The past few days have seen a lot of thought and scrutiny about Audi's new supercar, the R8. And while I happily boarded that juggernaut myself, I had a moment of intense clarity: the R8 I'm really interested in hasn't been built in nearly 40 years. It's the Renault R8.
That's right. If you had a line-up of all the automotive R8s, I'm skipping over the V10, 4-ringed, mid-engined beast, and hopping in the boxy, ass-engined little Frenchman. And if I could pick absolutely any one of those, it'd be the R8 Gordini.
The Renault R8 was their successor to the Dauphine, which was their successor to the 4CV, making the R8 the third generation of Renault's rear-engined line. The basic architecture and wheelbase from the Dauphine were retained, but with an all-new body, boxy and modern in the most mid-60s way. The design, like so many others of the era, owed a lot to the Corvair. While maybe less traditionally pretty than the old Dauphine, the new body was smaller on the outside while roomier on the inside, and had a crisp, handsome charm of its own.
The R8s had inline-fours ranging from a 956cc/43HP to the 1108cc/60HP 8S, to the Gordini version, which made 110HP from 1255cc — not bad at all for 1967. There were a number of other variants in between these three here as well, but it's really that Gordini, with its blue paint and white stripes, that was the most fun.
For what was essentially a basic economy/family car, the R8 did remarkably well in motorsport. Look at that video up there — this little box looks like an absolute, oversteering blast. Like a backwards French BMW 2002 with more cushiony seats.
Renault tells us a bit about the Gordon's race history from its 50th anniversary last year:
The R8 Gordini, built for competition, would prove its worth on its very first official outing, in the 1964 Tour de Corse. The competition was daunting, and the weather conditions appalling. Of the 79 cars at the starting line, only eight appeared in the final ranking. The Renault 8 Gordini made a staggeringly impressive entry into the world of motor sport by taking first, third, fourth and fifth places. This fantastic feat would be followed by many others, for both Renault and its delighted customers, in France and elsewhere. Perhaps the most emblematic statement of the car's sporting talent came with its three successive Tour de Corse victories, in 1964, 1965 and 1966.
So, sure, the Audi R8's an impressive machine and teutonic engineering and the sound of the V10 and blah blah blah. But for my money — my much, much, smaller pile of money — I'll take the skinny-tired, striped box with the engine in the trunk sliding sideways along a track way faster than it has any right to go.