Was The Renault R5 Turbo The Most Powerful French Car Of Its Day?

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While reading through back issues of Motorsport Magazine like every normal person in America definitely does, I spotted a weird claim. There it was, on page 49 of the January 1980 issue. The 165 horsepower mill mounted in the rear of the little hatchback made it the “most powerful current French production model.”


But was it? I’m genuinely asking here, as I (sadly) don’t have the entire catalogue of the French automobile industry’s entire production output of 1980 swimming around my head.

There’s actually a lot in favor of the bold claim from Renault. The Renault 5 Turbo, AKA the R5 Turbo, was built as a homologation special for the world of rallying. It was actually a pretty genius idea. Renault didn’t have any mid-engine thoroughbreds sitting around its stable at the time, and worse yet, most of their models sent their power through the front wheels.

Not exactly a recipe for rally success.

So they did what any complete nutter on All The Drugs In The World would do, and decided to take their hatchback, chuck the engine out of the front, put a new, turbocharged one where the back seats and trunk used to be, and had it all run through the rear wheels. It was, in short, genius, and incredibly powerful in its day.


Back in 1980, the world was still reeling from multiple oil crises. Even the vaunted Corvette of the time put out only 190 horsepower from its base engine. And if you bought it in California, it had 10 less than that. So 165 out of a little French city car was a lot.

Plus there’s the fact that (Bugatti excepted) French cars in general aren’t exactly known for their Earth-shattering power, and especially weren’t back then.


Add in the frankly absurd fact that the R5 Turbo cost the equivalent of about $76,000 when it went on sale (feel free to check my work on that one, I used this currency converter and then the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator) and you have a recipe for a car that very well could have been the most powerful car in France, to match its powerful price tag.

But on the other hand, the slowest Honda Accord on sale now still has 185 horses. Yeah, 35 years is a long time.


Anybody out there have an oddly specific expertise in slightly-old-but-not-extremely-old French production models who can back up the claim that the most powerful production car in France had only 165 horsepower? Let me know in the comments below!

Photo credit: Renault. Yeah, that was an actual press photo. Says “TURBO” on the side and everything. It’s great.


Contact the author at ballaban@jalopnik.com.

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