course the ultimate in journalistic laziness: vox pop. “In this issue: what do our readers think of that car they’re never going to buy?”

      Incidentally, my usual reaction to something that has a lot of prejudice aimed at it is to think “well, that might be interesting and worthwhile”. I imagine that’s a common affliction around here.

    3. “Glibness aside, journos are supposed to gauge the public opinion and balance that with their own (whilst retaining some semblance of objectivity).”
      The place for opinion and gauging the public is in the opinion columns provided elsewhere in the magazines. There´s it´s quite okay to offer a view like “I am not sure Mr Ordinary will like Peugeot´s driver´s seat enema”. In the car tests the aim is to find out if the product works as it is intended to. If AR insist the car is sporty, then check for that. If there´s a new feature that does x you can assess it´s ability to do x. Should you assess if x is needed? Yes, if x came at the expense of another, known feature.
      There´s a reason EMAP, Bauer and Autocar never felt like hiring me.

    4. You’re right of course, although I’m not sure I’d put it as black and white as all that. An amended version of my statement might be “a journalist does have to take the market into account”, since that’s what any commercial product is aimed at. That market is also dependent on public opinion, therefore it, too, should be taken into account.

      Then again, the notion of me being hired by any journalistic outlet is on a par with that of me winning the lottery. So that’s about the impact of my assessments.

    5. It´s not black and white, yes. What seems to be lacking is a recognition of where the boundaries lie in ethical, professional journalism. I´d like to think these chaps (and it is almost all men) discuss this. However, I don´t think they do.
      “If you like a comfortable ride and are less concerned about ultimate handling, then this might be the car for you but we think it´s nowhere near as good as the ´Ring bashing NAME which costs nearly the same. Because we reckon most people agree with this, you should avoid this car with a million yard barge stick”.

    6. Vicar´s inconsistent on hatchbacks or saloons. Echoing the style of the times, he felt if there was no hatchback it was behind the times and if there was a hatchback it was not acceptable for traditionalists. Both formats were wrong for Vicar. The same applied for front or rear wheel drive.

    7. There is quite a bit of tension between presenting the facts and being boring, and being entertaining but not as factual (to put it kindly). That is quite something of a tightrope to walk if you want to do it properly (and not turn yourself into a circus act). It ideally would also involve the kind of discussions you describe, but I share your assessment that most journalists don’t really have them. As time has progressed, being a recognisable ‘brand’ and stirring up controversy to feed the social media algorythms have become more important while at the same time the profit margins have slimmed, leaving very little time for reflection, even less for self reflection. Although I wonder if Vicar’s reflection wasn’t primarily in a certain liquid. This is a society-wide phenomenon, though.

    8. It’s an interesting discussion. I think journalists have a hard time, as most cars are pretty good, and are pretty similar, these days. I also think there is pressure to approve of schporty features. ‘Yes, the ride is firm, but the pay-off is excellent handling on B-roads’. Translation: ‘It rides like a tin tray being dragged down the road, but I have to pretend that’s okay, or they’ll take the Mickey in the office’.

      I think magazine journalism is a dying art form, in any case. Autocar’s circulation is around 25,000 copies; that compares with 8 million new and used cars sold in the uk each year. Their influence must be pretty much nil. I think some of the reviews on YouTube are good and entertaining, though.

    9. Yeah, not only car buyers feel pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, journalists do too. It’s something of a question: do all those Nurburgring Specials sell because the ride is sporty, or would they have sold if they’d ridden like a classic Merc, let alone a Renault? Citroën and Skoda do seem to focus in softer, more comfortable rides, though, but that might just be by current journalists’ standards.

      The one-upmanship must be even stronger of you’re making videos, though. Shame about print going the way of the dinosaur. On the other hand, I do occasionally watch videos from a few Dutch outlets and you get to know the people making them a little – maybe video makes it easier to be a little more open – which makes it possible to compensate for their biases when making your own assessment.

