Classic Car: The pocket rocket Renault R5 Turbo 2
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Group 4 rally Renault
Peter Benbrook’s 1984 Renault R5 Turbo 2 looks almost like a standard Renault hatch, but it certainly doesn’t sound like one, thanks to the mid-mounted 118kW/221Nm 1397cc turbocharged engine that drives the rear wheels.
The first cars were homologation models for Group 4 rally certification, and this is the second version, with a few more stock parts replacing light-alloy originals. It was more affordable, but could hit 200 km/h and reach 100 from rest in 6.9 seconds, imparting more than a whisker of the rally car’s flavour. And it was a flavour worth tasting — the 5 Turbo won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1981.
But hang on a minute, did we really say mid-mounted engine? Yes, there’s a lot of empty space under the bonnet, which covers a fore-aft brace and the spare wheel.
Instead the rear seats were removed to fit the engine, under its firmly fastened carpeted cover, “you can’t be in a hurry to check your oil”. Luggage isn’t a priority in these cars, and nor is touring — they are designed for speed: the soundtrack is a lot fruitier than the capacity suggests, “And when the boost comes up it’s a rocket, it’s a real Jekyll and Hyde,” Benbrook says.
And with that, we stop so I can take the wheel — fortunately the motor’s warm by then, as it’s rather lumpy when cold. The cabin’s a bit spartan, very much of the era, and these standard sports seats are nicely supportive.
The car felt a tad underwhelming at first but apparently I had the revs too low. Once I got used to the long accelerator-pedal travel, I dropped a gear in the five-speed manual and waaaHOO! I suddenly had a rocket up my bum and there were ear-to-ear grins on both faces as our ears were assaulted by the feral sound of a performance motor on song, just behind our heads. This thing can certainly go, and handle — there’s no power steering but at 970kg it’s so light, that doesn’t matter. Stopping? There’s a booster for the vented four-wheel disc brakes, and the wishbone suspension — sourced from the Alpine 310, Benbrook says — works well too.
He’s right when he says, “It’s like a go-kart on the road, and it’s not as tail happy as most people think, because it’s wide, with no rear overhang; it looks short, but it’s not especially.”
These cars were built in the Alpine factory in Dieppe, all 3576 of them left-hand drive and using a fibreglass bonnet and front and rear mudguards to trim weight. Those rear mudguards flare aggressively outwards — you can’t afford to forget how much wider the tail is when you’re manoeuvring — and its gaping grilles feed air to the intercooler, brakes and engine compartment with an electric fan cutting in when needed. “It doesn’t overheat, it runs cool, and it was fantastic around the Coromandel.”
Benbrook thinks this is the only R5 in the country. “There were others but they went back overseas and there are a couple of lookalikes with Evo motors.”
He’s had his for about five years, “I saw it on Trade Me, I hadn’t been hunting one down. It was a Japanese import, and I thought about it. I had a Renault Alpine GTA, it was a private sale and I swapped that, and cash.”
Peter loves sports cars. “I’ve competed in SCANZ — NZ Sports cars they call it — and won the championship in 2000-2001 in a home-built sports car.” He also used to rally as a co driver, and the rally heritage was part of the appeal. Luckily the car was “… in this condition. I’ve just had to do details. It’s missing the spoiler, I have to do mounts for it.
“ I changed the steering wheel, which wasn’t the original and was cracking. The wheels would have been fitted in Japan, they were metric, so it was hard to get tyres, so it has 15s. The guy before put narrower ones on as they rubbed the guards. I fitted some new carpets, too.”
He’s thinking of doing a Targa in it. If he gets time — like many of our subjects he’s not short of projects: among the automotive tangle in his garage there’s an Alpine, a Buckler, I spot a motorbike, and he points out various boxes holding parts and bits for a 1918 Oldsmobile “project” and a 1959 Formula Junior frame, built in Seattle and hanging from the garage roof, which also requires a total restoration.
Peter says he does test his wife’s patience with the number of cars, “Luckily she understands my affliction.” She’d have to, the garage is too packed with projects to fit the daily-driver in. “Everyone knows I never finish them, I keep buying them. They’ll all get finished though — if I live to 150.”