A Little Insane: The Renault 5 Turbo

As the 70s came to a close, the Lancia had been absolutely CRUSHING it on the world rally stage for the better part of a decade, and this was starting to upset the French, Renault being no exception. Lancia had stolen the WRC crown from Renault’s Alpine A110 in 1974 with the introduction of the Stratos, and Renault had not forgotten. Although they would ultimately be successful in throwing a spanner in Lancia’s works (pun intended – I have no shame) and go on to create some of the most badass homologated road cars of all time in the process, this victory would ultimately be short-lived due to the dawn of the ballistic 4WD Group B era.

It was the start of the 80s and Renault’s vice president of production, Jean Terramorsi (yes, this is a story about a French car so buckle up for a lot of Jean-related action), had decided to end Lancia’s winning streak and take revenge for them stealing their little A110’s thunder the decade before. Looking at their current cars in production, Jean obviously chose the light, nimble, front-wheel drive Renault 5 Alpine as the basis for their new rally car. Front-wheel drive cars are well-suited to rallying as they are far more stable and less likely to spin out than a rear-wheel drive car, and lightweight is good for obvious reasons. So, off Jean sent his little Renault 5 to Bertone for a few beatings with the swollen wheel-arch stick. As you can see, Bertone has a pretty good arm, because the Renault 5 they got back had hips that would make Kylie Jenner look like Benedict Cumberbatch. They had also clearly made the most of the vents and ducts department, as there basically wasn’t a body panel without one.

Remember what I said about front-wheel drive being good for rallying? Well, apparently Bertone didn’t get the memo. In a slightly baffling, but undeniably baller move from the Italians, the first thing they did to their newly-bulging Renault 5 was remove the engine from the front, put it behind the driver’s seat, and make the car rear-wheel drive. The new engine was an inline-four cylinder fitted with a FAT supercharger from Garrett, which helped it to produce 160 “chevaux” and 221 Nm of torque. While these cars looked vaguely similar to the bog-standard 5, internally they were radically different: featuring tweaked suspension from the Group 2 Renault 5 Alpine rally car and the Alpine A310, and an aluminium bonnet and doors. So what did they call their turbocharged Renault 5? The Renault 5 Turbo, of course, and anyone who guessed that right gets a gold star.

In accordance with the rules of the World Rally Championship at the time, 400 road going homologated versions had to be produced, which were the most powerful French production cars at the time. After the initial production run was finished, Renault released a second version known as the Turbo 2. These cars featured fewer of the lightweight alloy components found on the original but were cheaper. They also had nearly identical performance figures with a top speed of 200 km/h and a 0-60 mph time of 6.9 seconds, which is pretty quick, even today. Finished in bright colour schemes that were definitely of the era  (with the blue-and-red-everything spec shown above being my favourite), the cars look delightfully anachronistic today, especially when it comes to the interior.

The race-ready versions of the car were a little more powerful than the homologated versions, with figures ranging from 180hp to a whopping 345hp in the R5 Turbo Maxi, a truly stratospheric number in a car that resembles an angry shoebox and weighs only 950 kilos. You didn’t hear it from me, but they actually made 200 of these extra spicy versions, known as the R5 Turbo 2 Evolution (pictured above). Here’s where more Jeans enter the equation, as driver Jean Ragnotti and co-driver Jean-Marc Andrié drove the first Jean’s lovely little hot hatch to victory in the 49th Monte Carlo Rally in 1981, the 26th Tour de Corse in 1983, and the 29th Tour de Corse in 1985. The Turbo 5’s last victory came in 1986 in Portugal, after which the reign of the Group B cars began, but the three Jeans could rest happy, as the Renault 5 Turbo it had done its job and defeated the Stratos.

If you now want one, it’s perfectly understandable – I do too, badly. However, being incredibly rare, you pretty much have to take what you can get when looking for a Renault 5 Turbo. Prices start at around £55,000 for the less-rare Turbo 2, and rise to as much as almost £100,000 for one of the original 400 homologation specials. R5 Turbo 2 Evolutions are even more expensive if you can find one (an example sold on Bring a Trailer last year for $135,000). However, if your wallet can’t quite accommodate that kind of spending on insane little French rally cars, you could always look into the Turbo’s much more affordable spiritual successor, the Clio V6, which we’ll be covering soon on another addition of Monday Money.

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