Looking for one of the most memorable and exciting hot hatches of the 1980s? No, not the Peugeot 205 GTI, but another lightweight French hot hatch that that's increasingly rare and surging in value: The Renault 5 GT Turbo.
Although turbocharging was still largely in its infancy during the 1980s, Renault was no stranger to offering its hatchbacks with a blower. When it launched the original Gordini in 1976 (pre-dating the Golf GTI by a year) the company joined the hot hatch ranks in style, but it wasn't until 1981 – following the mid-engined Group 4 rally 5 Turbo in 1980 – that the Garrett T3 finally found its way into the engine bay.
The Gordini Turbo was indecently fast, but it wasn't until a the year after the Five received its Gandini-styled 'Supercinq' update in 1984 that the hugely improved GT Turbo was introduced. The engine remained pretty much unchanged, but a smaller T02 turbo was fitted for better response and less lag, and a slight increase in boost pressure increased power to 115bhp (later 118bhp).
It’s all too easy to forget what all the fuss was about when it was new. While the Peugoet 205 GTi, Golf GTi and Escort XR3i were normally aspirated, it was left to the Renault 5 GT Turbo, and a handful of others like the Escort RS Turbo and Fiat Uno Turbo to carry the turbocharging flag, in what was a fiercely fought segment by the time it arrived in 1985.
While critics moaned about the noticeable turbo lag, some found that it added to the entertainment. Most importantly it was a seriously quick machine – especially when the wick was turned up. It helped that the GT Turbo was so light; its featherweight bodyshell helped it to tip the scales at just 830kg, aiding agility and ensuring that every drive was a blast. Even now the GT Turbo is a quick car and you’ll still have plenty of fun in one – if you can find a really good example.
The steering is unassisted, but it’s manageable at low speed and perfectly weighted once you’re up and running. It’s also perfectly matched to the needs of the chassis, so you can hustle the Renault through corners without the edginess of the alert 205. It has decent grip, but traction can be at a premium when the turbo eventually starts puffing. The brakes and gearshift mirror the weight and feel of the steering, so although the Five is light there’s some meat to the primary controls that’s unusually satisfying. It’s a small car too, so you have generous amounts of road to play with.
Which Renault 5 to buy?
If you go for a Phase 2 rather than a Phase 1 you’re likely to enjoy a greater degree of reliability, but the hot starting problems of earlier cars can largely be alleviated by fitting one of other of the various kits available. Your chances of finding an early grey-bumpered Phase 1 car are significantly slimmer than the more common Phase 2 anyway.
One other version to consider is the 5 GT Turbo Raider. This was a special edition run-out model, painted in blue with matching blue alloy wheels. Check that the car’s unique seat trim is in good shape, as you’ll have a difficult time trying to replace any of it!
The reality of finding a 5 GT Turbo worth putting money into isn’t always particularly straightforward though. The general rule is that if you come across the right car in good condition, then you shouldn’t hang around making an offer. The chances are you’ll look at quite a few heaps before you find something worth buying, and good cars do not stay on the open market for very long.
Many of the GT Turbos out there have been crashed at some point and a lot of them have been badly repaired. Your mission is to find one that’s not been crashed, hasn’t been butchered either and is as close to factory spec as you can get. GT Turbo buyers now want originality, so if you can find an unmolested GT Turbo of any vintage, that should be the one you snap up.
While the GTT was an icon in the Max Power scene, even appearing in the Ali G movie, quite a few fully modified cars have now been put back to standard. While this is ultimately good, you potentially want to know what kind of modification the car had, and also how well any restoration work has been carried out. If you’re not put off by modifications, then there is always going to be a lot more choice, and you’ll potentially end up with something that has been well put together and can still give modern hot hatches a run for their money.
Performance and specs
Renault 5 GT Turbo (phase 2)
Engine 1397cc, four-cylinder
Power 118bhp @ 5750rpm
Torque 122lb ft @ 3750rpm
Top speed 123mph
Fuel consumption 25mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Insurance group 14
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 855kg
• Corrosion isn’t normally too much of an issue on a GT Turbo that hasn’t been crashed. The rustproofing was OK so rust isn’t guaranteed, but it’s likely that the sills will need some TLC if they haven’t had some already.
