It happened on one of the busiest stretches of road, the bit where everyone parks up outside the restaurants and cafes and shows off their flash cars. The Clio broke down. Well, it was technically still working, as the engine was running, but I couldn't engage first gear. I had to get out, push it along the high street and down a side road 50 metres away. It must have been quite a funny sight.
I thought the culprit was a broken clutch cable, as the 'ping' that preceded the clutch pedal going limp suggested to me that the wire had broken. But it turned out to be the little metal linkage that clips onto the back of the clutch pedal via a ball joint. After 125,000 miles, the ball had worn itself loose, leaving me with no ability to disengage the clutch and slip from neutral to first. Cue bright blue Clio and its shiny wheels causing a minor traffic jam on the A111.
While I spent 20 minutes scratching my head after getting the car off the main road, it took only a quick phone conversation with the old man (who's also an experienced mechanic) to decipher how easy the fix would actually be. Simply rotating the thumb-sized metal arm on the back of the pedal 180 degrees, so the worn ball was now on the unstressed side of the mechanism, meant it popped back into place like new. I've effectively doubled the part's life span. The joys of old French rattleboxes.
After I'd learned to trust that the clutch wouldn't throw a wobbly and leave me stranded, the rest of my Christmas break - yes, it's been a while since I've written a 182 fleet update - was spent using the Clio almost every day. It started on the key every time and cost pennies to run, but I must admit it wasn't quite the easy daily driver my younger self used to frequently brag it was.
The Yozzasport exhaust, for example, was often quite tiring because such a large percentage of its 98 decibels can reach the eardrum with little interruption, what with there being next to no furniture in the back of the car. And the Bilstein B14 coilovers, sweet as they make the car handle, can never provide the sort of cushioned ride a tired, mince pie-stuffed driver so desires during the festive period. As a daily driver, this modified 182 was, if I'm honest, a bit too much.
Which is why in the month and a bit that's followed, I've promoted the Clio back to weekend toy. Driving modern press cars during the week makes jumping into this raw, loud and hyperactive hot hatch genuinely elating. Don't use the Clio for a week or two and it's easy to forget just how quick it is; perhaps the feeling of pace is helped by the raspy exhaust note and the way in which the motor builds and builds with energy as the revs rise. Either way, it's a real joy to drive properly and leaves me buzzing as soon as the nose passes a national speed limit sign.
In order to enhance this part of the car's character I've ordered a rear anti-roll bar from Whiteline, something a few helpful PHers have recommended in order to sharpen handling further. Whiteline says its metal bar increases grip, but the main draw to it was promise from other 182 owners of enhanced adjustability - aka more potential for lift-off oversteer. Because since lowering the Clio on its coilivers, the centre of gravity has been pulled closer to the ground, making the back end a bit too planted for my liking. I'm told that the Whiteline ARB will make the balance a bit, erm, lively. For a car that so eagerly responds to steering inputs, that sounds rather exciting to me.
Car: 2004 Renault Clio Renaultsport 182
Run by: Sam Sheehan
Bought: May 2011
Mileage at purchase: 74,457
Mileage now: 125,680
Last month at a glance: It's no Christmas cruiser, but back on the open road (and working properly) the Clio remains a joy...
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