This being PistonHeads, a fast Clio of some sort is never more than a few days away from grabbing attention during a deep dive into the classifieds. In fact, it was only last month that an early Mk2 was the subject of our affection, it being a phase one 172 that was on sale (and apparently still is) for just £5,500. But today, our retinas have been drawn to the tinier profile of a Mk1 Clio, one of just four currently listed in holy grail Williams spec. Hot hatches don’t come more PH than this.
As many PHers will remember, the Williams is from a time when hot hatches were small but had motors so comparably large that they took up all of the engine bay. In many cases, rudimentary servicing required a damn-near engine removal due to the restricted space on offer. So imagine the horror on the faces of Renault specialists when the car to follow the Clio 16v, which looked well-endowed with its 1.8-litre engine, was followed by the Williams. Shoehorned into the front of its 3.7-metre frame was an F7R engine of 2.0-litre capacity. That was enough to make it a Top Trumps hero, when it came to hot hatches, anyway.
It was a peach of an engine, as well, producing 150hp at 6,100rpm, and while 129lb ft of torque at 4,500rpm doesn’t sound like much, the grunt stayed around for long enough to make it stronger than the stat suggests. It was fun too because this was a four-cylinder to be revved. With only 990kg to carry, it could sprint the Williams from zero to 62mph in 7.7 seconds – today’s hot hatches are barely a second quicker to the mark, impressive for a now 26-year-old model. That it was buzzy and, when you worked it, growled through the intake made it all the more fun to operate.
In truth, the engine set the agenda for those that went into following fast Clios all the way up to the previous, non-turbo 200. Drive a 200 Cup and you really can feel the relation in the way in which they both pull. Although the Williams’ 2.0-litre (and the early 172 one) held an advantage thanks to its use of a throttle cable. Owners who’ve experienced them breaking might yearn for fly by wire technology while waiting roadside for the AA, but the instantaneous reaction of a direct connection between foot and valve is so very satisfying.
Of course, the responsive engine was matched by a lovely, willing chassis. The Williams was conceived for Group N rally homologation and developed with the then dominant Williams F1 team, using the base of the already impressive ‘Valver’, so Renault would have had to really mess things up for it not to work. But the Williams still managed to surpass what was thought possible in this category, it managing to be as hilarious as rivals and, when asked to be, more serious and of a higher capability. The motorsport link was clearest in this regard.
These were the days before electronic safety systems were fitted to cars – even ABS wasn’t added until the Williams 2 – so driving one of these Sport Blue Clios quickly required full concentration. The step from grip to oversteer could be a rapid one, so much so that cars in ill health today can feel downright scary to drive at pace. But with a good set of tyres, healthy suspension and smart driver behind the wheel, the Williams was a superb machine to thread along a route. The sort that will happily lift an inside rear wheel to help you tighten the line. Or spit you off if you get greedy.
Let’s be frank, in 2019 a Mk1 Clio is miniscule, its A-pillars look like pencils and there’s barely a couple of inches between the inside of the door cards and the outside world. Unlike later Clios, the Mk1 is not a car most people could live with on a daily basis. Although it’s highly unlikely that a Williams will ever be subjected to such a task, what with them slowly creeping up in value and becoming a collector’s favourite.
We could have chosen the 13,000-mile-old Williams that fits the bill for just that as our Spotted, but we’ve opted for a higher mileage car, because it’s nice to think that perhaps, this one might stay in more regular use with its next owner. With 112,000 miles on the clock it’s not exactly lunar miles, but for a car as specialist as this, it’s certainly well used. Judging by the condition of the paintwork, gold Speedlines and the interior, however, that’s not to say it hasn’t been loved.
As its chassis number – 039 – suggests, this is an early Williams 1, one of only 51currently registered in Britain. It’s been dry stored for years and not seen use on a rainy day for a long time. Actually, it’s recently had a big overhaul, with only 400 miles under its belt since the body, engine and consumables were freshened up. The seller has the receipts for everything to back the claim up.
So what’s the reason for the sale? The ad poster explains: “I’m in the process of buying a Porsche 964. I’m a true car enthusiast.”
Someone go snap their arm off.
SPECIFICATIONS - RENAULT CLIO WILLIAMS
Engine: 1,998cc 4-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 150@6,100rpm
Torque (lb ft): 129@4,500rpm
Price new: £13,275
Yours for: £15,250
Click here to see the full ad.