Tuesday June 11, 2019
Which was the first European FWD hatchback to really impact on the great British motorist? The Autobianchi Primula was never officially sold in the UK, the Austin A40 “Farina” was, of course, rear wheel drive, and the choice boils down to the Fiat 127 and the Renault 5.
The former was launched in two-door form in 1971, gaining a tailgate a year later while the latter was La Regie’s first supermini. Steffan James Mather’s incredible example is believed to be ‘one of the earliest in the U.K. If not the earliest’ and represents a long, painstaking restoration process.
When the 5 debuted in early 1972, the era of rear-engine Renaults was already almost past – the final Spanish-built 8s would cease production in 1976 – while the Frégate, their last RWD saloon, was discontinued in 1960.
The diamond badge was now primarily associated with front wheel drive and when British imports commenced that autumn the 5 proved ideal for the driver who was looking for something slightly larger than their Mini Clubman, a tad less utilitarian than the 4 and with more contemporary looks than the 6.
The brochure stated that it was a car ‘with none of the unnecessary trimmings’ and certainly the entry-level “L” had very little as standard. However, for your £929.30, the TL which at least offered a heated rear window, reclining front seats and an ashtray from the back seat passenger. There was also slightly enhanced performance from the 956cc engine while the L was powered by an 845cc uni.t.
‘An exceptional good car, benefitting from all that Renault know about making small cars’ mused Car magazine of the TL in January 1973, as it urged readers to ‘roll up’ for one today. The 5 was a vehicle of undeniable charm, versatility and individualism.
And who could resist that fascia, with its ribbed covering , square instruments and single air vent apparently placed at random? This was Renault that was so splendid that it could even survive advertisements as uber-naff as this gem -
The original versions spawned an elaborate line-up of 5s, from the GTL and the TS to the Alpine and the Alpine Turbo – but it is TLs such as the Mather Renault that would have been most frequently encountered on school runs and family holiday. Sales of the first generation models ended in 1984 and any early 5 will now turn heads.
Steffan came by his example ‘two years ago but it has not been on the road since the ’90s’. He particularly appreciates ‘the colour and the simplicity. There are some nice features like the badges and the interior – and, of course, the gear change’. Until 1973 the 5 sported a Renault 4-style dashboard-mounted lever which only added to the charm of the early versions.
As for the paint finish, modern cars do lack that essential orange appeal. The Tl is not yet on the road - I haven't driven it yet - the last thing I have to do is start the engine which should be next week’. We’ll keep you posted…
WITH THANKS TO: Steffan James Mather