Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Classic - Renault 5 GT Turbo

Recycling is, generally speaking, an irksome and tedious business. I mean come on, who really wants to pick through their own refuse (so to speak) piece by piece, separating into a vast array of categories ranging from non-plasticised cardboard to organophosphate-enriched polyester or whatever the hell else the council militantly force you to drag to the kerb every Tuesday morning? It defies sense, it’s just a way for time-rich lefties to pad out their days; seriously, just throw it into a hole in the ground and leave it there, it’ll probably be ok. Unless you want your neighbours to see you acting out the whole eco-charade, obviously, in which case you’ll probably need some marigolds and a look of tremendous self-satisfaction plastered over your smug face.

Nobody gave a tinker’s cuss about recycling back in the eighties. Red braces, electro, Porsche 911s, cocaine and glasnost, that’s all people were really bothered with. Oh, and small sporty hatchbacks, they were rather popular too. With naughty little scamps like the Golf GTI, the AX GT and the 205 GTi, there was a clear market for any manufacturer with a dinky hatch in their showrooms to dive into, and so it was that Renault brought their little Supercinq to the party. And yes, the young challenger was actually quite interested in recycling.

Of course, I’m not talking about recycling in terms of putting your carrot peelings into a dirty box in your garden or weaving your own poncho out of hemp; no, the GT Turbo likes to recycle its own exhaust fumes… because it’s got a diddy little turbocharger to play with. Without bogging down in the technicalities of turbine-fed forced induction, let’s just say that this is a Good Thing (capital G, capital T) – not the sort of behaviour to tickle Greenpeace’s funnybone, but screw them, they don’t know the first thing about ambient air compression or volumetric efficiency.

There had been hot 5s before, the most notable (and terrifying) being the absurd mid-engined Group 4-homologated 5 Turbo. The GT Turbo, however, was the first to be available to the public as a full-production model. Unsurprisingly, it sold like hot cakes; it was the hot hatch eighties, you could have put a Polaris missile in a Fiat Ritmo and it would have shifted significant units. Given the market and the budget, the turbocharged 5 was as good as you’d expect it to be - good, but not great. But it was French, so good was good enough.

Visually, Renault employed the simple trick that was keeping automotive design houses in free lunches and empty calendars all across Europe: bolt-on plastic arches, beefier alloys, beefier bumpers, job done. Don’t knock it though, it works incredibly effectively – park a GT Turbo next to a regular 5 and you’ll notice an aggressive and handsome improvement (ditto Uno Turbo vs Uno 45, 205 GTi vs 205 Junior etc, etc). So it had the looks and it had the beans… all it needed was a peachy handling setup and it would be a winner.

Ah, well. You can’t have everything.

The genius of the GT Turbo, though, was that it didn’t need to be that good – it just needed to be quick and cheap, and to stand out from the common shopping 5s, and it achieved all of these things with gusto. Never mind that the basic and agricultural little 1.4 litre overhead valve engine didn’t really lend itself that strongly to turbocharging, and that as a consequence you’d need a new head gasket pretty much every other week. Worry not that the ultraskinny steel bodywork was so thin that it all but let the wind pass through it. Ignore the fact that the interior felt like it had been Pritt-sticked together by handless lepers devoid of a basic understanding of plastics or interior architecture. None of these things matter. It’s a small, very light car and it’s got a turbo. What more do you honestly need?

It’s sad to say but you’ll have a real job finding a factory-standard GT Turbo these days, and if you do come across one on sale it’ll be at a silly price. The reason for this is simply over-exposure. There were once so many of them around that almost all of them have either been wrapped around trees or modified to absurd standards – see Ali G’s car for example, or anything tuned by Carisma. (The latter, incidentally, can tune your GTT to over 300bhp, which will probably make it very fast. Once. And then it’ll catch fire.)

My advice? Track down a nice Raider special edition – probably set you back about five grand – and just drive the bastard into the ground. Savour every ridiculous moment from the epic torque-steer when you set off to the chronic understeer when you reach your first corner… it’s not elegant, but it’s a whole heap of fun. But be quick – that wafer-thin metal will be very keen to start recycling itself…

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