Road Impressions

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The Renault 5 Gordini

As a means of getting a move on without using very much fuel the Renault 5 Gordini proved to be a most commendable proposition, when tried out on British roads. In France they have known this jolly and clever little car, as the Renault 5 Alpine, for more than three years. It uses an enlarged-bore five-bearing 5TS engine, of 76 (instead of 73 mm.) x 77 mm., this almost “square” engine having a capacity of 1,397 c.c. It has a Weber 32DIR58 twin-choke carburetter, a special camshaft, and a c.r. of 10.0 to 1. all of which produces 93 b.h.p. DIN at 6,400 r.p.m. A Renault 16TX/17TS five-speed gearbox is used, the suspension torsion-bars and anti-roll bars have been appreciably stiffened, and wide-rim alloy wheels are used. In spite of this excellent power output the Gordini-Renault is an unexpectedly docile little package until opened up. It will pull its fifth speed at 30 m.p.h. or so, making this a town gear for the petrol-thrifty. The suspension, set for fast cornering, has not been rendered too harsh and if the sporty wheels look rather ugly, they serve to ventilate the servo disc/drum brakes, which are extremely light and very powerful, some of the nicest brakes I have used for some time and fully in keeping with the Gordini’s 110 m.p.h. maximum speed and acceleration of 0-60 m.p.h. in 10.7 seconds, pick-up almost equal to, or the same as, that from a BMW 525, Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, or Rover 2600 for example. Even in fifth gear the acceleration is impressive.

This is truly creditable performance from what is a real small-car, but with the Renault 5’s load-worthy hatchback and folding rear seat. The spare wheel, however, occupies the boot floor. I was very impressed, until the engine began to cut out completely and frequently on the M4, as I cruised along in the dry at just over 3,700 r.p.m. in fifth gear, equal to 70 m.p.h. Every time I had attained the hard-shoulder the starter would recommence the machinery, and once off the Motorway the trouble vanished, not to return in the 1,000 miles or so of the week’s test, even when the car was left out at night in heavy rain. It remains an unsolved trick of the auto-gremlins.

The engine clatters from its “wide” valve-timing but cannot be called unduly noisy, for its size. The seats are hard but generally comfortable, supporting one well, and the controls mainly as on other “Fives”. The turn-indicators are operated by a short but finger-tip-convenient r.h. stalk, the 2-speed electrically-squirted wipers by a similar l.h. lever both very light, and a horn and wipers are not cut off with the ignition switch. The taut but heavy steering, with a small thick-rimmed wheel, is unchanged, so is accurate, with strong castor return.

The performance is most impressive, and it is delivered in a manner which makes the Gordini great fun to drive quickly. The acceleration flows in a smooth manner, to maxima in the gears of 27, 46, 70 and 100 m.p.h., and at the end of a s.s. 1/4-mile you are doing 78 m.p.h., the elapsed time being 17.8 seconds. It all adds up to something out of the ordinary, to express it mildly, from such a small car (11 ft. 8 in. in length). Handling is as you make it the front-wheel-drive reacting in the anticipated manner. Overall the Renault Gordini is essentially a safe car and it would be a big mistake to class it as a fiendish toy for the rabid enthusiast or as a “boy’s racer” lacking refinement. It can be driven like any other Renault 5, or wound up to give usefully high average speeds and blow off the usually-astonished opposition. Enjoying it like this, cornering fast on the secure Firestone HSI Sport Wide 155/70SR 13″ tyres, I expected about 30 m.p.g. of the required four-star fuel. I was very pleased to find that I was bettering 37 m.p.g. In fact, the overall fuel consumption figure was 37.4 m.p.g. I got 38.1 m.p.g. over part of the mileage, which makes me think that even the rally-aspiring should get around 34 m.p.g. and sporting aunts perhaps better than 40. This performance, allied to economy, makes the Renault 5 Gordini a most attractive proposition. The tank, which has Renault’s (unlockable) angled cap, holds 8.4 gallons.

The Renault 5 Gordini has a very deep frontal spoiler, inset into which are the side and indicator lamp clusters and two low-set Cibie halogen foglamps. This spoiler, with the “G8” emblem and the name “Gordini” in orange lining, along the body sides, give a sporting air to the little “black road-burner” but not such as to attract unwelcome attention. The engine commences readily under manual choke and normally idles at 1,000 r.p.m. The front-hinged, self-supporting, light bonnet lid reveals the exciting alloy-head engine in which the push-rod-operated o.h. valves are angled. The two back sparking plugs of this north-south-located power unit are not very accessible and the dip-stick (almost no oil consumed, in 1,000 miles) is also somewhat buried, but the Renault 180 E2 battery with quick-detach terminals would be easy to top-up. The upholstery is in a high-grade cloth and the front-seat head-restraints are of the “open” variety. Access to the back of the two-door body is by lifting a front seat forward, these seats swinging on a parallelogram movement, moved without much effort after releasing the control levers. The test car was equipped with a Philip cassette-stereo radio, with roof aerial.

I liked the car very much indeed. It might have better ventilation without so much recourse to a noisy fan, and more interior stowages to supplement the almost-too-deep door-bins. It had a not very nice gear shift from the lengthy floor lever. The instruments are adequate without being of the “instant-read” kind, although there is a Veglia digital-clock on the roof sill. The tumbler-type switches are neatly arrayed one above the other on the right of the facia, slightly obstructed by the steering-wheel rim, there is rear wipe/wash.

There are a few minor oddities about this ingenious little motor car but all can be excused, for it is unique. It is also quite expensive, at £4,644.40, although it comes with reversing lamps, fog-lamp, Californian Vitaloni aerodynamic door-mirror, laminated tinted screen, openable rear side windows, 8,000 r.p.m. Jaeger electronic (red lined from 6,000 r.p.m.) tachometer, etc. It must represent an appreciable saving over buying a big, fuel-thirsty car that will not be any more fun to drive skilfully or much, if any, faster from “A” to the inevitable “B”. More power, I say, in the sales-sense, to this latest of the Renault 5 family, that so ably perpetuates the memory of the late Amedee Gordini. — W.B.

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