There’s decent weight to the controls and the throttle pedal has a long travel. The gearshift is light, precise and has a shorter throw than the length of the lever leads you to expect. Look ahead and you can kid yourself you’re in a mildly sporty R5, but look behind you and you’re left in no doubt you’re in something altogether more extreme.
The engine sounds bigger and ballsier than its capacity suggests, with an endearing off-beat burble and gruff, throaty note when working hard. The boost gauge begins to twitch at around 3000rpm and whips round beyond 4000rpm, but you need full throttle to wake the little 1.4-litre pushrod motor. By modern standards the power and torque figures are rather feeble, the Turbo’s reputation setting an expectation that 160bhp can’t really hope to meet, yet once boosting it feels undeniably strong.
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During the getting-to-know-you phase, the chassis has a nice, neutral balance. The unassisted steering’s not too fast, but not too slow, either. The front end has decent bite and there’s roll and compliance in the suspension, so you feel it soak up the lateral load. You can kid yourself there’s little more to learn, until you decide to provoke it, at which point you discover there’s another side to the Turbo. One in which the tail is happy to take to control.
You know you’re in a hatchback, and an old hatchback at that, but there are hints of 911 about it – an uncorrupted feel to the steering and a slightly pendulous response from the tail that you have to respect but can use to your advantage – that set it apart as something special and a car that takes some learning. It must have felt pretty darned quick in its day, not to mention a challenge to people’s perception of what Renault was about and a real threat to the established performance benchmarks of the day.
If Monk’s T2 is a snapshot of all-original perfection, Tony Campbell’s extensively modified example is a lesson in detail, quality and authentic period upgrades. Like Monk’s car, B803 AGJ was originally supplied to the UK, and as was typical at the time, it was converted to right-hand drive by the first owner. Campbell acquired the car in 2012 and embarked upon a full nut-and-bolt restoration with a view to meeting Group 3 and 4 homologation regulations, so the car could be eligible for historic rallying.
Using a bodyshell with Group 4-spec structural reinforcement and coilover suspension and a Group 3 engine with a ‘Cévennes’ exhaust manifold and intercooler, a modified Garrett T3 turbo and Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, it was built and developed by acknowledged classic Renault restorer JL Engineering. It bristles with energy and attitude, and Campbell’s take on the period ‘Gitanes Blondes’ livery is the icing on the cake.
Stripped of most creature comforts but still a useable road car, it’s an altogether angrier proposition. All the inherent qualities and characteristics of Monk’s car remain, but the power delivery (220bhp @ 6900rpm) and handling balance are compressed into a tighter, more intense zone of performance. Harder to tap but a bigger thrill to experience, it’s much closer to the headbanger that legend would have you expect.