The Renault 5 (also called the R5) is a supermini produced by French automaker Renault in two generations between 1972 and 1996, and sold in the US as Le Car, from 1976 to 1986. Nearly 5.5 million were built.
First generation (1972–1985)
The Renault 5 was first unveiled on 10 December 1971, being launched at the beginning of 1972. The Renault 5 was styled by Michel Boué, who died before the car’s release, the R5 featured a steeply sloping rear hatchback and front dashboard. Boué had wanted the tail-lights to go all the way up from the bumper into the C-pillar, in the fashion of the much later Fiat Punto and Volvo 850 Estate / Wagon, but the lights remained at a more conventional level. The 5 narrowly missed out on the 1973 European Car of the Year award, which was instead given to the Audi 80. The R5 borrowed mechanicals from the Renault 4, using a longitudinally-mounted engine driving the front wheels with torsion bar suspension. OHV engines were borrowed from the Renault 4, Renault 8, and Renault 16, and ranged from 850 to 1,400 cc. Early R5s used a dashboard-mounted gearshift (the gearbox is in front of the engine)—later replaced with a floor-mounted shifter. Door handles were formed by a cut-out in the door panel and B-pillar. The R5 was one of the first cars produced with a plastic bumper bar—or fascia—that has become an industry standard. This car introduced a small invisible revolution. It was the first one with a front and a rear bumper in plastic (polyester and glass fibre). Nowaday, 99% of the manufactured cars in the world have plastic bumper. The R5′s engine was set well back in the engine bay, above and half behind the gear box, allowing the stowage of the spare wheel under the bonnet/hood, an arrangement that freed more space for passengers and luggage within the cabin. The passenger compartment “is remarkably spacious” in comparison to other modern, small European cars. The Renault 5 body’s drag coefficient was only 0.37 (with most European cars going up to 0.45). Other versions of the first generation included the four-door sedan version called the Renault 7 and built by FASA-Renault of Spain. The Renault 5 achieved, like the original Mini, a cult status.
Renault 5 Alpine/Gordini
The Renault 5 Alpine was one of the first hot-hatches, launched in 1976. Its launch pre-dated that of the Volkswagen Golf GTI. In the UK, the car was sold as the Renault 5 Gordini because Sunbeam already had the rights to the name “Alpine” and was used on the Talbot Alpine at the time. Use of the name Gordini was from Amédée Gordini, who was a French tuner with strong links with Renault and previous sporting models such as the Renault 8. The 1.4 L (1397 cc) OHV engine, mated to a five-speed gearbox, was based on the Renault “Sierra” pushrod engine, but having hemispherical combustion chambers and featured a crossflow cylinder head and developed 93 PS (68 kW; 92 hp), twice as much as a standard 1.1 L (1108 cc) Renault 5. The Alpine could be identified by special alloy wheels and front fog lights and was equipped with stiffened suspension, but still retaining the torsion bar all round. The UK car magazine Motor road test figures quoted top speed of 104.7 mph (168.5 km/h) and 0-60 mph in 9.7 seconds.
Renault 5 Alpine Turbo/Gordini Turbo
The Renault 5 Alpine Turbo was launched in 1982 as an upgraded successor to the naturally aspirated Alpine. In Britain, the car was still called Gordini rather than Alpine. Motor magazine undertook a road test of the Turbo in 1982 and while they appreciated the performance (top speed 111.8 mph (179.9 km/h), 0-60 mph 8.7 seconds), they were critical of its high price as it was £2 more than the larger Ford Escort XR3. The 1.4 L (1,397 cc) was the same as the Alpine, but with the addition of a (single Garrett T3 turbocharger) increasing the power output to 110 bhp (82 kW; 112 PS). Sales continued until 1984 when the second generation Renault 5 was launched, and the release of the Renault 5 GT Turbo in 1985.
