Renault 8 and 8 Gordini

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Renault 8

1963 - 1971
4 cyl.
960 cc
44/50 bhp
3/4 spd. man
Top Speed:
Number Built:
2 star
Renault 8
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


In June 1962 Renault introduced the R8, a model derived from the popular "Dauphine" (which in turn was based on the 4CV). The Dauphine's chassis was carried over, as was the engine placement at the rear of the vehicle. At the time, many journalists thought this to be a step backward for Renault as they had, the previous year, released the R4 with a more traditional front engine / frontwheel drive configuration and introducing a hatchback body design.

What Renault engineers banked on was the continuing popularity of rear engined cars in the European market - and the sheer numbers of R8's manufactured proves that they got it right! Unlike the Dauphine, which had a very rounded bodywork, the R8 was very angular of design. Other improvements over the Dauphine were made, most noteably with the introduction of a new engine (956 cm of 44 bhp) and 4 wheel disc brakes (a rarity for the time).

There was a choice between a three speed gearbox as standard equipment and a four speed as optional. Most technical innovations, were introduced a few months earlier on the renewed Floride - Caravelle model. In 1964 a new model was introduced, the R8 Major. This car had an enlarged engine, with 1108 cm and 50 bhp, and the 4 speed gearbox as standard. The car had better equipment than the normal R8: Chrome details on the exterior, whitewall tyres, the bootspace was covered with upholstery, vinyl covered seats with adjustable backs, arm rests on the front doors, ash trays in the rear, moquette carpet on the floor, map lights on the inside mirror.

Yet another model was introduced in 1964, the R8 Gordini. This car had the 1108 engine, but now with 90 hp. The car also was a bit lowered. The R8G was only available in blue (the French racing colour), with two white stripes over the bonnet, roof and the boot. In 1965 an electrical gearbox became available. That was the standard three speed gearbox, now electrically operated by buttons on the dashboard.

Rallying Renault 8 Gordini

Running a full scale works rally car is an expensive business, and Renault competition activities to the mid 1960's could best be described as only "good in parts". Renault management seemed to change their attitude to the sport without much regard for the potential of cars in production at any one time. Things would change for the better however when competition cars were prepared and managed by Jean Redele of Alpine-Renault fame.

When the 1255 and 1296 c.c. Gordini engines became freely available towards the end of 1965, few doubted the potential of Renault in rallying, but the intervening two years had seen a constant struggle for reliability. The engines, particularly if bored to the limit and highly tuned, often developed gasket trouble, while the Alpines were much too fragile for the rough and tumble of rallying. In addition, Renault were loath to spend the small fortune on Scandinavian drivers which was very much the "in-thing" during the 1960's. Instead there was a desire to use home-brewed stars such as Jean-Francois Piot and Guy Larrousse.

In 1968 the R8 Gordini 1300 was homologated as a Group 1 car - meaning that at least 5,000 were built in the 12 months before approval and was sometimes used with a prototype 1,440 Gordini engine, or even the two-ohc racing engines. The Alpine-Renault was homologated in 1,296 c.c. form as a Grand Tourer, and also used the prototype engines from time to time. In the 1950s, Bill Fursdon, Rex Neate, Desmond Silverthorne and Mike Britton carried the Renault banner in Britain, with their little4 750s winning the Plymouth Rally twice, the Scottish once and innumerable class awards. The cars were given twin carburettors, special exhaust systems and Koni dampers. At the end of 1958 the gallant little 750s were changed for the much faster Gordini Dauphines.

Perhaps the first serious rallying Renaults were the Dauphines blooded in the Alps in 1956, but the first really big win was in the 1958 Monte when Guy Monraisse and Jacques Feret used a works-backed, modified Dauphine. Feret became competition manager of the Regie to exploit the potential of the Gordini in 1965. Just over a year later, in the summer of 1959, an even quicker Dauphine-Gordini took first place in a gruelling Alpine Rally driven by Condriller. An even more remarkable achievement was the second and third places notched in the Liege-Rome-Liege marathon (Monraisse and Feret again piroting the leading car) - especially as the Dauphines had once seemed vulnerable to engine troubles on dusty roads.

Renault 8 Gordini
Orsini and Canonici drove their Renault 8 Gordini to victory in the 1965 Tour de Corse - then one of Europes toughest road events...

