Thursday, November 21, 2019

Renault 8 Gordini (1964-1970)

On October 1, 1964, a small, blue saloon car with two white stripes was unveiled to visitors to the Paris Motor Show. Its price (11,500F) and its performance levels (170 km/h, standing km: 33 seconds) made it a very attractive proposition. This was the Renault 8 Gordini.

The development of this car, which would soon be affectionately dubbed the "Gorde", was not without its problems for the designers, however. In June 1962, Renault presented to the Press the new Renault 8 (type R 1130), a worthy successor to the 4CV and the Dauphine. The new arrival was notable for its four disc brakes and its 956 cc engine with 5-bearing crankshaft (type 689), which had recently been launched on the Floride and the Caravelle. Simultaneously, another version of the engine was already being prepared, with a capacity of 1108 cc. This would be used on the Renault 8 Major, among others.

In the spring of 1963, Renault's top management decided to create a sports version of the Renault 8, with two main specifications: a top speed of at least 155 km/h and minimal additional cost. This project was entrusted to two teams working in parallel: Gordini, who had done such a good job with the new improved Dauphine, and the Renault Motorsport Department, which was still headed by François Landon. The engine was, naturally, based on the 1108 cc, while the brakes were reinforced, with slimmer discs but thicker plates and Hydrovac servo booster, and the suspension was stiffened and lowered, with four rear shock absorbers.

A first comparative test between the two teams' propositions was held at Montlhéry in October 1963. Both cars registered a top speed of 152 km/h on the speed circuit and clocked similar times of just over five minutes on the road circuit. A month later, in a second comparative test, both cars reached 160 km/h. But Gordini brought a little surprise along: a Renault 8 whose engine, equipped with a hemispherical cylinder head and twin horizontal dual-barrel carburetors, was designed to generate 87 SAE hp. In its first two laps of the speed circuit, despite its extra horsepower, this car did no better than the two others… but then, Amédée Gordini had the idea of removing the trunk lid. The effect was immediate, with the car clocking up a speed of 172 km/h. The intake air temperature had been too high.

The potential of this latest version proposed by Gordini was such that Renault poured all its efforts into fine-tuning and industrializing it. This work would result in the launch of the Renault 8 Gordini type R 1134, with a specially designed type 804-00 1108 cc engine (70 x 72 mm) that developed 95 SAE hp at 6,500 rpm.

Sport Auto Coverage (December 1965)

In October 1966, following on from the success of the 1100 version, of which 2626 units were produced, the 1300 version of the Renault 8 Gordini appeared (type R 1135). Instantly recognizable by its four headlamps, it incorporated a number of significantly enhanced features: a type 812-02 engine, with a capacity of 1255 cc (74.5 x 72 mm), developing 110 SAE hp (88 DIN hp) at 6,750 rpm; a five-speed gearbox; and an extra 26-litre fuel tank under the front hood. This new version boasted no fewer than 8,981 happy customers.

Built for competition, the Renault 8 Gordini proved its credentials in its first official race: the 1964 Tour de Corse. It was up against some formidable rivals: Porsche 904 GS, Alfa Tubolare, Lancia Flavia, Citroën DS 19, Ferrari 250 GT, Lotus Elan, Austin Cooper S, not to mention the Alpine factory saloons. Renault entered six Renault 8 Gordinis. The atmospheric conditions were terrible… so bad in fact that of the 79 cars that started the race, only eight finished. The Renault 8 Gordini took first, third, fourth and fifth places, firmly inscribing its name in motor racing history at the very first attempt.

Tour de Corse (1965)

Coupe des Alpes (1969)

Monte Carlo Rallye (1970)

This fantastic victory would be followed by many more, both by the factory itself and by its customers, in France and elsewhere. The car's crowning glory remains its three consecutive Tour de Corse wins in 1964, 1965 and 1966. Always striving to keep the car as competitive as possible, the factory was constantly developing it. Group II certification (production of more than 1000 units) was awarded in February 1965. In the Tour de Corse of October 1965, a prototype with a 1296 cc engine and lighter bodywork, thanks to aluminum fenders and opening panels, was used for the first time. A 1440 cc engine was introduced at the Critérium des Alpes in September 1966. In October 1966, at the Paris Motor Show, a version with a 1255 cc engine was launched, resulting in Group I certification (production of more than 5000 units) at the end of 1967 and the release of a 1296 cc kit. In November 1967, in the Cévennes, an experimental 1530 cc engine was tested in an Alpine saloon car.

The Renault 8 Gordini's powertrain was used in a wide array of sports cars and race cars, including the Alpine A110, 1300 and 1300 S and the Matra Jet VS and Jet VI, as well as cars made by many small-scale manufacturers such as Jidé, Marcadier, BSH and Sovam, not to mention Formula France single-seaters such as Alpine, Martini, Pygmée, Grac and Elina.


BONUS TIP: Watch this video from 1968 with Jean-François Piot (28/3/1938 - 6/11/1980) giving a driving demonstration of the Renault 8 Gordini. Jean-François Piot and his co-driver Jean-François Jacob were the overall winners of the 1966 Tour de Corse rally (5/11/1966 – 6/11/1966).

Source: Groupe Renault