1981 Renault 5 Turbo I
The List Your dream drive made real Homologation specials have always entranced rally fanatic Koenraad Rutgers. Time to put him behind the wheel of one of his heroes – the Renault 5 Turbo.
‘It’s a party… like a little mini The List Reader Koenraad Rutgers takes our Ross’s Renault 5 Turbo 1 for a blast
Reader Koenraad Rutgers takes the reins of a rally legend – the Renault 5 Turbo 1
Eagle-eyed Our Cars followers may recognise the car that we’ll be putting our chosen Classic Cars magazine reader in today. It’s none other than the Renault 5 Turbo that my fellow enthusiast Richard Head and I drove back from Italy before he made me a co-ownership offer I couldn’t refuse. Having used numerous owner, dealer and manufacturer vehicles for The List over the years, it’s time for me to bite the turbocharged bullet and experience matters from a different perspective.
The reader in question is 51-year-old lightning protection specialist Koenraad Rutgers and he certainly has the bug for old cars; in fact he has it for all performance cars, as the booming quad tailpipes of his Mercedes C63 AMG demonstrate on his arrival. Our meeting point is Mr Head’s home and he’s already reversed the Turbo out of the garage, so it’s a derriere-first approach for Koenraad, ‘Oh, she’s got big hips,’ he says, practically purring. ‘It’s absolutely gorgeous and so Eighties, so wonderfully Eighties; the Porsche 944, the Opel Manta 400, even the Vauxhall Nova had hips… can I take the keys and disappear?’
He circles the car, taking in the front end. Despite that large front bumper and bonnet vent, it isn’t too far removed from the standard R5’s. As he moves past the elegantly discreet door handles and returns to that ludicrously wide rear end, there’s an audible change in his breathing and an disbelieving shake of the head.
‘I love the crazy bodywork built for function. You can’t hide if you pull into a car park in this’
‘I love the fact that Renault ripped out the rear seats and put the engine there – they let the lunatics loose in the asylum. It’s built for function as much as possible, but the net result is that the exterior is crazy and awesome! The Italian design is clear from every angle and it’s in incredible condition. No rust, no wear – it looks new. You can’t hide if you pull into a car park in this. It’d be perfect for Caffeine & Machine; dry summer’s day, sit it out front...’ Renault’s devilish little rascal personifies the Eighties and first saw the light of day in the very first year of that decade. Developed as a rally homologation special, initially for Group 4, it’s the later wild Group B category with which it became synonymous. Very little of the standard car remained once Bertone (via the hand of the prodigious Marcello Gandini) and the Alpine factory in Dieppe had got their respective hands on it. In came an alloy roof, doors and tailgate, huge wheelarches, and numerous vents and spoilers; the 160bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine was mounted amidships, and joined by heavily revised suspension, large brakes and seriously wide tyres. Although ultimately outgunned by the 4wd beasts, Jean Ragnotti’s successes – most notably on its WRC debut on the 1981 Monte Carlo rally – ensured that it entered legend and became the stuff of young boys’ dreams.
‘It’s almost as if you’re wearing a clown outfit and everyone just gets it!’
‘I had a Fiat Uno Turbo, but I always lusted after a 5 Turbo – I could never afford one, though,’ says Koenraad. At this point Richard hands over the key, receiving an, ‘It’s a no-frills Seventies key and reminds you of the age of the original design,’ in response. Our man lowers himself down into the cabin. The result is what happens to almost every person who sees the 5 Turbo’s wacky multi-coloured and sculpted interior; think the look of wonderment on the faces of the golden-ticket winning children when they first see the interior of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There really is very little to match its combined Franco-Italo brio. ‘It’s a party. Like a little mini fairground ride; all the colours, all the crazy seat patterns – I’m 6ft 1in and I fit, I’m amazed. It reminds me of my first Mini in a funny kind of way – thin doors and tiny pedals closely spaced. The steering wheel is chunky for the era. I love how well finished it feels, with a mixture of standard and custom parts working together remarkably well. It’s surprisingly comfortable, too. That roof-mounted stereo is awesome. I’d love to buzz down to Le Mans in here.’
He sparks up the diminutive four-pot, the half Devil exhaust making its presence immediately known with a deep off-kilter Group B-esque ‘thrub-thrub’ that fills the cabin, and fastens his seat belt. I must admit to a somewhat nervous frisson as I whisper to Richard, ‘I wouldn’t have secured it quite like that.’ ‘He’ll be fine,’ he says in reply; cool as a refrigerated cucumber.
Koenraad edges the Turbo out into the town centre, leading our socially distanced convoy on its way. After five minutes of slow-crawling, pops and bangs aplenty, one thing is abundantly clear: the effect the 5 Turbo has on bystanders. Its bellicose acoustics announce its arrival and with eyes drawn to it, most pedestrians and other road users can’t help but elicit a smile. For Koenraad it’s like sitting in an automotive wipe-clean drawing board – the world grey and stern before, but left rich and vibrant in its wake.
Later he tells me, ‘The lack of power steering or brakes is so Eighties – these days executives would never sign it off. Yet once you’re moving it’s actually a doddle to drive. After stopping at that Zebra crossing then pulling away I made a slight pause mid-shift; second gear takes a bit of finding and reverse is just next to it.’ But he soon adapted and with a few attempts he’d nailed it. ‘Once you know it’s there, you can find it like an old friend.’