Renault 5 Turbo
The Renault 5 Turbo should not be confused with the Alpine Turbo or GT Turbo as it was radically modified by mounting a turbocharged engine behind the driver in what is normally the passenger compartment, creating a mid-engined hot hatch and rally car. The Renault 5 Turbo was made in many guises, eventually culminating with the Renault 5 Maxi Turbo.
Renault Le Car
The North American Renault 5 debuted in 1976 as the Le Car. American Motors (AMC) marketed it through its 1,300 dealers where it competed in the United States against such front-wheel-drive subcompacts as the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Rabbit. It was described as a “French Rabbit” that “is low on style, but high on personality and practicality”. AMC’s ad agency launched the car in the U.S. with a marketing campaign emphasizing that it was Europe’s best selling automobile with millions of satisfied owners. It did not achieve such immediate success in the United States market even though the Le Car was praised in road tests comparing “super-economy” cars for its interior room and smooth ride, with an economical [35 mpg-US (6.7 L/100 km; 42 mpg-imp) highway and 28 mpg-US (8.4 L/100 km; 34 mpg-imp) city] as well as smooth-running engine. The U.S. version featured a 1397 cc I4 engine that produced 55 hp (41 kW), and a more conventional floor-mounted shifter was substituted for the dash-mounted unit. In 1977 it dominated the Sports Car Club of America “Showroom Stock Class C” class. The Le Car was offered in 3-door hatchback form from 1976-80. For the 1980 model year, the front end was updated to include a redesigned bumper and grille, as well as rectangular headlights. A 5-door hatchback body style was added for the 1981 model year. Imports continued through 1983, when the car was replaced by the Kenosha, Wisconsin-built, Renault 11-based Renault Alliance. In at least one U.S. municipality, the Le Car was used as a law enforcement vehicle, when the La Conner, Washington police department acquired three of the vehicles for its fleet in the late-1970s. Renault advertised Le Car’s versatility in a full page ad featuring its use by the department.
*January 1972: Introduction of the Renault 5 in L and TL forms. Both models had rear pull handles, a folding rear seat, grey bumpers, wind up front windows, and a dashboard-mounted gear shift lever. The TL was better equipped, and had a vanity mirror for the front seat passenger, three ashtrays (one in the driver’s door armrest and two in the rear), two separate reclining front seats instead of one bench seat, front pull handles, and three stowage pockets. *1973: Gear lever moved from dashboard to floor, between front seats. TL gains heated rear window. *1974: Introduction of the R5 LS, same as R5 TL, but with different wheels, H4 iodine headlights, electric windscreen washers, fully carpeted floor ahead of the front seats, carpeted rear parcel shelf, electronic rev counter, daily totalizer, two-speed ventilation system, illuminated ashtray with cigarette lighter. *March 1975: R5 LS renamed R5 TS. The TS had all features of the previous LS, plus new front seats with integrated head restraints, black bumpers, illuminated heater panel, front spoiler, rear wiper, clock, opening rear quarter lights and reversing lights. *February 1976: Introduction of the R5 Alpine, with 1397 cc engine with hemispherical combustion chambers, high compression ratio and & special 5-speed manual gearbox. The R5 GTL was also launched in 1976 with the 1289 cc engine from the R5 TS (albeit with the power reduced to 42 bhp), the equipment specification of the R5 TL plus grey side protection strips and some features from the R5 TS such as the styled wheel rims, reversing lights, cigarette lighter, illuminated heater panel, electric windscreen washers. *1977: R5 GTL gets opening rear quarter lights and R5 L gets new 845 cc engine. *1978: Introduction of the R5 Automatic, similar to R5 GTL, but with 1289 cc (55 bhp) engine, 3-speed automatic transmission, vinyl roof and front seats from TS. *1980: 5-door TL, GTL and Automatic models arrive. *1982: Introduction of the R5 TX and the hot hatch R5 Alpine Turbo, a replacement for the R5 Alpine with a Garrett T3 Turbo, new alloy wheels, stiffer suspension and disc brakes all-round.