It’s pretty typical of me to turn up at a 2CV meet and get all excited about a Renault. It should be noted that my love of French cars certainly isn’t restricted to those with a Citroen badge. There are lots of amazing French cars.
The Renault 5 is one such machine. This is the car that, along with the Fiat 127, really created the supermini class. Small cars, with tons of charm, and a practical hatchback. The 5 was launched in 1972, which seems pretty remarkable when you look at it. Remember, 1972 was one year after Morris stopped building the Minor. The BMC 1100 was still in production. The baby Vauxhall and Ford were still three-box saloons.
For me, what really sets the Renault apart is that styling though, especially the rear end view. It’s somehow so French, so stylish, so individual and so practical. It’s a view I remember well, because I owned an exceedingly rare right-hand drive, dash-change 5 myself some years ago. I was a fool to sell it, especially as it has not survived. Regrets? Yes, actually!
But that was then, and this is now. My friend Julian Kettleborough owns this car, and I got very excited when I first saw pictures. It’s a 782cc, dash-change 5 that was saved from a French scrapyard. For some reason, this little beauty had an appointment with the crusher. Happily, that appointment was missed and the car now has a UK MOT and a happy future ahead of it.
We didn’t get the 782cc model here, as it was deemed too feeble. I must admit, the 845cc version I’d owned didn’t exactly feel like a ball of fire. What would this one be like?
Firstly, let’s talk interior. It’s fantastic! Switches are arranged around the wheel in a way which is convenient, but far less wacky than say a Citroen Visa. Sure, you do actually have to talk your hand off the wheel to operate some switches, but not the major ones. There is some intrusion from the engine, which sits behind the gearbox. There’s enough room for pedals though. The gearchange works quite well, but not as sweetly as that in a 2CV – perhaps because the rod has to go over the engine to the front-mounted gearbox.
Out on the road, the pace is familiar to anyone who’s driven a 2CV. It certainly isn’t what you’d call brisk, but it’ll haul itself up to 50mph with far less high-revving fuss than its Citroen rival. It’ll even do 60, though the gearing is asking a lot of the engine by this point. This isn’t an engine that’s particularly refined or happy to run at higher speeds.
The brakes are not that good, though I suspect they may benefit from adjustment. Contrary to the modern looks, the stoppers are good old drums, with manual adjustment. The ride is superb though, even over a grassy field. There’s bodyroll ahoy when cornering too. It’s so French!
I thoroughly enjoyed my little drive in this car though. It marks a real turning point in the history of the motor car. Style needn’t just be reserved for the wealthy. With the 5, Renault provided it for everyone.