Beaten By The Mini, The R8 Gordini Rekindles Hope

The next few years, however, were not at all happy for Renault. Their basic car was soon outclassed by the BMC Minis, especially after the Mini-Cooper arrived in 1961. Not even the 1000-off Renault 1093 (a sort of competition Dauphine-Gordini) could swing the balance back to Renault. At the end of 1964, however, came new hope.

The Renault R8 had already been in existence for a couple of years, and Amadee Gordini had been busy developing competition engines for use in Alpine Renaults before the decision was made to combine the two in the R8 Gordini. The new car had a 95 bhp (gross) engine, four-wheel disc brakes and lots of other goodies, so stood a good chance of success.

Things looked good for 1965, but first Renault notched up a good win in the Tour de Corse of 1964, a short, snappy, but very arduous "rally" around the twisting roads of Corsica. The year's big showing was on the Alpine Rally, where hordes of the raucous works cars battled with BMC's Cooper S. Honours were fairly even on this occasion, with Jean-Francois Piot and Jean Vinatier gaining Coupes des Alpes for unpenalized runs. Later in the year, Pierre Orsini rubbed in the worth of the Gordini by winning the Tour de Corse again.

The effort intensified for 1966, as Renault-Sweden set out to prepare cars of their own, in addition to the official Regie Renault drivers. Berdnt Jansson, Harry Kallstrom and Sylvia Osterberg were to drive. French regulars were now J.F. Piot, J. Vinatier and J.P. Nicolas. By the end of 1965 the Gordini 1300 engine had become optional in the Alpine Renault, and a similar substitution duly arrived for the Gordini saloon. The engine change was accompanied by a five-speed gearbox, twin fuel tanks and four headlamps, so the Gordini began to look every inch a serious competition car.

Both the Alpine and the Tour de Corse were scenes of outstanding achievements, both are "home midden" events to Renault, and Piot had the glory. He won another Coupe in a 1,440 c.c. prototype Gordini (and took 4th overall) on the Alpine, and won the Tour de Corse in the same car. Nicolas also won a Coupe on the Alpine. Renault Sweden had a very unlucky year. Jansson's Gordini blew up when leading the Swedish rally at three-quarter distance, and Hakan Lindberg succumbed to transmission failure when third on the RAC Rally later in the year.

For 1967, the Gordinis were well sorted, and the 1300 had been homologated into Group 2. A full season's experience with the new cars had been useful, so 1967 results were well worth shouting about. Piot won the Rally of the Flowers (later re-named the San Remo) and the Iron Curtain Three Cities, while Vinatier backed up well with second place on the Danube behind Tony Fall's BMC 1800.

The outstanding "new-man" was Guy Larrousse, who came to Alpine-Renault from NSU-France. In French rallies he was just about unbeatable, in the Geneva he led the event until rough roads damaged the underside of the fragile little coupe, and led the Alpine until engine trouble let him down on the last night. Piot also finished seventh on a dry, tyre-limited, Monte after making all the wrong choices. Harry Kallstrom's best showwing was in the Alpine, when he took fourth place with a Gordini powered by the 1,500 c.c. two-ohc racing engine!

Because Renault-Sweden were not outstandingly successful, financial support was withdrawn at the end of 1967. All Renault competition activities were instead in Redele's capable hands. In the 1968 Monte Carlo Rally all three works Alpine Renaults led the event, but Andruet crashed and Piot's car had trouble which left only the incredible Larrousse to fight two Porsche 911T's. His Turini crash in mysterious circumstances is now notorious, but Vic Elford's Porsche seemed to have the Alpine's measure prior to the accident. Of course Alpine Renault would go on to become one of the worlds leading Rally competitors. The turning point was, to some extent, thanks to the works Renault R8's Gordini's.

Sports Car World R8 Gordini Review, July 1965

THERE is a certain fascination in small cars which do a big job on the road and do it superlatively - and the Renault RB Gordini must be among the very best of those. Consider a boxy four-seater which will reel off corrected road speeds of 104 mph all day because you aren't using the maximum revs yet. If it weren't for the wholly unnecessary go-faster tape in white over the electric blue paint, very few road users would even notice the difference between the normal R8 and the Gordini version.

