The Renault 21 Is Cooler Than I Ever Imagined

Illustration for article titled The Renault 21 Is Cooler Than I Ever Imagined
Photo: Renault

I am just as confused as you are but I am suddenly stricken with love and appreciation for a mid-level French sedan of the 1980s. The 1986 to 1994 Renault 21 has no styling, almost no history, and I adore it.

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I guess it started when I was looking at old pictures of a Renault 21 wagon (badged as a Renault Nevada) that I bumped into on the street one dreary and grimy day in Berlin a few years back. I can recall it was down the street from a Robur, and I think it was up the street from a clown studio, but I might be misremembering things. Unforgettable, though, was its clean almost lack of design whatsoever. It’s just a nicely-proportioned brick.

I was ready to leave my thoughts at that. I was content with a pleasant memory of a cube of car, one of many that the 1980s shipped out to perhaps less than eager buyers. Then I saw the race car version.

You can see this car in action in Jackie Stewart’s great old World Of Speed tape, the same one in which he crashes that Jaguar Le Mans car. Stewart drives the Turbo 4 x 4 Superproduction that won the 1988 French Touring Car Championship. Stewart says the car takes him back to his days of racing touring cars in the 1960s. Though the car is powerful, it’s simple and almost retro in its design:

Everything that you would want this car to be, Stewart says it is. He says it slides; it understeers and oversteers. It has tons of turbo lag. It spins its tires with reckless abandon. It’s heavy and takes a trained hand to drive it well without cooking it. In a retrospective of its turbo race car history, Renault claims these four-cylinder cars made 430 horsepower and used “a water-cooled, also electronically controlled Garrett T3 turbocharger” as well as “two charge air coolers with a heat shield derived from Formula 1.”

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Photo: Renault

For 1989, Renault turned the engine sideways, going from longitudinal to transverse, as noted in this contemporary report:

RenaultSport put up a gallery of the ’88 car, making clear that it had the best Speedlines:

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Everything about this car warms my heart, from the exhausts out the bumper to the very confusing rear wing to the digital alarm clock numbers.

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If I spoke better French I would be able to tell a clearer story of this V6-swapped battlewagon of a 21, which claims to have been a Paris-Dakar entry in ’89 and ’90, though I can’t find anything on the official race results:

I will also point out that these cars shot a rather great deal of fire, as you can see in this fan video:

There were, of course, road cars to go with these race cars, the 2L Turbo, which had absolutely incredible ads:

The road car made do with 175 HP, as well as some very bad slogans! “More than enough power, for quite enough money, thank you” has to be one of the worst pitches I have yet heard.

For some reason, Renault also set a world record with the car, nearly undone by a moose:

There was also “Quadra” 4WD available, which Renault presented to journalists in Yemen, for some reason:

Of course, anyone hearing about a turbo, 4WD road car from the 1980s will immediately think of rallying and hillclimbs, and in this, the Renault 21 does not disappoint. I will leave you with this video of a very powerful 21 hillclimb car tearing sideways through a whole course, people running into the road to watch it pass. It is thrilling, wonderful, spectacular in a way that utterly defies its plain, boxy shape. It is impossible not to love.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

DISCUSSION

shanemorris
Shane Morris

I think what does it for me are those Speedline wheels. The center-lug thing, with the flat look, and the minimal vents... damn. I might need an incognito tab for these.