A tale of two Renaults

Two Renault  5’s came up for test last month, the sporting TS and the newly-introduced 5-Auto. There is not much need to explain the Renault 5 in general, because these splendid little cars are extremely well-known and popular. Indeed, the R5 is the World’s best-selling French car, with well over two-million sold since its introduction in 1972. It is also the best-selling Renault model in Britain, with 14,600 bought in this country last year, out of a total 442,905. It is even catching on fast in America, where the “compacts” are usually so large by European standards — with 11,000 R5’s in use there up to September 1977, where these Fives are known affectionately as “Le Car”.

The Renault 5 comes in five versions, the basic, very economical 845 c.c. model, the more luxurious and better-performing 956 c.c. 5TL, the clever, high-geared (2,800 r.p.m. at 55 m.p.h. cruising speed) 1,289 c.c. 5GTL, aimed at real fuel economy, the 96 m.p.h. sporting TS of the same engine-size as the GTL, and now the new 5-Auto which uses this high-compression (9.5 to 1), five-bearing, wet-liner, 73 x 77 mm. push-rod o.h.v, four-cylinder power-pack to drive a scaled-down edition of the celebrated Renault 3-speed Revigneaux epicyclic gearbox controlled by a Verto Type-216 hydraulic converter. The respective b.h.p. figures for this Renault range are: 36, 44, 42, 64 and 55, recorded at respective crankshaft speeds of 5,500, 5,500, 5,000, 6,000 and 5,750 r.p.m.

As I have said, there is not much need to go into detail over the Renault 5’s. Like all its breed it has a three-door body with an unobstructed lift-up tail-gate, for very easy loading, a folding back-seat which is one of the easiest to stow and re-erect that I have come across, and some of the most comfortable seats to be found in any small car, with squabs possessing intregral head-restraints and with easy squab-angle adjustment from big knobs with finger grips. For access to the back seat the front seats lift as well as move forward, under lever-control, which could be described as a notable refinement in the field of two or three-door cars. A bad aspect is that there is no way of locking the doors from inside the car.

The sporting TS follows all the other Fives in these commendable aspects and like them has high-class, sensibly-placed switches and minor controls, Renault’s r.h. single-stalk multiple control, with a separate small lever for the indicators and a floor gear-lever which is somewhat notchy but effective to use. The suspension, all-independent using torsion-bars, has been stiffened up a great deal, giving none of the roll of a Renault 4 while absorbing road shocks more than satisfactorily. Indeed, the front-wheel-drive traction, through steering heavy only at parking pace, the very good suspension, and a high degree of comfort set the Renault 5’s right out in front, apart from which they are such big-load carriers for their overall size. There may be equally good small cars but they do not have the happy “character” of the little Renaults. You could even call the R5 eccentric, with its unequal wheelbase, varying by 1.2″ off-side against near-side. But it is eccentricity of an altogether attractive and fascinating kind.

The 5TS has a tachometer which reads under 4,000 r.p.m. at an indicated 70 m.p.h. cruising speed, it will run up to 96 m.p.h., accelerate 0-60 m.p.h. in 13.7 sec., and the Government, bless it, gives it fuel-consumption figures of 28.3 m.p.g. in town, 42.8 m.p.g. at a steady 56 m.p.h., and 30.2 m.p.g. at a constant 75 m.p.h. Driving it like the clappers but also using it as a hack involving cold-starts (instant, with full manual choke) I got 37.8 m.p.g. of 4-star. The angled filler-cap is rather tricky to replace…  You can check the oil level without removing the spare wheel which is strapped above the engine (thus dispelling a myth) and the level hadn’t dropped after 730 miles. The busy small engine becomes rather audible at M-way speeds but the 5TS is game to take on bigger stuff. Its disc/drum servo brakes are light, progressive and powerful, but there is little engine-off fail-safe on the servo. The various warnings are conveyed to the driver by a group of lights which an American writer rather nicely describes as “glowing like molten gumdrops”.

Altogether a grand little motor car, which, having filled it up appropriately with Elf petrol at Cross Gates, I drove to Mallory Park for the express if childish pleasure of saying I had gone to a motor race in the same make of car as that which was flagged in the winner. There were occasions this year when I could have done that by driving to a Formula One race in a Ferrari or a Lotus, or, of course, in a Renault to Le Mans. But that would have involved a gamble, whereas at Mallory Park, on October 22nd, there could be no such uncertainty, because they were running the final of the Gunk-sponsored Renault Five Championship at this BRSCC Meeting! Mallory may be a pocket-handerchief circuit but it is situated in a picturesque part of Leicestershire — we wound several times over a canal and drove through nice villages to get there, after leaving Wolverhampton and the A5 — and the course is in a pastoral setting, with the lake, hilly fields for spectators to park-in, a church as a backdrop, and a neat farmyard to drive through to reach the large but crowded Paddock. The enquiry office outside the course, has obvious advantages for those with passes to collect, etc.