The roads are still relatively quiet; even so, it takes a fair while for the concrete jungle to evaporate. Despite only having been behind the wheel for a short period it’s clear Koenraad’s powers of analysis are pretty well honed, because he has lowered both windows. ‘It has to be driven with them down. That’s to let the heat out and also because it’s such an awesome sounding car, so much better than modern, artificially generated soundtracks.’ As he passes a national speed limit sign he is able to open it up more, experiencing the change in pitch as the turbo comes on song, and the way the rear hunkers down as the 220/55 Michelin TRX tyres bite, catapulting the little Renault down the road with an obnoxious bellow from its tailpipe. ‘It still feels fast, even for today.’
As the road straightens he has his first chance to overtake, devouring a doddler in a Nissan Leaf – cheeky! Confident too, considering it’s a left-hooker. His next challenge comes on approach to a particularly tight corner, where he has to downshift and keep the throttle down hard to keep the turbo spinning and avoid bogging down. The result – the little Renault whips round and is off again like a hyperactive Frenchton after a hare.
After another three quarters of an hour of Gallic horseplay we meet up at a pay-and-play golf club, where an outdoor coffee stall lends itself to a debrief. ‘It’s almost as if you’re wearing a clown outfit and everyone just gets it!’ states Koenraad as he steps out. ‘They seem to love the theatrics; adults and children all just turn and smile as you scoot by.’ I like his analogy, it works; most love it, some are perhaps a little scared of it, but either way they just can’t help but smile.
Caffeine at hand, we turn to the machine, open the boot lid and lift off the engine cover. ‘Another rally homologation special on my wishlist, the purpose-built Lancia Stratos, had already shown the way, but it still took guts for Renault to build this car. Despite the engine positioning it’s not a nervous car to drive and feels stable and controllable. The steering is so direct, and makes it easy to place in a corner.’
We discuss the fact that many think the Renault 5 Turbo’s Cléon-Fonte engine has six cylinders – confusing it with that of its successor, the Clio V6 – before I complement him on quickly getting to grips with the nature of its power delivery. ‘It’s similar to my Uno Turbo… you stay in one gear lower than you need so you can exploit the tiny turbo and maximise your enjoyment of the noise on the overrun.’ Talking of enjoyment, it’s time to get back out on the road.
By this point my initial flutters of apprehension have long since dissipated, and I’m just mulling over the fact that watching someone else experience my own classic for the first time is giving me a fuller appreciation of all it has to offer, when a white van approaches a T-junction up ahead a little too enthusiastically. It brakes just in time, but all the same Koenraad carries out a small evasive swerve to be sure – be still my beating heart.
Now firmly ensconced in the Chiltern Hills, it’s time to watch him play. Here Koenraad is all elbows, forearms, exertions and grins. At what passes for a switchback in the Home Counties, he nails the line, keeping the revs high and powering through – not quite Ragnotti, one-wheel-cocked style, but impressive nonetheless. Having respectfully started at around 70 percent of the car’s capabilities, he’s now at 85 percent and revelling in its offerings. Recalling another long sweeping corner, he says, ‘It’s such a simple and obvious car to work out, but so effective. It’s rewarding and it also sounds glorious, whether it’s all-out accelerating or buzzing round on a part-throttle.’
It’s soon time to head back to our base, and once parked up, it’s time to see what he’s made of the experience. ‘I used to get taken to school in a Renault 5TL owned by a friend’s mum, and like all French cars it went round corners on the door handles. This though, is in a different class. The directness means you feel connected to the road and the huge area of glass aids you; it’s so easy to make sure you are nowhere near stationary or moving objects that could embarrass you. Modern cars have such thick pillars and soundproofing to isolate you from the outside world. ‘As I said before, there are similarities with the Uno Turbo: small turbocharged engine hailing from the Eighties that you just have to rev. But let’s be honest, that was a converted shopping car while this is a purpose-built rally weapon. I love the little things, such as the little screws you have to open to get to the engine – they didn’t come from the parts bin – and it’s been an honour to drive it.’
Has it lived up to expectations? ‘It’s remarkably docile but potent, and so much better than I expected, so yes it definitely remains on my List. I approached today with an open mind. There are so many good and bad classics about that I was hoping for a good one while preparing for something truly French and temperamental, but such is its superb condition there were no compromises.’
From my perspective it’s been eye-opener to experience a List from the other side. Any initial apprehension soon disappeared – in fact, one glance at Koenraad’s car CV (which also includes numerous Subaru Imprezas) was enough to instil confidence. Today he has worked our little Renault hard, but at all times with care and respect. As I walk him back to his car he says, ‘You know, I loved the look of the Eighties roof-mounted radio and it was my intention to play with it at some point, but such is the Renault 5 Turbo’s character that I simply didn’t get round to it.’ Thanks to Richard Head and eh, Ross Alkureishi.
The R5T exceeded Koenraad’s expectations and threw some turbocharged Eighties nostalgia into the mix too. The 5 Turbo’s wide hips help Ross and Koenraad to maintain distancing Will Koenraad be able to keep his only cabin companion on the boil? Lestiunt aut eatio. Ga. Et perspie nimus, offic tem nos ressitat molupta cum cum el est litation coneces. Kaleidoscopic Bertone interior is unique to the R5 Turbo 1. Many confuse the Turbo with the front-engined 5 GT Turbo, but not Group B rally fan Koenraad. Roof-mounted Panasonic RM-710 offers period sounds, but Koenraad prefers the Devil’s symphony.
1981 Renault 5 Turbo I
Engine 1397cc four-cylinder, ohv, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, Garrett T3 turbocharger
Power and torque 160bhp @ 6000rpm; 155lb ft @ 3250rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion
Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, longitudinal torsion bars, anti-roll bar Rear: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Brakes Ventilated servo discs
Top speed: 128mpg
Fuel consumption 21.5mpg
Cost new 115,000 francs (around £12,360)
CC Price Guide £35k-£80k