The Renault R5 Turbo, the eccentric racer

Many of history’s most legendary racers emerged from the Group B era.  One of the most eccentric was the Renault R5 Turbo

The Group B era of the mid-80s is perhaps one of greatest in motorsports history, if not also one of the most exciting and dangerous. While several of the most historically significant cars emerged from Group B such as the Porsche 959, Ferrari F40 and Audi Quattro, there were also some very interesting cars campaigned. Perhaps one of the most interesting if not eccentric car was the Renault R5 Turbo.

Car fans in the United States may not know that the Renault R5 Turbo was based on the Renault Le Car, a vehicle long since forgotten. In fact, a quick search of Ebay, Craig’s List and Auto Trader could not find a single example for sale in the United States.

Whereas the Renault Le Car was not popular in the United States, the Renault 5 as it was called globally was a fixture throughout the world. Produced over two generations, over 5.5 million copies of the Renault 5 were produced in not only France but also Iran and South Africa.

The Renault 5

The Renault 5 was a four passenger, three or five-door, front-engine, front wheel drive hatchback supermini produced between 1972 and 1985. In contrast, the Renault 5 Turbo or R5 Turbo was a mid-engine hatchback with a significantly wider track than the regular 5.

The Renault 5 Turbo

Designed to compete primarily in on the rally circuit, it was also sold in a street version. Whereas the Renault 5 had a 13-year production run, a total of 4,987 units were manufactured during its six-year production run.

The Renault R5 Turbo was largely inspired by Lancia’s success on the rally circuit with the Lancia Stratos. With a two-seat mid-engine layout, the Stratos was dominating the World Rally Championship (WRC) having won the series in 1974, 1975 and 1976.

The Renault 5 Turbo was powered by a mid-mounted 1.4 Liter inline-four cylinder engine. It had electronic fuel injection, a Garret T3 turbocharger, and 2 valves per cylinder that put out 158 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. At the time of its launch at the Brussels Motor Show in January 1980, it was the most powerful French production car.

The R5 Turbo was produced over two different series, the Turbo and the Turbo 2.   All of the copies of the Turbo 1 were produced to comply with Group 4 homologation requirements to allow the vehicle to compete in international rallys.

The Turbo 2 went into production as soon as the Turbo 1 had satisfied homologation requirements. The Turbo 2 was produced with more stock Renault 5 components and carried a lower price than the Turbo 1. However, both series had similar performance sharing a top speed of 120 miles per hour and the ability to accelerate from zero to 62 miles per hour in a scant 6.9 seconds.

The Renault R5 Turbo in motorsports

The Renault R5 Turbo 1 was model of the Turbo created for motorsports, of which there were three different versions created. The ‘usine’ or ‘factory’ were run by the Renault Sport division while the ‘competition’ client were sold to private teams. There were 20 built each year.

The final competition version was in the form of a kit where a street legal version could be converted to the ‘competition’ client version. As performance and costs increased over the production run, the kit was eventually dropped and the ‘client version’ eventually caught up with the ‘factory’ spec. The last version of the kit was built for homologation to Group B specifications but was eventually scavenged for spare parts.

Output across competition versions of the R5 Turbo was not consistent. The lowest output competition version was 178 horsepower but increased throughout the production run with the highest performance version, the R5 ‘Maxi’ Turbo putting out 345 horsepower in 1984.

The output of the R5 Turbo was not that great. However, since it had a curb weight of 2,138 lbs and a 40/60 weight distribution, performance was memorable.

Driving impressions

I have known about the Renault R5 Turbo for years. There are several factors that stick out in my mind that make the car so unique.

When I first heard the engine note of a Turbo, it sounded like angry bees to me. The sound of the vehicle was unique in my mind at the time.

The second thing was the proportion of the vehicle.   The wheelbase is just 95.7 inches while the track is 53 inches up front and 58 inches in back. The height of the Turbo comes in at 52.1 inches, which makes for a compact and tall vehicle profile.

Relationship between Group 4 and Group B

As mentioned earlier, the Renault R5 Turbo was designed to compete in Group 5 racing events. The 400 copies of the Turbo 1 were all produced to Group 4 homologation specifications.

Group B racing was introduced by the FIA in 1982 as a replacement for Group 4 (modified grand touring) and Group 5 (touring prototype) cars. Whereas Group 4 and 5 both had very defined specifications, Group B specifications had few restrictions on technology, design, and the number of cars that needed to be produced to meet homologation requirements.

Loosely defined specifications for Group B racing came at a cost. A lax approach to the requirements resulted in some of the fastest, most powerful rally cars ever built that proved to be too much for even the best rally drivers of the era. Several accidents, some fatal brought about the end of the Group B era.

Many of the most successful Group B rally cars were four-wheel drive. The Renault R5 Turbo was not. As a result, it was no longer competitive with the increasingly sophisticated Group B racers of the time and discontinued.


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