    10. One of the main tasks journalists have today is to help manufacturers selling their goods. This includes making propaganda for stupid electronics and nightmare ergonimics.
      In an era of sshrinking sales numbers for magazines and a growing number of cars that have to be written about the content of those magazines is made up from three parts. You get pure advertising, you get ‘sponsored journalism’ where manufacturers’ press statements are regurgitated and published under the name of a journalist and you get (ever less) real journalistic content. I bet those journos haven’t driven half the cars they are writing about.
      The real trick of those magazines is that they manage to make readers pay for content that would have been thrown away had they found it in their post box as an advertising brochure and manufacturers are willing to pay a lot of money to subsidise this inofficial but obvious sales support channel.
      This all has to be finely balanced as not to put off readers because the sponsored content is too obviously hidden advertising.
      The icing on the cake are those stupid yearly readers’ competitions ‘best car of the year’ of which German in particular press is so fond. These competitions serve no other purpose than to check whether all this open and hidden advertising has worked in the way manufacturers desired and whether readers believe what the journos are telling them (or rather what manufactuers want journalists to tell the readers).
      Magazine makers are trapped in a serious dilemma. Manufactuers are willing to subsidise this business model as long as the propaganda leverage is to their expectations. If sales numbes of a magazine are getting too low or if that feedback loop shows the propaganda doesn’t work they will no longer pour money into the magazine and then the magazine sill cease to exixt. On the other hand when journalists would write not according to the desired line of the manufacturers those would stop providing them with all the stuff they need to fill their pages (then they would have to go to the next dealder, get a brochure and scan it to provide the same content two weeks later).

      It all makes you wonder how Austrian ‘auto revue’ manages to survive.

    11. Tom – talking of videos, I saw a YouTube review recently where the reviewer was saying that the ride was ‘firm, but not too bad’, while being bounced around in his seat so much that it affected his speech, so there’s only so much that can be hidden.

      Dave, you’ve reminded me of a question that occurred to me when I was watching Car of the Year – is that body sponsored by motoring magazines? I wouldn’t have thought that they would have had the money.

    12. There probably is a difference between COTY and reader polls.
      COTY is an opportunity for journalists to vote for cars from their relative home country as being the best of the world and the only thing manufacturers can provice (exceeing what they do for journos anyway) is some sponsored catering and individual/special room service (m/f/d).
      The reader polls so beloved by the German press in particular are a different party. Readers can wind truly expensive stuff like new cars when they vote for the best car of the year. The only thing the magazines and manufacturers get out of this nonsense is the feedback whether readers think the car is best that journalists had told them the year over.
      When journalists ram home the message that the car is best that has the most fake vents, the largest wheels with the lowest section tyres and the most electronic nonsense and readers vote accordingly then propaganda has worked and manufacturers continue to sponsor the magazine by providing it with free content that can be published without editorial effort. The system is a self contained closed feedback loop.

    13. Hi Dave. I suspect I’m going to regret asking, but what is “individual/special room service (m/f/d)”?

    14. Dave, your writing on autojournalism is very disturbing to me.

      I suppose you are trying to sell us a conspiracy theory.

      If I were to take your description of the motoring press seriously, it would mean, for example, that the Golf is not (was not) the best car in the world, even though it always won all the comparative tests; that Aucedes do not build the best cars in the world, even though they always came out top in the tests.
      That all car magazines would exclusively spread paid propaganda – er advertising messages – kind of like all the fashion magazines.
      Oh, wait…

      Daniel, Dave’s sentence means exactly what he wrote. Don’t read anything into it, just think the maximum immoral thing and take it times ten.

    15. I’d call it a kind of xenobiosis – at CNN they would call it ’embedded journalists’. Give ’em an inside story every now and then and get friendly propaganda support in return.

      The journalists’ job has changed fundamentally in parallel with the market.
      In the Eighties a test might have had some influence on the purchasing decision of a private buyer. Nowadays the journalists’ job is to make corporate car users feel good with what their fleet manager privided them.
      And to give them something to boast about at their evening talk at the hotel bar where sales reps meet for a drink. “My BMW is dynamically superior and I can feel it at every centimetre I drive, even the Aldi shopping cart feels more sporty when it’s close to the BMW.” “My Audi is superior because I can use Google Maps to find a place for a safe U-turn.”

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