• Check the rear wheelarches, tailgate edges and below the rear windscreen, doors, and the particularly nasty area below the front windscreen. Expect some bubbling here and there, even on a good car, but more serious corrosion should be avoided unless you want a project.
• The Phase 1 cars got a grey bodykit while it was colour-coded for Phase 2 cars. Many earlier cars have had their bodykits painted to match the rest of the car, so these grey panels are now very hard to find.
• The 1.4-litre engine has a reputation for fragility, but that’s largely because in period many owners tuned them too highly or didn’t improve the fuelling to go with the increased boost pressures. Lean running, detonation then a failed gasket were the result, but 180bhp is easy to coax reliably from this power plant.
• There’s no fuel injection here; instead there’s a Solex carb, so make sure the engine idles happily and that there isn’t loads of exhaust smoke as the car is accelerated through the gears.
• Ensure that as the engine is idling, the electric cooling fan cuts in. Also look for evidence of the head gasket having failed, such as white smoke from the exhaust, or oil and water mixing in the coolant tank, as this is far from uncommon, especially on tuned motors.
• If there is any blue smoke from the exhaust, signifying burning oil, the most likely culprit is a tired turbo. A rebuilt is actually quite cheap, and not the specialist job it once was.
• Gearboxes are strong and clutches are usually reliable too, but the automatic cable adjuster for the latter can be an issue. Some owners fit a (stronger) Volvo 480 clutch, but a longer actuating arm needs to be fitted or the action is too sharp for road use.
• Most GT Turbos have had their suspension lowered, which can be a good thing if done properly. You’re looking for yellow Koni dampers, plus a strut brace up front. Creaks from the rear suspension betray tired bushes, but they’re easy enough to replace.
• The brakes are okay but nothing special, so if you plan to make use of the GT Turbo’s available performance see if the anchors have been upgraded – few cars still sport their original system. Bear this in mind if you're planning to return a modded car to standard, as bigger brakes are unlikely to fit under the original 13-inch alloy wheels, which is why many now sport a set of larger Clio 16v or Williams alloys.
• Interiors are fragile, especially the seat trims which wear through, split and tear. You’ll be doing well to find a decent set of used seats – and if you do you can expect to pay plenty for it. Like a lot of things, the seats can be repaired by someone with the necessary skill, but originality is king.
• You’ll also be doing well to find a dashboard that hasn’t had holes drilled in it, a parcel shelf that hasn’t had holes cut in it and a gearknob that still has all of its numbers showing as they wear away. It’s these details that can really bump up the value of a GT Turbo – and don’t under-estimate the difficulty of tracking down any decent used parts.
1985: The Renault 5 GT Turbo goes on sale with a 1397cc engine boosted by a Garrett T2 turbocharger.
1986: The GT Turbo gets a water-cooled turbocharger for improved reliability.
1988: Phase 2 GT Turbo features a new grille, a fresh alloy wheel design, revised cooling system and adjustments to the front suspension to improve tyre life.
1990: Raider special edition comes only with blue paint with unique seat trim. Production totals 1000.
1991: The last GT Turbos are built.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• rtoc.org – Renault Turbo Owners’ Club
• www.renault5gtturbo.com – Website dedicated to the R5 GTT
• turborenault.co.uk – Performance Renault enthusiast forum
Summary and prices
Chances are you’ve been lusting after a Renault 5 GT Turbo since they were new, or you had and probably crashed one as a youngster. So many cars have been lost to insurance write-offs or poor tuning that demand for original cars far outstrips supply – making them a pricey business today.
Expect to pay around £2000-£4000 for cars in varying states. You’ll need at least £7000 for a mint example, although exceptional cars at a dealer could cost in excess of £12,000. We’ve even heard of the very best super low-mileage examples selling for more than £15,000, and the market for 1980s hot hatches continues to thrive.