RENAULT 5 TURBO
The story behind the very first 0001 R5 Turbo ever made, restored and back on the road.
The Original / Words Davy Photos Etienne Crebessegues
WE’VE GOT OUR HANDS ON ONE OF THE RAREST AND MOST INFLUENTIAL FRENCH CARS OF ALL TIME, THE ORIGINAL NO. 0001 R5 TURBO…
If you were to draw up a list of the most iconic performance French cars of all time, chances are the Renault 5 Turbo, especially in full-fat Phase 1 guise, would be very near the top. This car has passed into Régie legend, and its Group B exploits, particularly those stunning giant killing performances with Jean Ragnotti behind the wheel, are burned bright into the memory of any Renault rally fan. Of course as awesome as the competition car was, the road cars were what really captured the public's attention.
At launch at the #1980-Brussels-Motor-Show
, the unassuming hatch caused quite a stir, and a brief look at the spec shows why – a rev-happy, pushrod 1.4 located longitudinally in the middle of the car which, thanks to a Garrett turbo, could push 158bhp to the rear wheels. The 3576 cars built between 1980 and 1984 were assured a place as modern classics from the start, and have always been highly prized by collectors. That said, while all R5 Turbos are special, some are more special than others.
The car you see here looks much like any other, but it has a fascinating story to tell, one that stems from it being the very first R5T to roll off the line. This means that it spent the first few months of its existence in wholly spectacularly fashion, being photographed for a wealth of Renault promotional material, and even being driven to within an inch of its life by none other than Mr Ragnotti himself! Being the first car meant that it was (along with 399 other examples) a Turbo 1, and one of the cars built by Renault so that the FIA would allow them to take the car rallying. You'd assume, with a pedigree like this, the car would've been snapped up by a private collector, or at the very least used for clubman level rallying, but no. Chassis 001 was in fact sent to a regular dealership in Southern France where it was sold to a man who had no idea of its provenance and used extensively for a number of years. Time and extensive use took their toll – these were always highly strung, extremely specialised little buzz-bombs at the best of times – and eventually the first owner tucked the slightly tired R5 away in a garage, where it stayed for the next 25 years!
The story might well have ended there and then, had the man's nephew, a Mr Cedric Lelon, not begun asking questions about the rally legend gathering dust in the garage. Eventually, Cedric convinced his uncle to let him take the car, and began the, not inconsiderable, task of unearthing it from under a quarter of a century's worth of boxes and stored household paraphernalia. We don't know what Cedric's actual words were when he finally wheeled the car out into the sunshine and was greeted by the plaque on the dash stamped '0001', but we're willing to bet it was some kind of Gallic swear word! (Zut alors! or Mon Dieu perhaps? – Davy)
Further research into the car began to shed light on its history, including its starring role in most of Renault's official launch literature for the R5T. The clincher? A trip to the Renault History Collection with the car in tow to allow some experts to give it the once over, plus the small detail of a subtly sunken fuel filler cap. All other examples have a slightly different cap position, but Cedric's was noticeably deeper, a detail that corresponded with the various period photos he'd amassed. Of course, simply identifying this R5T as the first didn't mean it hadn't suffered.
Despite the low mileage covered, it'd still spent a long, long time in a non-too weatherproof garage. Though the majority of the panels could be saved with painstaking metal work, the aluminium bonnet, hatch and roof had all taken the full force of years of household detritus, something that delayed the bodywork restoration yet further. While this was being undertaken by a specialist, Cedric was stripping down the C-type engine, five-speed gearbox and suspension, the rear of which was actually a modified version of that found in the old A310 Alpine, so wishbones and springs replaced the regular car's torsion beam. Though calling the engine tired would probably be being charitable, it was at least in a salvageable state, and it came together nicely once Cedric had honed the bores, fitted new piston rings, gaskets, and given the K-Jetronic injection system and #Garrett-T3
After more than a year of steady, painstaking graft, the car was finally back together, looking just as good as it did in its press heyday, thanks to a respray in OE red. The distinctly old school four-pot grumbled into life and, after some careful fettling, fell into an even, perfect idle. Since then Cedric has used the car extensively for shows, plus the odd back-road blast – and can you really blame him? This is a car that was built to tackle twisty, demanding French Asphalt roads, and it's the surface that it well and truly succeeded on, clinching a number of world rally victories before the sheer grunt of the Quattro overwhelmed it. Not that Cedric minds, he now has one of the most significant examples of what might well be the most iconic of all hot classic French cars.
TECHICAL DATA SPECIFICATIONS #1980 #Renault-5-Turbo
/ Longitudinal, mid-mounted 1397cc four-cylinder 8v, 7.0:1CR, 76x77mm bore x stroke, #Garrett-T3
turbo blowing 0.9BAR, intercooler, #Bosch-K-Jetronic
mechanical fuel injection, front mounted radiator and battery.
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed gearbox, uprated clutch.
BRAKES: Discs all round power assisted.
Front: Uprated spring and damper package, ARB.
Rear: Double wishbone arrangement, uprated springs and dampers, ARB.
WHEELS & TYRES: 13in Split rims, Michelin tyres 190/55HR340 (front), 220/55VR390 (rear).
INTERIOR: Renault 5T1 interior with red vinyl, dash and door cards, blue carpeting over engine and floor, various boost, engine temperature and oil pressure gauges.
EXTERIOR: Renault 5T three door bodyshell in OE red, aluminium doors, roof, bonnet and boot, wide arches with cooling vents, fibreglass bracing in front.