Road trips, V8s, Q-Cars, 80s hot hatches – these are just a few of our favourite things here at Car and Classic which is why this week’s Project Profile features a Renault 5 Gordini Turbo. Often overlooked in favour of its more famous and lairy younger brother, the Renault 5 GT Turbo, the two are sometimes confused but the Gordini was the original ripped Renault runabout, flexing its muscles for years before the GT Turbo got in on the action.
The Renault 5 Gordini Turbo was released in 1982 as the beefed-up successor to the Renault 5 Alpine, known in the UK as the Gordini due to a toys and prams issue with Chrysler and their ownership of the Alpine name. The original R5 Alpine had debuted six years earlier in 1976 and is widely regarded as one of the progenitors of the hot hatch movement, along with the Simca 100Ti and Golf GTI, but it wasn’t until Renault strapped a Garrett T3 turbo to the already enlarged and modified 1.4-litre engine in the Alpine that things got really interesting. In keeping with the Gordini ethos power output was boosted to 110bhp, all of which was driven to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox.
Renault have been producing tuned, Gordini-badged versions of their cars since the 1950s. Initially a company in its own right, Gordini was founded by Italian racing legend and sports car whisperer Amédée Gordini in 1952 in order to build and tune race cars. In 1968 however, Renault bought out Gordini and it has been commonly known as their sporting branch ever since so it was the natural choice of name to replace Alpine for the UK version of the souped-up Renault 5.
What is it?
It should come as no surprise to anyone due to the various badges and stickers emblazoned on the car that this is an R5 Turbo – more specifically, a UK registered, 1983 Renault 5 Gordini Turbo. This means it has all of the upgrades that the original Alpine/Gordini was equipped with, so stiffened suspension, anti-roll bars and a modified cylinder head are already par for the course, but it also has the added bonus of forced induction allowing this French fancy to accelerate to 60mph in around 9 seconds and on to a top speed of 116mph. Hot hatch indeed. Perhaps not as viscerally exciting as the later GT Turbo the Gordini is still bags of fun to drive with plenty of useable power. It’s more practical too and way more suitable as a daily driver.
From the advert description and photos we can ascertain that this car is far from a basket case and a lot of work has already been completed. It has been running and driving in the not-too-distant past so hopefully with an extra push (and by push we mean cash injection) it can be back on the twisties where it belongs.
Why is it a project?
Despite having had a valid MOT up until October last year the car does have some issues to contend with, most notably the turbocharger and clutch. Apparently there is a problem with the electrics that govern boost as well as a faulty ignition which is causing the engine to misfire and cut out and the wastegate arm bush is also worn. As far as the clutch is concerned the advert merely states that it is slipping.
The good news is the car has been recently re-sprayed but the description does not provide any details as to whether it was a full, professional job or a quick blow-over so it’s anyone’s guess at this stage. The chassis has had “plenty of work” but again, no specifics are given. Rounding out the already completed jobs is the fitting of a complete new interior so it would seem that the restoration work has simply stalled and the owner has either gotten bored, ran out of money or moved on to something else. Hopefully the chassis and bodywork are indeed sound which just leaves some mechanical tinkering to fire the heat back into this hatchback.
Five things to look for:
Check the quality of the paint job for a start – a poor finish and/or over spray will tell you all you need to know. Post ’83 cars received improved rust protection but it’s still a common problem on the R5. Check the door bottoms and the leading edge of the bonnet for any corrosion or paint bubbling as well as around the headlights and wheel arches. Make sure the drain holes aren’t blocked with gunk which will cause rot down the line if not already. Check the chassis work mentioned and make sure any repairs have been done properly. Check for any poorly repaired bodywork too. Original panels are practically impossible to find but pattern parts are available.
The five-speed manual gearbox fitted to the R5 Gordini Turbo is generally pretty robust but enthusiastic launches by inexperienced drivers can mash the synchromesh between gears so check for any crunching when shifting. We already know the clutch is slipping so a replacement would be needed even though it’s a notoriously fiddly affair. Check the CV joints for any knocking or vibrations when driving and turning.
3) Engine and Turbo
There are known issues to deal with here as listed above but also check for the usual signs of head gasket failure as the alloy cylinder head can be seriously damaged if allowed to overheat. Ensure the cooling fan kicks in when it should too. A bit of valve noise is perfectly normal on these OHV engines so don’t worry if it’s a little chattery. With regards to the turbo check for puffs of white smoke from the exhaust under acceleration which will mean the turbo oil seals are toast.
4) Interior and Electrics
The car does have a new interior but check the fitment of all the trim pieces – there’s a world of difference between a professionally fitted, original interior and a Halfords car park rush job. French cars from the 80s are not exactly renowned for their faultless electrics either, evidenced in this case by an ignition problem so make sure everything else works as it should.
Turbocharged engines need a little more care and attention than normally aspirated lumps so make sure the history file contains evidence of regular oil changes and frequent maintenance. The advert doesn’t really mention a fully documented history but there are copies of the original invoice and delivery sheet available.
What should you do with it?
With any turbocharged classic the temptation to go big or go home is ever-present but as is invariably the case with older cars it will more than likely be go big then go home after the engine explodes. A bigger turbo means additional supporting mods and the cost can very quickly escalate so our advice would be to keep this particularly rare Renault stock. Besides, the later GT Turbo lends itself more to the big power route anyway. If the turbo is healthy we would fix the ignition and boost issues and make the engine as reliable and robust as possible before hitting the road safe in the knowledge that the car is mechanically sound.