The Renault 5 is best remembered for its turbocharged performances in 1980s motorsport, so it's easy to forget that naturally-aspirated performance variants existed first. The original 5 Gordini is the lowest volume example of such a model, using Renault's push-rod overhead valve 1.4-litre four-cylinder without a blower to produce 94hp. It was a revvy, peppy model, capable of hitting 60mph in about 10 seconds, and wearing alloys and Gordini stripes to create a fashionable Dieppe answer to the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
But things really got going when the Gordini was succeeded by a turbocharged version, because it upped power from the 1.4 to 110hp at 6,000rpm and torque to 109lb ft from 85lb ft in the N/A car. The boosted model is not to be confused with the red-blooded 5 Turbo -Renault's homologation special for rallying - instead the Gordini represented the cheapest turbocharged car on the market at the start of the eighties, when forced induction was rare and exotic. It cost £5,750, or just £22k in today's money, so its success in Europe was practically guaranteed. To the detriment, of course, of its oft-forgotten predecessor.
The unboosted Gordini remains an absolute peach, though, because the lively handling of the 3.5-metre-long Renault 5 feels well matched to an engine which needs to be thrashed. Consider the setup: 13-inch wheels, an unassisted steering rack (albeit one requiring 3.7 turns to get from lock to lock) and a chassis that sets its axles just 2.4 metres apart. Oh, and squishy suspension quite happy to lift an inside rear wheel clear off the tarmac. You can just imagine how energetic a Gordini must feel on a technical stretch of B-road. But, like a Golf GTI and even Mini Cooper, the car has also felt right at home in a city, its large diameter steering wheel helping to reduce the low-speed workload of that rack.
The Gordini's biggest (not literally) rival, of course, came in the form of the Mk1 GTI, a car that had the Renault easily beaten for interior build quality and overall usability, mostly because the 5 was renowned for being a bit out of its depth on the motorway. But much like an RS Megane in today, the Renault 5 was extremely fashionable in its own, overtly French way; arguably it was the quirkiest of a then small but burgeoning hot hatch sector. Certainly, it's always been up there with the very best when it comes to the bare bones of driving fun; plus, the Gordini link and Renault's motorsport efforts give even this early non-turbo 5 plenty of additional appeal. A certain je ne sais quoi, you might say.
Yet today, it's the turbo cars that dominate. Especially since last year, when Renault celebrated the 40th anniversary of the RS10's first win for a turbo car in F1. But today's Spotted, an immaculately kept 1981 Gordini reminds us just how lovely the earlier N/A version is. This one is labelled as the best in Britain by its seller, owner number two of the freshly serviced and rust-protected Gordini, and we've little reason to doubt that. It may even be the best one in existence, with just 30,000 miles on the clock, full and extensive service history and an interior that backs claims this car has spent the last decade only appearing on sunny Sundays and otherwise staying dry in storage. The car was actually shipped to New York when its custodian moved to the States, but with them now in Hawaii, it's returned to Britain and has reluctantly been put up for sale. We doubt it'll hang around long.
SPECIFICATION - RENAULT 5 GORDINI
Engine: 1,397cc, inline four-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 94@6,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 85@4,000rpm
Recorded mileage: 30,000
First registered: 1981
Price new: £5,750 (about £22,220 today)
Yours for: £16,995