Road-legal and right-hand drive? In Tour de Corse colours? Merci
By Sam Sheehan / Monday, March 1, 2021 / Loading comments
You don’t need to be a Renault hot hatch aficionado (guilty) to appreciate the firm's new 5 concept. Following on the heels of the Honda e, it's all-electric made to look retro – albeit with the kicker of a spiritual link to a 20th century legend. Renault’s original, two-generation 5 supermini was a bestseller pretty much as soon as it launched in 1972, and it remained in production in certain global markets all the way until 1996, despite the Clio’s arrival in 1990. It had more than just a funky French design going for it, too. It was charming and chic, or if you were an Ali G-watching Max Power reader, “wicked”. But most importantly of all, it was also a very good rally car.
Renault’s homologated 5 was eligible to compete in rallying the world over, and it encouraged the production of iconic variants like the Alpine (a hot hatch that launched in Europe two months before the Mk1 Golf GTI) and, of course, the mid-engined Turbo that spawned a Group B monster. The Turbo was about as significant a transformation the automotive world had seen in a mainstream product, spurred on by an emergent French rally talent in the ‘70s, one Jean Ragnotti. Having famously finished second at the 1978 Monte Carlo rally in a Group 2 Renault 5 Alpine – a front-drive competition model that was never expected to rank inside the top eight – Renault saw fit to upgrade his equipment. Seriously upgrade.
By moving the engine back from front to middle, and sending drive to the back, the engineers totally remade the humble hatchback. The same was true for the four-cylinder motor, which was turbocharged to deliver 160hp to the rear axle, which was a lot of poke in the day. And don’t forget, this was easily a sub-tonne car. It made for a tremendous rallying machine, with Ragnotti claiming first place in the car’s first event, the Monte Carlo Rally of 1981, as well as the Tour de Corse in the following year. The follow-up was even more extreme: the 5 Maxi Turbo got an aluminium roof, stiffened body and a wind-tunnel tested profile, as well as a 1,527cc turbo motor with a DPV anti-lag system to give it more than 350hp. Weighing just 905kg, it had 387hp per tonne (which is roughly 30hp more than the 992 GT3, for context).
Suffice to say it was absolutely awesome and its parade was only rained on by the rise of all-wheel drive technology. As a two-wheel drive machine, though, it remained a compelling option for drivers wanting the balance and adjustability that Ragnotti put to such good use. The homologated road cars have rightfully retained their hero status to this day – a Turbo 2 even ranks on PH’s own hero page – and the succeeding Clio played its part in keeping the lineage on track (or the rally stage) with its own competition offspring and a celebration for the mid-engined 5, the V6. But as the 2021 5 concept shows, there’s still much love for the seventies and eighties icon. Not that these superficial things matter when the car in question is an actual competition machine, like the example you see here.
As a right-hand drive, ex-John Price 5 Maxi Turbo, this is an exceptionally special machine. Price, who sadly passed away aged 75 just last year, used Maxis to win British rallying titles after seeing Ragnotti dominate on the world stage. This car was originally supplied to John Price Rallying in Hereford, where it was converted to right-hand drive under license from Renault, and altered to Tour de Corse regulations. The livery it’s now dressed in is said to be a recreation of the colours that Ragnotti’s event winning car wore in ‘82, so there are multiple layers of history on show. It runs with a 1.6-litre C1J Maxi-spec motor (which, interestingly, after a rebuild is a few cc bigger than the original Maxi motor quoted in Renault’s online archives), blown by a Garrett T3 turbocharger to offer over 230hp, according to the ad. It’s fully road-legal, and has been looked after by Surrey specialist, Abbey Motorsport, for its current owner, where it was MOT’d in November. If we had £73k, and somewhere to keep it, rest assured we’d be spending spring looking through its side windows.
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