When I was an impressionable youth back in the last quarter of the 20th century, the word ‘turbo’ really meant something. Throttle response you could measure with an egg timer, certainly, but it also possessed a blend of menace and madness born of rallying and grenade-spec F1 Grand Prix cars.
Of all the cars to come from that hedonistic high-boost era, the Renault 5 Turbo is one of the few to still hold us in its thrall. The lunacy of the mid-engined, wide-body concept surely sees to that, but reputation, rarity and rally pedigree are the magical fairy dust that ensures it retains a mystique and potency matched by few forced-induction cars before or since.
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To see a solitary Turbo is special. To see a brace is exceptional. To see three, in distinct states of tune, from factory-standard perfection to full factory Group B rally specification, is an amazing day indeed. It’s all come about thanks to Renault 5 Turbo specialist Olly Melliard, who correctly deduced that if he could assemble the right cars, evo would snatch his arm off to drive them. That one has been trailered all the way from Greece for the test only makes the gathering more remarkable.
And so to Rockingham Motor Speedway. Not, it has to be said, the first place you’d imagine finding a trio of Renault’s iconic Supercinq, but as good a place as any to get a taste of what they have to offer, and a safe environment in which to at least attempt to explore the notoriously tricky limits of this no-prisoners hatchback.
It makes sense to work my way up to the full-on rally car, which is fine by me as it means my first port of call is Darren Monk’s magnificent late-model Turbo 2. As its name suggests, the Turbo 2 was the second iteration of the mid-engined Renault 5. The original Turbo, built from 1980 to 1983, had its doors, tailgate and roof made from aluminium for homologation purposes. The Turbo 2, produced from 1983 to 1986, had these panels in steel to help keep costs down, but is no less fearsome for it.
Monk’s car is acknowledged as the finest standard T2 in the UK, and one of the best in the world. The condition and colour – listed as a ‘Brun 769’, in case you were wondering – are absolutely perfect. Walking up to the driver’s door and sliding behind the wheel, I reckon I know just how the original owner felt when the car was delivered to Ringles Garage in Sussex. After a short while and minimal miles, the car was sold to a buyer in Northern Ireland who used it until 1994, at which point it was put in storage. It emerged 14 years later, only to be sold back to Britain and spend a further seven years in storage before Darren rescued it and recommissioned it. Refreshed, but absolutely not restored, its originality (even down to the fitment of fresh OE Michelin TRX tyres) is mind-blowing.
Ignore the wide arches. When you sit in a T2 you’re effectively sat in a regular R5. That means a small and narrow cabin with the upright windscreen sat on the end of your nose. The gearlever is long, the driving position and pedals are offset, and the steering wheel is canted so your left arm feels more outstretched than your right. The plush seats so typical of Renaults of this era, but not of Renault 5s or indeed rally specials, are comfortable and supportive, while a sweet array of Jaeger dials with orange graphics completes the period ’80s look.