1981 Renault 5 Gordini – Classified of the Week

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By Chris Pollitt

When you think of a classic hot hatch, it’s understandable to end up with the Mk1 Golf GTi in your head. For many, it was the defining car of the hot hatch movement, the point where it truly all began. And in Europe, that was very much the case. Here in the UK though, it actually wasn’t. Volkswagen wasn’t exactly quick to put the steering wheel on our side of the GTi. When VW launched it in 1975, we had to wait a full three years before we could walk into a showroom and buy one. Or of course, we could just go and buy something else. Something, say, like the Renault 5 Gordini

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The Renault 5 Gordini was launched in 1976, and in 1978 we were offered it in right-hand drive configuration. Over in Europe, it was known as the Alpine, but as Talbot had the rights to that name in the UK, we came to know it as the Gordini. This was of course in relation to Amédée Gordini, who had made a name for himself with performance versions of cars like the Renault 8. It was a good fit. 

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Open the front-hinged bonnet of the Gordini though, and you see the word Alpine. At the heart of this little tearaway was a four-cylinder, 1.4 overhead-valve engine. It featured a crossflow cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers, it had a bigger carb and as such, it was twice as powerful as a normal 5. The suspension was stiffened, there were new anti-roll bars, and there was also a long five-speed ‘box. It was, with its 92hp engine, a proper little pocket rocket. Finished off with model-specific alloy wheels and body stripes and custom decals, it looked the part, too. 

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Sadly, time hasn’t been kind to the 5. This is mainly due to the little Renault’s propensity towards dissolving at the mere mention of moisture. People loved them, but as the years rolled by they became increasingly difficult to maintain on our heavily salted roads. Now, if you want a slice of the action, you need to import a left-hand drive one from France. Or… do you? 

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The car we have here has led a privileged life, and seems to have escaped the ravages of salt and corrosion as a result. Plus, it has been subject to a top-to-bottom restoration which of course helps matters. Finished in silver, it looks as fresh now as it did in ‘81. The bright orange interior is a thing of wonder, and worth the asking price alone. It’s a unicorn; a UK-specification Gordini in near perfect condition. Don’t buy a Golf, buy this instead, it’s far more special, far more exciting and pretty much unique.

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