• A homologation special built for rallying, Renault's R5 Turbo is a widebody, mid-engined, turbocharged dose of insanity.
  • This example comes from the collection at the Lane Motor Museum and is serviced and ready for its next driver.
  • With five days to go, bidding sits at $75,000.
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Introduced in January 1972, the original Renault 5 was a cleverly designed and stylish little compact, and it sold by the thousands. Or at least it did in Europe. Renault brought its Cinq across the Atlantic as the Le Car, to which the U.S. buying public responded how 'bout Re-no-thanks. Perhaps as punishment, Renault declined to officially bring over its craziest version. As with their wine, the French kept the best to themselves—though this R5 Turbo II is not so much a Beaujolais as it is a Molotov cocktail.

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Today's auction pick from Bring a Trailer, part of Hearst Autos along with Car and Driver, is a 1985 Renault R5 Turbo II, and it is absolutely bonkers. Built for homologation in Group B rallying, the R5 Turbo offers an experts-only driving experience that is unlike anything else. If the Citroën DS is the essence of effortless Gallic cool, then the R5 Turbo is Napoleon Bonaparte on bath salts. It's fantastic.

The standard R5 made about 50 horsepower, though every Parisian thrashed them around the Arc de Triomphe like they were René Arnoux setting a F1 qualifying lap. Renault tripled the power with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, stuffed the powerplant where the rear seats used to be, and then hired the guy who drew the Lamborghini Miura to give this mutant creation hips like one of the moms in a Pixar movie.

As the most powerful French production car of its time, the Renault R5 Turbo could beat up on six-cylinder BMWs all day long. However, turbo lag being what it was in the 1980s, make a mistake behind the wheel and the R5 Turbo would fire you into a ditch without so much as a "Désolé." It was based on an economy car, but it had the haughty demeanor of a Porsche 930.

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Onscreen, this made it the perfect car of choice for the villainous Fatima Blush in 1983's James Bond film Never Say Never Again. Sean Connery's motorcycle was no match for a crimson R5 Turbo's speed and agility.

This Turbo II is one of the later models, which were slightly less expensive, thanks to fewer aluminum components used in construction. It has 43,000 miles on the odometer and a set of custom HRE wheels, and it was formerly part of the collection at the Lane Motor Museum in Tennessee. If you've not been, the Lane Museum boasts a treasure trove of automotive oddballs like this delightfully deranged Renault.

Further, the Lane Museum is the sort of place that expects its cars to be functional rather than mere exhibits. This example has had some recent servicing and is ready to go—although the horn is listed as nonfunctional, which should probably be addressed. No self-respecting French driver could go more than 12 seconds without honking at someone perceived as being in their way.

With five days to go, bidding has reached $75,000, which is no small sum for a car that started out as a French economy car. Ah, but a Renault R5 Turbo II is the type of car in which emotion overcomes rational thought. What could be more French than that?

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Brendan McAleer
Contributing Editor
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.