By on November 30, 2017

Image: 1990 Renault 5 GT TurboAh, bygone French cars. Citroen, Peugeot, and Renault all abandoned the American market by the early 1990s, leaving behind mostly memories of poor reliability and shoddy trim on underpowered little cars. But those in the know are aware of the other side of the coin. It’s the side where France was (is?) great at producing hot hatchbacks. French style and engineering came together to compete with the founder of the breed, the Volkswagen GTI.

For those people, today is a special day. Presenting the Renault 5 GT Turbo:

Image: 1990 Renault 5 GT TurboThe Renault 5 was a mainstay in the French hatchback market for a long time. It filled cobblestone French streets from 1972 to 1996, and among those 24 years there are just two distinct generations.

Image: 1990 Renault 5 GT TurboThe first generation debuted in 1972 and made its way to the United States on a big boat branded as Le Car, eventually becoming the butt of a Seinfeld joke — Le George!

Arriving in the U.S. in 1976, the Le Car would last just a few years. Sold through AMC dealerships, the Le Car’s derpy styling and 55-horsepower engine did not appeal to U.S. consumers. Though there was a revamp in styling for 1980 and a five-door hatch added in 1981, consumers stayed away. The death of the Le Car in the United States came in 1983, when the Kenosha-built Renault Alliance debuted.

Image: 1990 Renault 5 GT Turbo

But the 5 carried on successfully in France, evolving into a second generation in 1984. Renault saw a hot hatch opportunity in the 5, and in 1985 the GT Turbo version was born. Using a modified four-cylinder engine, it was also turbocharged and air-cooled.

Image: 1990 Renault 5 GT TurboThe entire car weighed just 1,874 pounds, and the 113 horsepower on board motivated it along fairly quickly. But this was just Phase I.

Image: 1990 Renault 5 GT TurboPhase II arrived in 1987, with a styling face lift and some mechanical changes. The turbocharger swapped religions and became water-cooled. The 1.4-liter engine now revved higher because of a new ignition setup, drag coefficient was reduced from .36 to .35, and a special body kit was implemented solely for this model.

Image: 1990 Renault 5 GT TurboAll these changes meant that in 1987, your French hot hatch went from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds. For reference, a BMW 635CSI accomplished the same feat that year in 7.4 seconds.

Image: 1990 Renault 5 GT TurboInterior revisions came for 1989, as the 5 GT Turbo neared the end of its life. 1991 would be its final year, as Renault had unveiled its now well-known hot hatch name (continuing to this day), the Clio.

Image: 1990 Renault 5 GT TurboToday’s 5 is a bit worse for wear in a couple of places, and has apparently been imported from Japan and into the rural farming community of Seattle.

With an asking price of $13,000, I’d generally think one might be able to find an example in better condition. But maybe not? Is this Renault the one for you, peut être?

[Images via seller]

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18 Comments on “Rare Rides: This 1990 Renault 5 GT Turbo Is Le Car’s Big Brother...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This vehicle was the bomb back then, a stark improvement over the terrible LeCar it was based upon.

    For example, the LeCar had only 3 lug nuts per wheel – at least in the US.

  • avatar

    The language on the documentation is Japanese, not Chinese.

  • avatar

    I’ve always thought the alloy wheels on these were kick ass. They kinda remind me of the alloys on the original (and best) Lamborghini Countach, the LP400.

  • avatar

    No mention of the various, much more insane first-gen R5 turbos? Are disappoint.

  • avatar

    There was also a handful of these souped up LeCars, including grey market, in Quebec during the eighties and nineties.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I like, iirc the only female character on the A-team drove a blue LeCar.

  • avatar

    “Using a modified four-cylinder engine, it was also turbocharged and air-cooled.”

    The engine was water cooled. The turbocharger itself was cooled by the circulation of engine oil. The oil was cooled by a combination of air to oil heat exchanger and being circulated through the water-cooled engine. The later turbo housings gained water passages for cooling the by the same coolant circulated through the engine and its radiator.

    The Le Car was originally launched in the US as the R5, (R5 GTL, IIRC). One of Renault’s larger dealer bodies marketed them relatively successfully as the Le Car, and then Renault adopted the practice. Renault was a large player in the US imported car market when the US imported car market was small-time. VW grew their share through making cars of higher quality assembly than inexpensive Detroit cars combined with strong reliability while Renault faded as Dauphines, R8s and R10s proved inadequately engineered for US conditions and highway speeds. The Le Car was actually something of a resurgence for Renault just as VW was destroying its hard-earned reputation with frangible water cooled junk. The Le Cars were no better, but for once they were no worse too.

  • avatar

    I am one of few people in USofA (I know) that can say I worked at a Renault dealership when we/they had Le Cars. ABSOLUTE CRAP. Our Renault cars were some of the worst cars ever.

  • avatar

    Extremely dangerous car. Huge turbo-lag, front wheel drive, weak body and poor suspension geometry. Plenty of inexperienced drivers got hurt with this car.

  • avatar

    This is 4,000 Euros in a country like Spain, on a good day. Quite the mark up for the man who doesn’t like to travel!

  • avatar

    Back in 1977, my father and me rented a LeCar from National car rental at Houston Intercontinental airport. My father and me actually tooling around Houston in our little car. Had a good ride and decent pick-up – we liked it so much I nearly bought one for my first car (good thing I didn’t!). Thing I remember most was we pulled up next to a garbage truck and the guys inside of it started laughing their asses off at it. I actually miss these little cars.

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