1980 Renault 5 Turbo Group 4

Courtesy of Artcurial Motorcars
Courtesy of Artcurial Motorcars

In 1979, the modest Renault Sport division, responsible for the R5 Turbo rally program led by engineers François Bernard and Michel Têtu, only had the Group 5 prototype that had appeared on the Tour of Italy, the famous “Black” R5, assembled from specific Renault and Alpine parts.

Gérard Larrousse and his team had to wait for 400 examples of the production series to be built for homologation in Group 4 that would allow the R5 Turbo to compete in major international competitions. This was done before the summer of 1980. And so the car presented here was born, bearing the chassis number B000036 and registered 126 TZ 91 on September 8, 1980. This was the first R5 Turbo to be homologated in Group 4, and as a racing car, its exceptionally well-conserved condition is nothing short of a miracle.

“Coco” Prié, the mechanic well-known for his time at Alpine during the successful 1973 world championship era, and who moved to Renault as head of the rally support team, remembers assembling this R5 Turbo not at Viry Châtillon but at the F1 department at Antony, alongside Prost’s single-seater. The 1,400-cc turbocharged engine of this car was therefore prepared by the F1 workshop, and is the one and only R5T engine to have benefited from this treatment, as the others were built first at Viry and later by the Bozian brothers near Lyon.

The first campaign for B000036 was the famous Tour de France Automobile in 1980, which took place at the end of September. The car was given to factory driver Jean Ragnotti, with co-driver Jean Marc Andrié. The Ragnotti-R5T tandem caused great excitement and did not disappoint the spectators. Andrié declared, “The mechanics presented us with a magnificent car — the best-looking rally car I’ve ever seen.” It must be said that Coco Prié’s team worked through the night before the start to get the car ready. The rally unfurled in an atmosphere of excitement, marked by a scratch win for the R5 on the first special stage. The R5T B000036 went on to win six of the following special stages.

Unfortunately, the R5T’s first outing didn’t end in victory. An off-road excursion in the Col de Perty lost them five minutes, and they were forced to retire six stages before the end with an ignition problem. However, the R5 Calberson had won over a lot of fans and made a big impression. The spectators knew that a victory wasn’t far away.

B000036 and Jean Ragnotti were eagerly anticipated at the next event: the Tour de Corse. This splendid trial attracted the biggest names: Andruet, Thérier, Darniche, Frequelin, Rohrl, Ragnotti, Saby, Mouton ….

Jean Ragnotti was the clear favorite given the Tour Auto results. The team engineer Philippe Chasselut had worked to reduce the turbo’s response time and the R5 was the overall winner of the first four stages. A puncture on the following stage relegated them to 4th place, but they quickly regained the lead in front of Darniche and his Fiat 131 Abarth. The second section played into the Renault driver’s hands, thanks to the terrible weather. In Castagniccia, Ragnotti’s talent, together with the R5T’s good handling in the wet conditions despite the power of the turbo, increased his lead. However, just before the Col Saint-Roch, the alternator belt broke and the car stopped. It meant a retirement even though the event had effectively been won, and it was a huge disappointment for the team.

This Renault 5 Turbo is in exceptionally original condition for a car that has raced at this level. It is in the period Calberson livery, and has retained its running gear, which can be checked against the substantial photo album from the Tour de France Auto and Tour de Corse (Renault Sport 4 piston calipers replaced the two rear pistons). Mechanically, the car remains strictly original, with its large and specific Tour de Corse-type turbo. It still has its rare magnesium Minilite wheels, and the interior also retains a period feel, with the original carpets, and the rare onboard computer.

A close look at period photos show that the smallest details down to the bonnet catches have been kept. This car created a sensation at the last Tour de Corse Historique, being highly original among so many re-creations of period cars. It is certainly one of the most important R5 Turbo factory cars. Although not a race winner, it is the one and only R5 Group 4 car in Calberson colors.

B000036 is a spectacular, high-performance car, with a beauty that takes the breath away. It made its mark in rallies during the 1980s, setting new standards in major competitions, and took part in two of the most prestigious events for historic cars: the Tour de France Auto and the Tour de Corse. This is a truly exceptional car, eligible for all VHC events, and it has a Passport Technique National. This is a genuine competition car and not a modern replica.

The car has been signed by Jean Ragnotti on the bonnet, and its authenticity has been recognized by figures involved at the time including the famous “Coco” Prié, who was present on the Tour de Corse Historique.

Jeff Zurschmeide

Jeff Zurschmeide - SCM Contributor - %%page%%

Jeff is a lifelong automobile enthusiast with a penchant for sports and racing cars. He has raced SCCA, local circle track, and stage rally as a co-driver. He makes his living as a freelance automotive journalist and is the author of six books on automotive topics. As a rule, he practices catch-and-release fishing when it comes to collectible automobiles, trying to leave each one in better condition than he found it. Enduring passions include his MGA and Austin Mini, and his 1969 Corvette. He recently purchased a 1920 Ford Model T Touring because “you just have to have one of these once in your life.”

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