I won’t be the only one to have ventured out for drives more regularly than normal in 2020. After all, it was one of the few freedoms to remain largely unrestricted during the handful of months between lockdowns, when the weather was good and hours of sunlight plentiful. Where many of my friends grew frustrated with their vacant evenings, I felt lucky to have a car outside ready-made for blasting cobwebs away. I even decided to have a play with the Clio's balance, using lessons learned on the race track by fiddling with tyre pressures.
If you’ve followed my progress with the 182 over the years you’ll know it was already running in a pretty effective fast road setup by the spring, with a few choice chassis mods giving it a nice neutral balance. But with the extended free time delivered by a global pandemic I decided to finally take some advice I was given by one Gordon Shedden at a BTCC event a few years back, in how to make a roadgoing hot hatch handle more like his Civic racer. "Pump the rears right up”, he said with a big smile on his face, which at the time I took mostly to be a joke. Everyone knows overinflating tyres has a detrimental effect on wear and tear.
But it was summer and I had time to kill, so I thought, sod it, and pumped the backs up to 37psi, a pressure PH had used with great success on our EnduroKA car (RIP). That’s seven pounds over the recommended pressure for the rears of a Clio 182, so not insanely high, but noticeable. I left the fronts at the recommended 30psi, because in its latest chassis spec – including Bilstein B14 coilovers and a Whiteline rear ARB – the 182’s front has never lacked in keenness. If the Ka racer was anything to go by, I expected the front end to feel even more reactive with the slightly more ‘mobile’ rear.
Lo and behold, it made even more of a difference in the Clio than it did in the Ka. The car wasn’t made loose or nervous – the rears would probably need to be much higher for that – but the Clio’s off-throttle rotation was much more pronounced. It oddly felt more progressive in its transition from grip to slip at the back, too, with the slightly lessened contact patch of those mildly overinflated Dunlop Sportmaxxs still providing plenty of bite, but to a lower peak. In some ways it felt like a little Megane Trophy-R, which for an old Clio is quite something - so much so that I decided to go even further and swap the half-worn fronts with the much fresher rears (the back axle of a Mk2 Clio has very little weight over it), to see what would happen. (Bear in mind my local pub was shut and we were still advised to socially distance as much as possible at this point.)
What a transformation. I hadn’t thought the front Dunlops were that worn – they’d only done one wet trackday last year and then about 3,000 miles of road use – but the extra traction provided by the swap was significant. I now had a car not only eminently capable of tightening its line with a lifted throttle or trailed brake, but also one happy enough to maintain the slip angle on throttle out of a corner. It was honestly like I’d fitted a limited slip diff. I loved the sensation so much that on more than one occasion I left a much more potent press car at home and went out for a jaunt in the Clio instead, feeling like I was driving a miniature (and wholly French) version of Shedden’s former BTCC machine. Everything felt improved; turn in, mid-corner and exit. Even the damping felt tighter and the steering quicker, with the front struts never having to contend with anything like understeer.
So pleased was I that I decided to use it for a staycation in Dorset, which is why a pair of bicycles are Sea Sucker’d onto its roof in the pictures here. The car ran faultlessly and, when the bikes were off its top, handled sublimely through the west country lanes. Not bad for a machine that ticked over 130,000 miles while we were away. Only a slow puncture caused by a nail put a partial end to the fun, although a repaired tyre later and the Clio is back to its pointy best. And that’s before I’ve fitted the PMS strut brace and steering rack Polybush I’ve got waiting to go on.
Further improvements can wait till 2021 now, though, because as of last week the Clio has been put to bed for winter. Why? Call me overprotective but I prefer to keep its summer rubber clear of wintry roads and its underside (which despite being galvanised, isn’t entirely exempt from rot, according to the forums) free from salt. Given that next year will be the tenth anniversary of my ownership (!), its long-term health is something I care greatly about. Dare I say it, when 2030 comes around, it might even be worth something. Not that I ever plan on selling.
Car: 2004 Renault Clio Renaultsport 182
Run by: Sam Sheehan
Bought: May 2011
Mileage at purchase: 74,457
Mileage now: 130,781
Last month at a glance: Pandemic boredom prompts Sam to play with pressures
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