Renault and the Turbo, well, a big story as it’s a fact, the French manufacturer more or less revolutionized motor sport through the introduction of a Turbo engine in Formula One. The application of such technology was not reserved only to the top category and actually, Renault experienced it with sports cars and Le Mans before Formula One and triumphed there as well as with rally and the all mighty Renault 5 Turbo.
And here we are, first article about Rally and it has to be for what stands as a crazy bit of kit in my own opinion, the 1980 Brussels Motor Show introduced, the Renault 5 Turbo. A completely crazy design and piece of engineering for its time. Who would have thought of manufacturing and setting up a production plant for a hot hatchback with a rear mid-mounted Turbo engine ?! La Régie Renault !
1976 was the starting point within the Renault headquarters with project “822” being secretly launched even if, some more or less official trials were made from 1973 with the creation of Renault Sport… The whole project made sense as in the same time, Renault was already tackling the World Sports Car Championship with the Alpine A442 and later would come the A442 B version, which all in all were equipped with either Atmospheric or Turbo version of the Alpine V6.
Michel Tétu was the man behind the project and together with a small group of people within the Renault Sport department, including François Bernard, a good old friend, they started putting the Renault 5 on steroids, and conduct heavy testing in various forms. Not only one prototype was built but the first ones were front-engined Renault 5 Alpine version with all sorts of modification on drivetrains, bodywork and of course engine…
March 1978 would really be the turning point with the first proper testbed in the form of the Renault 5 Turbo being wheeled out and tested, engine was mid-mounted and it more or less had the shape we all know about. Guy Fréquelin was the test-driver back then and in Novembre 1978, Renault would present the car in Dieppe, the Alpine base, to the press and public. Testing was still going on and other prototypes would be produced under chassis #822-00 and so on.
1979 would be another test year but this time, testing was to be carried in situ and best remembered was the 1979 Giro d’Italia which allowed the participation of Group 5 cars. The Renault 5 Turbo was back then homologated in the category which allowed all sorts of modifications to standard race cars.
It allowed Guy Fréquelin and co-driver Jean-Marc Andrié to prove the car, chassis #822-03, against the competition which was more or less the Lancia Beta Monte Carlo Turbo and Lancia Stratos. Unfortunately and after some good performance, the engine would give-up and force the retirement of the crew but still, performance was there and witnesses were quite impressed.
Thousands of kilometers of testing would be carried over that year with other drivers’ such as Alain Serpaggi at the wheel. Competition was the goal and road-going version were only required for Homologation purpose. Therefore and the 20th of May 1980, the production of the car was launched. Process was complicated with shells being taken from the Flins plant and then sent to coach worker, Heuliez where they would be stretched by 5 centimeters, lightened and reinforced as well with the final assembly taking place in the Alpine plant in Dieppe.
As an Homologation car, they were pretty exceptional for the days, well finished and pretty reliable. Available in two colors, Olympe Blue and Grenade Red only. 802 Renault 5 Turbo “street-version” would be produced in 1980 highlighting the success it was with only 400 being required for Homologation in the FIA Group 4 category. Later would come the Renault 5 Turbo 2 version, the final version of the street-version and in a way, cheaper and based on more stock Renault 5 parts. Less expensive it was but on performance side, it was basically the same.
Altogether, 1690 Renault 5 Turbo were produced, 3167 of the later Renault 5 Turbo 2 which makes a total of 4857 cars. But let’s say that the rarest ones that stands out of the two production versions are the codenamed “Serie 8221” of which 200 were produced in late 1984 in order to get the “Maxi” evolution in the right category with a 1430cm3 engine fitted.
For Competition details, well, you’ll have to wait for the Part 2.