If you travelled back to 2011 and told my undergraduate self that the 182 I had just bought would pull, handle and look better seven years later, I would have told you to get lost and gone back to bed. How can a car which has accrued 50,000 miles and six track days improve with age? Especially given that it entered my life in such good condition to start with. Yet here we are in autumn 2018 faced with a freshly spruced up 182 that proves miles and hard driving needn’t always be of concern. Age has done this car good. Well, it has if you stand about five feet away.
It won’t take a Spot the Difference champ to notice that this French Racing Blue hatch’s image improvement comes thanks to a set of silver Speedline Turinis that, unlike the stone-chipped front bumper, look as immaculate up close as they do in the pictures. They are the same 16-inch wheels as the dull, rattle can-painted black ones the car first arrived at PH with – promise – except they’ve been completely refurbished with welding and a powder coat paint finish. And even if I do say so myself, the new rims - which will soon receive new centre caps to match - have taken years off the car.
Just Wheel Repair (a company that offers its services in London, Hertfordshire and Essex) is responsible for the excellent work, which included picking up the wheels from my flat and taking them back to its Colchester facility for intensive surgery. If we’re honest, I had done a terrible job of looking after the wheels, so they were covered in corrosion and lots of metal reactions from a poor previous refurbishment (yes, it was my first time). The wheels therefore needed to be dipped and stripped in a chemical tank before being sandblasted so the bare alloy was revealed. It was only then that the refurb work could begin.
Some wheels just need a quick sand down before primer is applied, but these had deep scars and chunks missing from their edges, so it’s fair to say they needed a hell of a lot of work (sorry guys). After some welding and reshaping, they were once again round, although the team at Just Wheel Repair, lead by boss Paul Parker and head painter Tom Henry, had to apply twice the normal amount of powder coat primer with plenty of hand sanding in between, to ensure the pinholes from corrosion were fully removed, before painting could start. After baking in an oven the wheels were then powder coated in silver, a colour I had chosen because I liked the clean look it creates and figured this shade was second only to white (not a wheel colour I’d dare to try again!) for bringing out the brightness of the blue bodywork. The silver is brilliantly bright, but I think it’s the clear glass acrylic lacquer that really sets the car off.
Lawd is the finish lovely. It’s smoother than a Baileys on the Rocks. I’d eat my dinner off the 11 spokes. Pleasingly the new colour has – through illusion – helped to ‘shrink’ the wheel arch gaps (which will remain as they are because I love the way the car handles in this setting on its Bilstein B14s). And unexpectedly, the silver has also made the negative two-degree camber more noticeable so the car looks properly racey. I’ve caught myself smiling as I walk up to its wide-eyed face on more than one occasion.
It’s like all my Christmasses have come at once because on top of the refurbishment I’d also asked JWR to fit a new set of Dunlop Sport Maxxs (that I’d supplied) before refitting the wheels to the car. Although there were still a couple of millimetres of usable tread left in the Michelin Pilot Sport 3s that had come off, the old rubber was well past its best, what with having endured four years of road use and two track days. New wheels, new rubber - and wow, what a transformation.
No healthy 182 has ever naturally understeered but the worn and tired PS3s (which were fantastic when new, I hasten to add) had certainly caused my car to lose its bite. With these Sport Maxxs on, each emitting that lovely new rubber smell from within the wheel arches, the front end feels substantially more eager and responsive. It’s shifted the car’s balance of mechanical grip back to the middle so it rotates on an invisible pivot just over my left shoulder. Flick the car towards an apex and it’ll gnaw into the tarmac like a terrier, dragging its tail around with hilarious results. The negative two-degree front camber enabled by the Bilstein B14 coilovers has definitely helped to some degree (literally), but the new Dunlops have undoubtedly unlocked the car’s full, darty potential.
What else? Traction is also improved so you can power out of bends with that satisfying feeling of rubber digging into road right at the limit of adhesion. And the brakes can now work more effectively without intrusion from the ABS. Heck, I think I’ve even beaten my previous record for economy on the new shoes by recording a trip computer indicated 45mpg, albeit on a late drive along an empty dual carriageway when the engine had a cool supply of night time air to drink in.
The car’s transformation happily coincided with the last few days of sunny summer weather, during which time I went out for a drive with a friend and his lightly modified 182 along the most technical B-roads that we could find in Hertfordshire. Maybe it was the caffeine from my morning coffee or the warm country air clearing my lungs, but the pleasure I took from charging over the crests, dips and cambers of those roads, in my own car, which handled so sweetly and felt so bloody fast (it genuinely feels like a car capable of a six-second sprint to 60mph now) was comparable only to driving the most exotic of supercars. To some those will sound like the words of a madman journalist dosed on ownership bias, but to others it will be a familiar emotion. Either way, this is what the 182 is about to me: driving for the enjoyment of driving.
Thing is, like a substance addict I’m now craving more. I want an even more intense high from behind the wheel in the 182. I’ve tried to resist but the URL links to pages selling front strut braces and rear anti-roll bars have wormed their way into my web browser’s bookmarks. More on that another time…
Car: 2004 Renault Clio Renaultsport 182
Run by: Sam Sheehan
Bought: May 2011
Mileage at purchase: 74,457
Mileage now: 125,430
Last month at a glance: New shoes have had a tremendous effect on handling – and in turn, Sam’s affection for his 14-year-old Clio.
PH welcomes another hot Clio