Renault 5 Gordini Turbo | The Brave Pill

Anyone up for adventure with this famous Five?

By Mike Duff / Saturday, 14 January 2023 / Loading comments

Well before starting to read many of you are likely to have mouths filled with the bitter taste of anti-climax. The words ‘Renault 5’ and ‘Turbo’ in close proximity to each other will understandably trigger thoughts of the eponymous Renault 5 Turbo. That being, of course, the mad, mid-engined homologation special which, in competition guise, was wrestled to several WRC victories by the mercurial talent of Jean Ragnotti. But the first glance at the images of this week’s Pill shows it isn’t one of them.  

Nope, what you’re looking at here is the 5 Turbo’s front-engined sibling. It’s a turbocharged pioneer in its own right, but one that delivers its boosted urge exclusively through its front wheels and which doesn’t have the weight distribution of a thrown hammer. It’s less thrilling and more sensible than a true 5 Turbo would be, but it also has the merit of being available, restored and seemingly in fine nick. And while the mid-engined Turbos tend to have £POA prices, this one is being offered for an almost affordable almost £23,000. Yes, that’s a lot for a French supermini, but the fact this Gordini is on the cusp of its 40th birthday will also soon spare its owner from the irksome requirement to MOT it or pay vehicle tax.

While discussion of the price may trigger an appropriately French riot in the comments, it is nothing more than a reflection of where the imbalance between supply and demand has left all turbocharged examples of the Renault 5. When Pill featured a naturally aspirated Renault GTA back in November 2021 I dropped a snarky comment about its bargainacious £8,995 price tag making it less than half of what somebody was asking for a Series 2 Renault 5 GT Turbo that was in the Classifieds at the same time. Clearly there are many more people lusting after the once-plentiful hot hatch than the fibreglass French sportscar. And as a first-generation 5 Gordini Turbo our Pill is a fair bit rarer than the Mk2 ‘Supercinque’; does that make it more desirable, too?

The original Renault 5 was probably the most successful after-hours automotive project of all time. It was the work of a designer called Michael Boué, who thought the company could make something more stylish than the boxy, peasant-spec Renault 4 which sat at the bottom of the company’s pricelists. He started working on a far sleeker small car in the late ‘sixties, initially sketching period-appropriate bell bottom proportions over the image of a Renault 4 to prove it could use the same mechanical package and rear torsion bar suspension. What became the 5 also had a full-height tailgate and moulded bumpers that were integrated into the bodywork. It looked sleek and modern, pretty much defining what would become the supermini when it went on sale in 1972. Boué died of cancer before his creation was launched, but it would quickly prove a huge success, being France’s most popular car every year between its launch and retirement in 1972. No fewer than 5,471,709 were produced. 

While handsome, the regular 5 was not fast. The entry-level powerplant was the 800cc motor from the Renault 4, with a 1.0-litre option above, with even the bigger engine only making 44hp. In an example of French exceptionalism the engines were fitted in line rather than transversely, and drove a gearbox positioned ahead of the motor, something that always gave what could politely be described as a nose-heavy handling attitude. 

Yet as other manufacturers started to launch faster hatchbacks, most famously the original Golf GTI, so Renault decided to add some more pace. Initially this came with a new 1.4-litre overhead valve engine which made an impressive (for the time) 92hp. This was seriously hot stuff in 1976, with the faster 5 being one of first front-driven cars to be able to dispatch the 0-60mph benchmark in under ten seconds, although only just. The hotter 5 was sold with Alpine branding in Europe, but had to be renamed in Blighty as Chrysler still owned the Alpine name over here. So Renault reached slightly further into its drawer of performance badges and called it the 5 Gordini.

But the power wars kept rolling, and by the early ‘80s Renault decided it needed to add some more oomph. The answer was to add turbocharging – something the company had pioneered in Formula 1, as well as in the mid-engined 5 Turbo, with a Garrett T3 puffing the output to 110hp, and dropping the 0-60mph time to under nine seconds. It did this without fuel injection, boost added through a carburettor able to handle positive manifold pressures. British magazines praised the performance but were critical of pricing that made the Gordini Turbo more expensive than bigger alternatives. Although frankly, anybody who chose the cheaper but dynamically inept Ford Escort XR3 over one of these got everything they deserved.

The 5 Gordini Turbo’s novelty meant it wasn’t a huge sales hit in the UK. It took the second-generation 5 GT Turbo, which switched to a transverse engine, to really take off. Early 5 survival rates weren’t helped by limited durability and the ease with which it could be persuaded to make engine-popping amounts of power. How Many Left reckons there are just six on the road, with another 16 on SORN.

Our Pill is therefore as rare as steak tartare. Even regular versions of the original 5 are pretty scarce these days, but the Gordini-specific bits are likely close to irreplaceable. Especially parts like our Pill’s spectacular deep-dish three-bolt alloy wheels and its plush velour interior. Most of the soft furnishings look impressively well looked after, although the parcel shelf is suffering from middle-age droop. The pictures do reveal one odd detail, though – a four-speed gearlever. T’internet reckons that all Alpine and Gordini Turbos were five-speeders; it might be that just the selector itself has been replaced.

Although the numberplates are obscured, Enzo the hamster has found the database punch card and deciphered a registration. The MOT history this reveals is both green and minimal. Our Pill shows just two passes, both advisory free, the first in March 2019 and the second – just 29 miles later – last February. Presuming more details haven’t been lost behind a registration change that suggests a long period off the road, one stretching back before the dawn of digital test results. 

The fact our Pill was first registered in September 1983 means it will need another test if sold soon, but after that anniversary clicks around it will become optional. It will also become tax-free at that point, and also exempt from needing to pay to visit a ULEZ zone. Drive into central London every day and those savings over a non-compliant car will soon add up; just over five years to break even has to make it a man maths bargain, right?

Yet even with such savings factored in the strangely specific £22,994 asking price is likely to trigger un débat houleux, the advert helpfully pointing out that it is pretty close to the car’s original price run through an inflation calculator. Yet the asking isn’t outrageous compared to the wider market for such nostalgic neo classics – there’s a 20,000 mile Ford Escort RS1600i currently listed for £58,995. Is anyone else wishing for the combination of a car-sized time machine and a warehouse?

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