As if it were not enough to drift through dreams centered around the highly hypothetical choices between Urraco and 308GT4, Mexico and Jarama, 911 and 356… I have another character defect: Occasionally, I fall for ordinary cars.
Like the Renault 5. And I don’t mean the Turbo.
The Turbo is obvious: Who doesn’t like a Renault 5 with a Garrett? The mid-engined version even more so: Add to the already high freak factor a dose of genuine motorsport history, rarity, a James Bond-connection, and the finished quiltwork adds up to what? A classic! However, pretty it is not and the question is also just how much R5 is actually left in this beast?
So let me confess: I almost feel better about a completely ordinary baguette-fetching sub-one-litre push rod engined R5. I think. As you never see them it is somewhat difficult to judge. I would in fact bet that there are nowadays more Turbos left than 850-cubic econoboxes. So if you have a desire to truly stand out, you need the 850 cubic centimetre R5 – that’s what’s really rare and hot.
After all, they’re also the most important R5’s: Without the success of the basic versions, something like the turbo editions would not exist at all – regardless of whether we’re talking the FWD or the RWD Turbo. And there’s no arguing with the fact the the original Renault 5 was a succes: It came number two in the Car of the Year competition in 1973, and actually sold well through all its years of production. The technology was basically borrowed from the Renault 4 in the base models, but they obviously weren’t all 850 cubic-versions. Soon enough, the French had a sporty version on offer too, and the 92 horsepower in the Renault 5 Alpine was quite serious in 1976. As you probably all know, the Golf GTI came along the same year and gave the class its name, but there are people out there who feel quite strongly about the Renault 5 Alpine being the first real GTI. But then again – there are also people out there who believe the Earth is flat.
But Turbos, Alpines and GTI’s aside, I personally find the Renault 5 so interesting simply because it was one of the first super minis. This was a class of cars that I found very fascinating back when I drove my Morris Mini. Or to be more specific – when I began considering selling my Mini. Think about it: What came after the original Mini? Well, the super mini of course, and of that ilk the Renault 5 was one of the first. Although it’s a bit difficult to distinguish who exactly came first because it was almost a revolution that occurred in this newly-emerged class in the early Seventies: Fiat 127, Ford Fiesta, Audi 60 and more took on the Renault 5, so the marketplace was hotly contested. Of course the original Mini had a really tough time as the newcomers raised the bar.
That’s why I was seriously considering the continuation of my automotive journey from the Mini to the class following it. It was of course quite flattering that all competitors simply took over the Mini’s concept (the exception was precisely this Renault as the engine was longitudinally mounted) and scaled it up one size. Thereby eliminating the most serious criticisms towards the original Mini – it was very small.
I too would like to experience that renewed mini concept. Also, I just fancy owning a chic little Renault 5. And it certainly would not need to be a Turbo – in fact, quite the opposite, as I fear the engine would steal all the attention?
Thus far, I still haven’t managed to find the right first-generation R5 to live out my fantasies. There is of course my second generation R5 GT Turbo parked in my garage. And last summer I took my French car experience to the next level when I bought my dream Alpine A310. But all of that is clearly something totally different – even the GT Turbo. It’s the purity and simplicity of an early R5 which I so crave. It must be an early edition. Long before Turbo.
I have no doubt, that there will be plenty out there who feel that such an early R5 without Monte Carlo/James Bond history is just boring and uninspiring. Perhaps I should praise my self lucky to have not found an early R5? Well, there’s time for one more confession: I searched even harder for one of the R5’s biggest and best market competitors – one which I suspect even more will think of as boredom itself. No matter, I like it. It came third in the Car of the Year competition in 1973: The Honda Civic. And with this one, the choice is made even easier. The first generation Civic simply does not exist in a hot edition. Perfect for a person like me, who is not an aggressive driver anyway.