At a certain age, Renault hot hatches will only feature on selected PH pages - either as Sheds, or as bargain track projects. It's just what happens, and was probably once as true for the 5 as it is today for the Clio and Megane. They're popular and plentiful at launch, meaning supply pushes values down and keeps them accessible; combine that with a host of readily available tuning parts to improve decent dynamics yet further and it all makes sense. Who wouldn't want a really fun, affordable, hot hatch that can simply and cheaply be made even better?
The trouble, as you're probably aware, is two-fold: it reduces the amount of standard cars around (because so many are tinkered with), and the fondness for driving Renaultsport hot hatches quickly (combined with their notoriously flighty characters) has depleted numbers of all versions thanks to the inevitable bashes and scrapes.
The corollary of all that - a typically formidable reputation, a culture of modifying and a range of cars quite easy to crash - means that certain old Renaults are now worth a pretty penny. The mid-engined 5s were always going to be, of course, each as mad as a box of frogs being driven around by Jean Ragnotti. But look too at the 5 GT Turbo, once expertly cast as Ali G's car and common as muck, yet now commanding several thousand. Same with the Clio Williams; never quite as chavvy, sure, but seemingly only rising in significance, rarity and value.
Now it appears to be the time of the Phase 2 Renault Clio, appropriately enough in the 20th anniversary year of the 172's arrival. As the car to really announce Renaultsport to the UK public - the Spider having tamely done so - the 172 was always of some importance, a reputation helped by being absolutely tremendous to drive. But, of course, that couldn't prevent it from the ravages of time, buyer taste and, er, lift-off oversteer. 172s have featured in Shed stories as often as smutty jokes (often to more acclaim...) for all the reasons above: they're cheap, fast and fantastic fun.
Now the 172s are climbing out of the bargain basement bin. This one looks like an absolute corker, which doesn't happen often: less than 70,000 miles, three owners, an exhaustive history and no modifications. The ad reads well, the car looks superb and the cambelt was changed two years ago - it's a gem of a Clio.
Hence the £5,500 price tag. There are cheaper cars available though not as many as you might think - but good 172s and 182s are only going one way now, thanks to their rarity and the movement of the Clio away from these raw, feisty hot hatches. Same as happened with the 5, same as happened with the Williams. One day it'll probably happen to the 197 and 200 era of cars, albeit not for a little while yet. With the Clio RS now five-door, turbocharged and automatic for the foreseeable future - indeed with much of the market going that way - the appeal of these more traditional hot hatches will only increase.
So get in while you can, enjoy these cars now and learn why they're so revered; do it before either there aren't any left, or they're worth too much to regularly use - you only need look at older, similar cars for the evidence of what could happen. The 172 has been a riotously good hot hatch for 20 years now, and will be for many more - don't hang about, in other words!
SPECIFICATION - RENAULTSPORT CLIO 172
Engine: 1,998cc, 4-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 172@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 148@5,250rpm
First registered: 2000
Recorded mileage: 69,000
Price new: £15,995
Yours for: £5,500