When you’ve owned a car for many years, it becomes much more than just a motor vehicle. It’s a constant, a familiarity, something that takes you back home wherever you are or however you feel. Take the 2004 Racing Blue Renaultsport Clio you see on your screen here, which has been under my stewardship since May 2011. For the vast majority of this time this car has remained the ‘cock an inside wheel and rev the nuts off me’ hot hatch I’d always dreamt a 182 would be. It's been in my life for seven years now, and you know what? I’ll never sell it.
Mind you, I haven’t always felt this way. About 16 months ago I was close to flogging the darned thing. Having developed problem after problem in the second half of 2016 it seemed intent on making me drive it to a scrap yard and order it to be crushed. I’d grown frustrated after a string of niggles, all fairly minor (a seized caliper was followed by an untraceable misfire that was followed by an ABS issue, to name a few) but all demanded attention and more significantly, money. So I SORN’d the car and left it up on axle stands in a garage on the other side of town. It sat there for six months, gathering dust, looking tattier than the carpet in your local Wetherspoons.
I was planning on doing the minimum required to bring it back to a roadworthy state before selling it. But frustration fades in time, so when the garage door opened in the winter of 2017 I didn’t see a broken car; I saw the 182, painted in my very favourite colour, that had sat on my driveway back when I was a student in Leeds, waiting for the next wake up call to go and explore the twisting country roads that flashed into sight when you set out dead north on the Otley Road and landed in the Yorkshire Dales. The same car that had taught me the art of lift-off oversteer on track, or how to heel-and-toe without over revving or clunking the gearbox. Then there were the countless moments with friends, family and girlfriends that this very car, only my second car, had played a significant role in. I couldn’t abandon my 182 like that.
That somewhat emotional moment of realisation set me on a path I’m still on today. Having been reunited with my car on that bitterly cold morning in 2017, I decided there and then to restore it not just to roadworthiness, but to become the 182 I had always dreamt it would be: one that’s modified tastefully to become the ideal fast road and occasional track day car. Between then and now my wallet has bore the brunt of the parts supply, while my dear father, a mechanic of nearly 50 years, has bore the brunt of the work demands. The car was eager from day one, starting without complaint after only a battery recharge, oil check and three of turns of the starter. Over the following three months, the problems were fixed and, as if the car knew its fate depended on it, no others have developed since.
So what’s it like as it sits today? Let’s start with what was done before I nearly abandoned the car. The ECU was remapped at Renaultsport specialist K-Tec Racing in Dorset back in 2015 and the 2.0-litre F4R engine was producing a rolling road-tested 189hp. That 7hp gain over standard, impressive given the car’s then 120,000 odometer reading, was helped by the fitment of a Yozzasport cat-back exhaust system, which has a 2.5in bore and produces a lovely, raspy tone, as well as a K-Tec induction kit, which makes the car sound like it’s got independent throttle bodies. Big grin. A set of Pure Motorsport solid top mounts had also been fitted at about the same time, but other than that, the car was largely standard.
Having not carried passengers since becoming a motoring journalist (and gaining access to a fleet of new cars), upon the car’s return to the road in 2017 I decided to ditch the rear seats and fit lighter seats up front, all in a bid to boost the car’s power-to-weight ratio. I’ve kept the original interior parts in case I decide to return the car to standard one day, but for now its got a 330mm steering wheel, a flat carpet in the back and a part-leather Recaro Pole Position for the driver’s seat. I do intend to fit another Pole Position on the passenger side but, well, they’re quite expensive, so that’ll have to come later. For now, there’s a much cheaper Sparco R100 chair, a leftover from previous plans I’d had for the car, for guests.
The most recent modification, however, has also been the most significant. In the spring of 2018 I swapped the car’s set of Cup dampers and Eibach Pro-Kit springs (these were fitted almost immediately after I bought the car) for Bilstein B14 coilovers. What a transformation. Now the car not only corners flatter and feels more alert, it also, remarkably, rides better. It’s firm, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s no longer crashy at low pace. I recently had a go in the Hyundai i30N and it’s comparable to the Sport+ setting in that car, which I think illustrates just how sweet a setup the B14's is, because we love the Korean hot hatch at PH.
I now absolutely adore going for drives in the 182, which has slowly evolved into my occasional weekend toy and, in some circles, is regarded as a modern classic, which I love. It’s just had an auxiliary belt change and a full service, so it’s reliable (hooray), and I intend to take it on circuit at a Renault Sport track day in October. I’m not done with the enhancements, either, so there’s plenty to come, including a wheel refurb and some further chassis improvements.
Boy, am I glad I didn’t sell this car.
Car: 2004 Renault Clio Renaultsport 182
Mileage at purchase: 74,457
Last month at a glance: Now the car is back to full health, the real fun can begin…
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