Simanaitis Says

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LE CAR POPPED STEROIDS

BACK IN 1972, Renault introduced the 5, a competitor to the ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle, the Austin Mini, and other small four-passenger cars of the era. The Renault 5 did particularly well in its home market as the best-selling car in France between 1972 and 1986. It was officially marketed in the U.S. as Le Car between 1976 and 1983.

But you know how kids are. They hang out with the wrong crowd, in this case racers and rallyists. In 1980, the 5’s nice little fwd got swapped for a rear turbocharged engine, and 400 of these Renault 5 Turbos were built to satisfy the International Rally Championship’s Group 4 homologation regs. On its first outing, a 5 Turbo driven by Jean Ragnotti won the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally. 

And, the same year, Patrick Jacquemart, manager of competition for Renault U.S.A., modified a 5 Turbo to compete in the IMSA Camel GTU Championship. In the highly competitive company of Mazda RX-7s, Porsche 911s, and Datsun 240Zs, Patrick garnered 3rd-place podiums at Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca. He also gave R&T opportunity to test the GTU Le Car Turbo for its September 1981 issue.

This and following images from R&T, September 1981. 

Here are tidbits on these steroid-popping experiences.

The stock Renault 5 Turbo, 1981 aftermarket compliance.

The Original 5 Turbo. In 1981, the 5 Turbo was not marketed in the U.S. by Renault. However, R&T noted an aftermarket compliance specialist was “in the process of independently legalizing three R5 Turbos at the time of this writing…. Figure in the vicinity of $25,000–$30,000 out the door, curiously enough, about the same total price a Frenchman would pay once that country’s value added tax is tacked onto the price of his R5 Turbo.”

The 5 Turbo swapped the two-door Renault 5 hatchback’s rear seat for its mid-mounted turbocharged 1397-cc four mounted longitudinally and driving the rear wheels. Its 160 compliance-satisfying hp gave exceptional performance for the era: 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds and an 89.0-mph quarter mile, loads quicker than a stock Renault 5 Le Car’s 12.6 seconds and 71.0 mph, respectively. 

At a Glance, assembled from R&T, September 1981 and February 1984.

Jacquemart’s IMSA GTU Le Car. As described by R&T, September 1981, “Le Car Turbo saw the first light of day as chassis number RR03T on Renault’s Turbo production line. Once it arrived in Michigan, the car was stripped and its unitary chassis was bolted to a frame jig through its suspension pickup points. Then Patrick’s inventive team proceeded to cut it apart.” 

The rear deck was replaced by fiberglass; the aluminum roof and door panels were retained; the structure was reinforced, a rollcage installed, and a fuel cell fitted. 

The GTU Le Car Turbo.

The race car’s suspension retained unequal-length A-arms front and rear, with stock front torsion bars replaced by Koni coil-over units and the front anti-roll bar made adjustable. 

R&T described, “The  racer left Renault’s production line in Group 4 trim, with such competition niceties as special pistons, valves, and camshaft and a dry-sump lubrication system.” Other engine tweaks included a lowering of compression ratio to suit Le Car Turbo’s 20.0-lb. boost versus the stock 12.0. The resulting output was 260 hp at 7000 rpm.

“All these technical niceties,” R&T said, “are enveloped in body shapes that resemble stock Le Car’s—but only to the extent that Rudolf Nureyev and Mean Joe Green resemble you or me.”

Above, a stock Le Car Turbo; below, Patrick Jacquemart’s office. 

Steroid Handling. “Slalom speed for the road Turbo was 64.3 mph, the quickest we’ve ever recorded for a road car. And what a delight!”

“The slalom runs gave us a chance to drive the IMSA racer, and an exciting experience it was too.… An initial choice of 6000 rpm in second, a little less than 60 mph, proves “much too slow; you find yourself merely steering around the pylons, the suspension hardly challenged.” 

Bumps to 6200 rpm, 6400, then 6600, and finally there’s the slightest time-consuming rear twitch at the first pylon. The run immediately before, at 68.0 mph, is the quickest and “means Jacquemart’s racer is the second quickest car we’ve ever slalomed; only the Lancia Montecarlo Group 5 Turbo (June 1981) was quicker by a mere 0.5 mph.”  

Renault 5 Turbo 2. This would seem a tough act to follow, but R&T’s February 1984 road test of Renault’s U.S.-marketed Turbo 2 was subtitled “Son of Renault Turbo, overdosed on steroids.” 

The Ranault 5 Turbo 2.

The road test’s first comment: “The original version of this car garnered the highly coveted Most Outrageous Commuter Award in our 10 Best Cars for the Eighties competition (August 1981).”  

High praise indeed. And, yes, that’s me at the wheel. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

One comment on “LE CAR POPPED STEROIDS

  1. sabresoftware
    September 9, 2021

    Those front tires look like space saver spares compared to the beefier rears.

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