EIGHT ACE #Renault-8-Gordini
It’s hard not to like this French fancy, especially as it’s Gordini powered. The #Renault
8 Gordini was one of the earliest Q-Car saloons but they’re rare today which is why one man created his own. WORDS Paul Wager /// Photography Rick Davy
It might be hard to imagine now but there was once a time when the Renault 8 was a reasonably familiar sight on British roads. Launched in 1962, the rear-engined R8 was derived from the Dauphine with which it shared part of the basic body structure, but the angular body style was far more modern than the older car and boasted an all-new engine design.
Like our own similar-looking rear-engined Imp, the R8 motor was an advanced design for the day, featuring an alloy cylinder head and five-bearing crankshaft, although valve actuation was by pushrod. Known as the Sierra engine, then Cléon-Fonte or simply Cléon after the name of its manufacturing plant and later simply the Renault C-Type engine, it remained in production until the ’90s where it last appeared in the Twingo.
In its initial R8 guise, the 956cc motor boasted just 44 bhp, although this was later increased to 1108cc and 50 bhp for 1964 but the real gem was the Gordini performance model. Engine tuner #Amedée-Gordini
had been working with both Renault and its #Alpine
affiliate since the late ’50s and the Gordini-modified #Dauphine
had been a success in the market, so it was no surprise when a Gordini-badged R8 appeared in 1964. This boasted 95 bhp from the 1108cc motor courtesy of a crossflow head, four-branch exhaust manifold and two twin-choke Solex carbs. The uprated motor drove through a modified close-ratio four-speed transmission and it sat on lower, stiffer springs with the rear end receiving a novel four-shock rear damper arrangement and the steering sharpened up from 3.75 turns lock-to-lock to 3.2.
It was easy to spot a Gordini: they were offered only in a characteristic shade of French racing blue with go-faster stripes (supplied for the UK market as a roll of tape) and boasted larger 7-inch headlights than the regular 1108 car. For 1967 the Gordini was facelifted to receive a pair of additional driving lights and the engine grew to 1255cc good for 100 bhp on twin Webers. Incredibly, the R8 itself lasted in production until 1976 with Renault’s Spanish subsidiary, although French production ended in 1973.
The real Gordini was very much a connoisseur’s car, much like the more extreme #RenaultSport
models of recent years and it wasn’t the sort of car you bought by mistake: you had to really want one and they were costly, too. Throw in rampant rot and you can see why there aren’t many left here in the UK.
One man who neatly sidestepped that problem was Alex Abadzis, who simply acquired a cooking R8 and turned it into a superb period racer using all the right bits. “I’d always wanted an R8 Gordini,” he recalls. “But to be honest, any R8 would do.” This particular example was bought online and as Alex recalls, it was a complete wreck and arrived home on a trailer.
He already had plans for the car but his first task was to resurrect the frilly bodywork. “Lots of sill work,” he laughs, “and the inner door shuts were so badly holed you could see daylight through them. The rear arches were so rotten that if you stuck your head up inside the rear arches, you could see the back seat quite clearly!” Rather fortunately, Alex runs his own garage – Grove Garage in Weybridge, Surrey (www. grovegarageweybridge.co.uk) where he specialises in French cars of all kinds which meant resurrecting the Renault wasn’t the massive task it might have been – although as he admits, it still took the best part of a year.
As far as sourcing parts is concerned, Alex reckons the situation is surprisingly good, as long as you’re prepared to order from France and he rates Mecaparts in Bourges as “fantastic” at getting him what he needed for the restoration.
Closer to home, the Renault clubs, especially the Renault Classic Car Club forum was invaluable in sourcing obscure ’60s Renault bits and as Alex explains, “you put an ad up on the forum and a couple of days later you’ll get a call from someone with some great bits stashed away.”
With the Renault’s bodyshell sewn back up again, Alex could address his original plan to modify the car and it was of course the Gordini style that he had in mind.
Accordingly, the 1108cc motor was lifted out along with its gearbox and was replaced with a real Gordini engine – but not the rare R8 version, rather the later 1397cc, 93 bhp version as fitted to the Renault 5 Gordini, complete with 10.:1 compression and big valve Alpine head.
In the Five this would have come as standard with a five-speed box but of course the later car is front-drive while the rear-engined R8 is rear drive. The solution was to enlist Gordini racer Stephen Swan to build up a suitable five-speed unit using the R8 casing and parts from an R5 five-speed box.
Meanwhile, the chassis received the Gordini treatment with Gordini race coil springs all round and a recreation at the rear end of the four-shock set-up.
Inside the car, the original dashboard was discarded and Alex made up a suitably period multi-dial affair as befits its performance status. The wheels are a superb choice and were taken from an Alpine A110. Made in France, they’re GT alloys and look just right under the R8, where they would have been a popular period accessory.
Running with a fast road cam and twin #Weber
40s, that R5 motor now pushes out some 110-120 bhp and makes for an entertaining drive. Alex uses the car on the road and also for track days with the Renault Classic Car Club and laughingly dismisses an engine with twice the car’s original power output as ‘nothing too mad’... but then reveals that since our photos he’s started building up a 1550cc version of the engine, hoping to get to 150 bhp.
Meanwhile, with the car you see here nicely complete, Alex has also finally acquired a genuine R8 Gordini, which he’s been busy restoring, but once again it’s running an R5 engine rather than the original, which has been carefully removed and stored should the need for originality ever enter the frame. What was that I said about the R8 being a rare sight..?
THE GORDINI EIGHT
Priced up at £983 in #1965
, the #Gordini
was always destined to be something of a niche choice here in Britain but road testers loved it, both for its performance and its understated looks. In that respect it predated cars like the M3 and M5 by decades and one Autocar road test summed it up with the caption “Four doors, four seats and 106 mph - an unusual combination for an 1108cc car.” Indeed, the performance of the R8 Gordini was closely matched to 1275 Mini Cooper S but to get similar performance in a four-door car you otherwise needed to be looking at much more expensive cars like the Alfa Romeos or Jaguars. Those ’60s road testers were impressed by the Gordinimodified suspension’s grip too, reporting that they had to work hard to get the tail to step out, although they did find fault with its susceptibility to side winds at high speed. They also managed to boil the brake fluid and suggested to readers that they might want to use Renault’s competition fluid...
A couple of years later when testing the 1300 version of the Gordini, Autocar was even more impressed, reporting that the brakes were now fade-free and that the handling was simply ‘superb’ while discovering that the absence of a rev limiter allowed them to hit 7500 rpm quite happily. No wonder they had to add a pint of oil every 500 miles. “A little bomb, capable of outsquirting almost everything around it,” they concluded.
R8 fan Alexander Abadzis, now the proud owner of both this car and also a real Gordini.
Multi-dial dash was fabricated by Alex to replace the plain original. R8 Gordini was one of the fastest small four-doors around.
It's a real Gordini motor, but a later 1397cc R5-spec unit.
TECH SPEC #Renault-8
ENGINE 1397cc OHV
POWER 110 bhp est
0-60 MPH Est 12.3 secs (std Gordini)
TOP SPEED 106 mph (std Gordini)
GEARBOX Five-speed manual
BRAKES 10.2 inch discs all round
FRONT SUSPENSION Wishbones with coil springs, anti-roll bar and telescopic dampers
REAR SUSPENSION Swing axles, trailing arms, coil springs, four dampers
WHEELS & TYRES GT alloy wheels