Monday, 12 August 2013

Renault 5 Maxi Turbo

Words & photos: Daniel Bevis

The name Renault 5 Turbo often conjures images of the later 5 GT Turbo, but this is genesis: the original, mid-engined, wide-body rally hooligan. Launched at the Brussels Motor Show in 1980, the Turbo was a direct response to the likes of the Lancia Stratos that were dominating the rally stages at the time. Bertone's Marc Deschamps was charged with the task of turning the warm Renault 5 Alpine into something rather more sporty - his idea of ripping the mechanicals from the front and sticking them behind the driver (in a cartoonishly wide frame styled by Marcello Gandini), thus sending power to the rear wheels rather than the front, transformed the 5 into something otherworldly and brilliantly frightening. The road-going Turbo's performance may sound modest now - 158bhp, 0-60mph in 6.6s, 120mph - but just picture yourself deploying that power in a flimsy 970kg Renault 5 with RWD...

...and, of course, the Group B iteration represented a whole other level of thrust. The 5 Turbo had won at its first time out in 1982, but it ultimately struggled against its 4WD competitors. The car you see here, the 5 Maxi Turbo, is the ballistic solution to that particular problem: it remained RWD, but had the wick turned up to 350bhp. The 1,527cc engine shared many parts with Renault's turbocharged F1 cars (the anti-lag pre-turbo butterfly, for example), its gearbox hanging off the rear supercar-style. Gandini's extravagantly broad fibreglass arches housed 265-section tyres, impressively wide and yet still not quite enough to manage the instant shift from off-boost understeer to full-boost oversteer in the blink of a terrified and frantic eye. This Gallic brute won rallies by sheer belligerence, smashing the air out of its path by horsepower alone. And with its oh-so-eighties lamp-encrusted face and girthsome hips, it remains one of the icons of the Group B era: a poster boy for surreal performance, born of a pedestrian shopping hatchback. In short, a legend.

Spotted at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed - click here for more photos.

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