Of course, it says Gordini on the tail and the headlamps are larger, but how many everyday drivers study other cars that closely? For that matter the ape-tape is often put down to boyish enthusiasm. Then some briskish 2-litre decides to give you come-uppance for hounding his rear deck ait maybe 80 on the open road. At a true ton (he's probably indicating 105 or 110 and feeling damn brave) the R8 Gordini owner simply steps down, winds up to maybe 6800, which is well within his red line, and disappears into the distance.

To be technical, the Renault people suggested 7000 in the gears, 6500 for sustained cruising in high, and the fact that nothing disastrous would happen over 7000 if it became necessary. A little simple arithmetic with the tach and axle ratio as constants tells you 6500 is 103.8 mph, for a starter. At one point, to catch a companion car (2-litre sports model) in Sunday traffic, I took the Gordini to 7000 in top for a few minutes. Not only did the engine sing but the car did 111 mph - on 1100 cc remember.

Renault has always offered Gordini models of their family cars, but this is perhaps the first to really itake to the game so wholeheartedly. Now in production, homologated and even possessed of two major rally wins in factory hands, the R8G is proving a sleeper. It is based on the R8 Major or 1100 of course, but little of any importance remains in the tail except the sturdy block with its five main bearings which allows the further tuning. The Gordini has a special head with hemispherical combustion chambers and a hot cam, needless to say. Like all Renaults it also takes very well to proper exhaust manifolding and to feed the ravening appetite they discarded the single Solex 32 carb and fitted a pair of dual sidedraft Solex 40s.

Behind the Wheel

Consumption of super plummets to little over 20mpg but you have to pay the price somewhere. An oil cooler and bigger sump come with the package, too. For handling Renault doubles the rear shocks, lowers the whole thing and stiffens up the suspension rates. The handling was decidedly curious. On rough bumpy corners which might be expected to catch a race-tuned chassis out the car tracked like a thoroughbred. The only trouble came on really fast sweeping corners where it got very three-wheeled on me at embarrassing moments. With standard Dunlop SP tyres the car doesn't want to slide its tail like most Renaults so compromises by lifting one front wheel. Phew.

Naturally enough, this comes ait cornering speeds very close to the ultimate straight-line top of a normal R8, which accentuates the feeling, but it can be exciting until you learn to expect the sudden lurch to a new angle. Once it assumes this angle it sticks again for a while. Part of the trouble in holding a clean corner in the particular test car came from a sticky throttle, which also made it hard to keep the car running in Paris rush-hour traffic around the Etoile. Those four big throats want to load up if you don't keep blipping in the 2000 rpm range, but Renault didn't design this variation for taxi duty after all. It did have the virtues of staying cool, even in traffic jams, and once on the open road quickly cleared its throats and got down to business.

There is a very pronounced drumming, a sort of engine-to-body resonance, around 5000 in any gear but you are going past that point so quickly in (the indirects it doesn't matter and since 5000 in top is only 80 there is no reason to stay there. Above that, cruising over 6000, normal conversation is no trick at all. Keeping track of your revs is a cinch, too, with the special R8G facia, featuring a large white on black tacho and a speedo which was about 7 percent fast at 100, within reason. The normal gearbox is not the car's best feature, or rather it isn't up to the engine now fitted, while the steering seems quicker but Renault won't admit it so perhaps you are just too busy to notice the amount of twirling going on. The standard disc brakes have harder pads and a booster, giving a very pleasant action, even from high speeds.

One or two drawbacks of adapting a road car for such uses do crop up, such as the relatively small fuel tank when you are pouring the stuff through like that, or the sticky cloth upholstery when you are throwing things about. The optional leatherette would solve that one of course. The larger lamps help a good deal at night but you'd need iodine bulbs to really extend the car after dark. The obvious problem to sporting drivers would be its ability to handle the hotter stock Mins. The Gordini is considerably stronger in rated power (95 SAE vs 78) and it proved well able to meet a claimed top speed some 8 mph over the Cooper S (with 1275 cc engine) but of course there has been a lot more time spent on super-tuning the Mins.

The R8 Gordini would need some chassis tuning, for instance, and considerable slimming since it currently weighs in some 350 pounds over the Cooper S. Around Europe at any rate it is also about a third less money initially, so the best answer to its race standing will doubtless be to wait a season or so and see what the new boys can do. Most of the Gordinis have been in factory hands so far but the first are reaching the boy racers now. For eager types who have to cart the family around too the R8 Gordini is not only cheaper (here) but superior in comfort and space. And you can always peel off that damn tape.
Renault 8 Gordini

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