GALLERY: Go Behind The Scenes On Our 1983 Renault 5 Turbo II ‘Maxi’ Film Shoot
When it comes to the divide between road cars and their motorsport relatives, the gap between the excruciatingly meek Renault 5 and its mid-engined Group B derivation is one of the widest to be found in history. In the United States, the front-wheel drive, front-engined base-model was known simply—and if you ask us a bit presumptuously—as “Le Car.” We’re not in the US for this shot of Morning Coffee though, and it’s hard to be concerned with odd model names when you’re sitting shotgun in a street-legal replica of the R5’s evolutionary apex, the so-called, “Maxi Turbo.” We’re joining Aris Jocelyn for some automotive espresso today inside his Maxi homage built on the already-formidable platform of a 1983 Renault 5 Turbo II, and though the recipe is simple, the ingredients are certainly exotic: first, find some scarcely populated mountain roads in southern France. Next, fire up the turbocharged French rally machine of your choice. Then pull the trigger.
So what are we looking at here? It seems wrong to call this a “hot-hatch.” No offense meant to the Volkswagen GTIs and Peugeot GTIs out there, but this is a different breed. Though the R5 Turbo was first homologated to comply with Group 4 regulations, it soon became known as a blueprint of sorts for the incipient Group B era that would highlight the stark strengths and weaknesses of the Renault design as it compared to its overwhelmingly all-wheel drive peer group. While it didn’t keep up with the innovations on that front, the R5 set the foundation for the cars that would come to dominate Group B rallying: the Lancia S4 and Peugeot 205 T16. The formula for a successful car was just missing an extra differential, as the turbocharged mid-engine hatchback design would come to define this period of the WRC.
Along with the Lancia 037, the R5 Turbo was one of the last remaining rear-wheel drive platforms competing with the likes of the Audis and Peugeots. It won a handful of events with French racing ace Jean Ragnotti, but to line up with the dominant cars of the decade and stand a chance, having four drive wheels was a must. The French can be stubborn though, and rather than develop something to comply with the writing on the wall they kept going with the R5, and one year after the Group B rulebook came into effect, Renault Sport brought their new R5 Maxi Turbo to the table in 1984, which saw the final form of the car’s bodywork integrate the ubiquitous bank of fog lights into the bumper, as well as adding a funky rear hatch spoiler extension to the roof and few more vents cut into the front end to keep the enlarged four-banger cool. The engine in the Maxi had more displacement than the car it replaced (1527cc compared to 1397cc) and the unit was now capable of making power figures beyond the 350 mark.
The most recognizable of these French rally cubes is up for debate, but the black, white, and gold Diac and Elf scheme is definitely one of the lasting images. Aris Jocelyn, president of the R5 Turbo club, seems to prefer this livery, otherwise we assume he wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of making a painstakingly accurate homage to the Maxi Turbos that wore it in the period. He didn’t turn a Le Car into a shoddy tribute kit-car either, instead taking the proper route and starting off with a genuine R5 Turbo II as the base for his creation. Taking a decidedly radical machine even further to the limits of road legality in the pursuit of bringing the Group B feeling to the road? That’s something we can get behind.