Renault 5 Turbo: that beautiful square bullet
Enzo Ferrari once said that “aerodynamics is for those who don’t know how to build engines”. We don´t know if that phrase inspired that group of engineers from the Alpine factory located in Dieppe, France, that gave life to the Renault 5 Turbo. What we do know is that regardless of its straight, muscular lines, the R5 Turbo became a pocket rocket, a square bullet that demands respect, focus and driving skills.
To Renault people, the aerodynamic factor seemed not to worry too much, surely confident in their experience with turbocharged engines. They began to develop it secretly in 1976 but soon realized that they weren´t the only ones working on a special homologation. In fact, the most important rivals came from the United Kingdom and were presented before the Renault 5 Turbo. In 1978 the Vauxhall Chevette 2300 HS was born with a 2300 cc engine, 16 valves, 135 hp and 1050 kilos. And a year later, the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus appeared with its 2200 cc, 150 hp and 960 kilos.
In France they chose to suppress the benefits of a high displacement, ignoring that “there isn´t replacement for displacement” and betting heavily on a vitaminized 1397 cc 4-cylinder engine with a turbocharger that blew at 0.85 Bar; it turned out to be the perfect equation to push this poisoned little box.
The result was a kind of wild go-kart designed exclusively to compete in the World Rally Championship, and if it had its street version it was strictly due to the fact that the regulations of the time required building a minimum of 400 units for its homologation. It was a kind of “let’s build a true thoroughbred to kill off the competition and then see how we tame it to sell to the petrolheads.”
But this French cocktail is not for novice drinkers: small, short wheelbase, power steering, mid-engine, manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive, an old-school turbocharger system with guaranteed lag, bigger rear tires than the forwards and 160 hp to move just 900 kilos. The car forces you to drive it with your senses constantly on alert. The kick of the turbo requires precision on the right foot and firm hands on the wheel, and you have to work hard with the gear selector to keep the engine at the right speed: glory lies between 3500 and 4500 rpm, with a maximum at 6000 rpm. By then, the interior will be a kind of symphony cabin where the four cylinders and the whistle of the turbo will become the mechanical version of the Paris Orchestra.
Currently, most of the hot hatches on the market are front-wheel drive and although the developments in terms of suspension and tires have progressed in an incredible way, none of these is able to match the sensation to correct with accelerator and steering wheel the axle rear of the 5 Turbo coming out of the corners, or being pushed from behind like a launching rocket. Inside there is no place available except for pilot and co-pilot; if you´re looking for interior space, you better think about another car.
But if you want to go back to the eighties and keep your right arm busy shifting gears on some twisty road that a four-door sedan won’t fit on, feeling turbo lag like you’re Jean-Pierre Jabouille racing like hell in Dijon-Prenois, don’t hesitate: there’s nothing like driving a Renault 5 Turbo.