The Renault R5 hatchback was forbidden fruit on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Yet Jay Leno’s Garage featured the French hot hatch in a recent episode.
The particular car is a 1985 R5 Turbo2, the name designating that it’s part of the R5’s second generation. Unlike the mass-market Renault 5 model, the R5 hatchback featured a mid-mounted 1.4-liter turbo-4 that made just under 200 horsepower. It only tipped the scales at 2,138 pounds, which made it a quick machine.
The biggest difference between it and the standard car, however, was the engine’s location. This was a mid-engine car that sent its power to the rear wheels instead of a front-engine, front-wheel-drive econobox like the 5. The R5 Turbo2 also was homologated for rally racing but not specifically for the short-lived Group B series.
The owner of this car is Randy Nonnenberg, co-founder of the popular car auction website Bringatrailer.com, which only seems fitting that someone behind the enthusiast auction site owns such a peculiarly awesome car. He tells Leno that the R5 shares basically nothing with the standard car, perhaps aside from the rear hatch and doors. The suspension, engine, and fenders are all exclusive to the R5 Turbo2 model.
As for this car’s story, it was a gray-market import before red tape and the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, commonly known as the 25-year import rule, made it easier to import such forbidden fruit as the R5. That means the car came to the U.S. early in its life, which is not possible with the 25-year rule.
The original owner ordered three R5 Turbo2 models from the factory and sold them in Southern California. The car was even modified in the U.S. to pass California smog requirements, which made it a street-legal car its entire life.
Nonnenberg pops the hatch and goes through the somewhat humorous process of exposing the mid-mounted turbo-4 before he and Leno take the R5 Turbo2 for a spin. The engine sounds good for a 4-cylinder, and as Leno notes when he drives the car, it has some endearing turbo lag.
The Renault R5 was one of the cars that helped kick off the hot hatch craze, and its unique forbidden status in the U.S. makes it a cool car to see on the street or even in this video.