Rare Rides: This 1990 Renault 5 GT Turbo Is Le Car's Big Brother

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides this 1990 renault 5 gt turbo is le car s big brother

Ah, 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:

The 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.

The 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.

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.

The entire car weighed just 1,874 pounds, and the 113 horsepower on board motivated it along fairly quickly. But this was just Phase I.

Phase 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.

All 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.

Interior 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.

Today’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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2 of 18 comments
  • Superdessucke Superdessucke on Dec 02, 2017

    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!

  • Lon888 Lon888 on Dec 04, 2017

    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.

  • ToolGuy Here is an interesting graphic, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • ToolGuy Nice website you got there (even the glitches have glitches)
  • Namesakeone Actually, per the IIHS ratings, "Acceptable" is second best, not second worst. The ratings are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal" and "Poor."
  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.