The only disappointment was that the place where the Renault 5s were likely to race door-handle-to-door-handle in roll-attitudes was at the hairpin, which you cannot see from the Paddock or Pressbox (the latter conveniently over a bar). As these little Renaults race in Group One they are virtually standard cars and are therefore, I was told, too high-geared to do more than about their maximum speed on the short straight, of some 95 m.p.h. They looked more stable than I had expected and were notably reliable, however. The race I saw was more or less a procession, with the front row of the grid in command except for Newland-Hodges, who fell back. Neil McGrath, in the Hardings Autos car from Birkenhead, won easily from Colin Wild and Roger Jones, who had a good scrap for second place. Michael Angell was last but I think only Jim Edwards’ R5 retired, proof of R5 reliability under stress. McGrath gained more points towards his overall lead, to clinch this 1978 Championship. His car has the old facia gearchange and runs on Michelin ZX tyres and Elf petrol. It is quick enough to be stripped by RAC engineers because of comments about its speed but was found to be, if anything, somewhat undertuned. In another race I was pleased to see an unsponsored car bearing a Canine Defence League motif on its nose-cone…  Later, taking the 5TS back to London, I passed by a 4 and was swiftly overtaken by a 30TS, quite a Renault flavour, on that pleasant back road from Kington to Hereford.

After the fun of using the lively little R5TS, which I would gladly buy for £3,050 if I could afford a second car, going over to a 5-Auto seemed a foolish move. But on the long haul home from the City-of-London to Wales I was very agreeably surprised at how well this easy-to-drive Renault flew along. It labours a bit up the steeper hills, but that is all. Otherwise, I found no great hardship in using this white saloon with its broad black base-lining and matching black vinyl-covered roof for 1,177 miles, during which varied, but mostly 70 m.p.h. running, it gave 32.7 m.p.g. The official m.p.g. figures are 34, 40.3 and 30.4, respectively (see above). There is no doubt, too, that the Renault automatic transmission functions with commendable smoothness of shift. Once upon a time we thought small capacity engines quite unsuited to such transmissions. A long time ago the BMC proved otherwise, with a good two-pedal Mini 850; but it had a watch-like gearbox. The Renault 5-Auto gives equally effective two-pedal foolproofness, with a useful kick-down, and does not make unwanted changes up and down of its own volition. It should render this best-selling Renault even more popular, now that so many of us have come to accept automatic-transmission cars, especially, as has been seen, as it has not become unduly fuel-thirsty under automation. It is noisy in action but an ideal town-car. The gears self-change at approximately 30, 40 and 65 m.p.h. under full throttle. Sixty m.p.h. is possible from rest in 20 sec., and top speed is nearly 90 m.p.h. The 5-Auto is otherwise much as the TS, but with a thicker, less pleasant steering-wheel rim and no tachometer. More interior stowage besides the front-door wells would have been appreciated. The T-handle central gear-lever covers the expected P,R,N,D,2,1 positions, with illuminated symbols, the lever slot sealed by a plastic strip that moves with the lever. The Veglia speedometer reads to 100 m.p.h., and there are fuel and battery gauges as on the 5TS. The TS has total and decimal-trip milometers. Both cars were on Michelin XZX tyres, a make as popular today as when it was in demand for reliability in Edwardian Continental touring and when Renault were prominent in racing, winning what is usually called the first French Grand Prix, at Le Mans in 1906. Both Rs have rear wipe-wash for their back windows, but too “plasticky” interiors. The lamps are good, both on dipped and full beam.

You can buy the R5-Auto for the same price as a 5TS, i.e. £3,050. I found it a companionable car, which I used as a tender on the Brighton Run, sponsored again this year by Renault (UK) Ltd., with Stirling Moss driving a 1900 4-1/2 h.p. Renault therein, in company with Renault’s PR Manager Alan Dakers. I also used the 5-Auto to hunt up some ancient motor-racing history, centred round an aero-engined Brooklands car, which took us to a village in the Midlands. Here enquiry at the Hall Farm where a Renault 12 stood in the courtyard sent us to the newsagents, where the village butcher overheard the conversation and pointed out a cottage where the information I was seeking was forthcoming. But first, realising it was motor history we were after, this excellent butcher asked “are you interested in old cars? Come and see mine”, leading me to a sheeted-over Daimler Conquest, laid up in the winter but run enthusiastically, I gather, in the summer months, a car known to the Daimler & Lanchester OC. So these two Renault 5’s served me well and what is good enough for Stirling Moss, who uses one, should be good enough for most of us. — WB