The Ex – Leonidas, 8th in the Acropolis WRC 1981 Renault 5 Turbo Group 4

The Ex – Leonidas, 8th at the 1982 Acropolis WRC,

2nd in 1982 Greek Rally Championship

1981 Renault 5 Turbo Group 4

The Renault 5 Turbo changed the game of Group 4 rallying and has since gained something of a Cult following. Built to take Renault onto the world stage of international rallying, the 5 Turbo was a radical evolution of the production 5 models which went before it. In a complete reworking of the concept by the engineers at Renault Sport, with design by Bertone and build at Alpine, the engine was moved from the front to the middle of the car, and power output was increased to over double that of the standard car thanks to the use of turbo charging.

From 1977, Renault had mastered the use of turbo charging in circuit racing, with very powerful Formula 1 and Le Mans cars taking victories against the toughest of competition, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours and several Grand Prix. 

Building on this knowledge, the prototypes broke cover in 1979 and production soon started in order to build enough cars to homologate the Renault 5 Turbo for the Group 4 rallying regulations which required 400 examples to be constructed. The competition debut for the new 5 Turbo came in Group 5 at the Giro d’Italia in October 1979, with Guy Fréquelin and Jean-Marc Andrié in the works run, Calberson liveried car. Despite retiring from the event, they showed the intent of the new Renault.

The first rally showing came one year later at the Tour de France Automobile, where Jean Ragnotti and Jean-Marc Andrié campaigned a works car in Calberson livery, with registration 126 TZ 91. Ragnotti’s debut with the Calberson Renault 5 Turbo turned heads as he proceeded to win the first special stage of the rally. The works Renault then took a further 6 stage wins on the before being forced to retire with ignition woes.

This Car:

After using 126 TZ 91 on the Tour de Corse, two new cars were entered for the Monte Carlo Rally in 1981. Ragnotti’s car with registration 440 VB 91 had previously been run by him in Group 3 specification with Calberson livery, and for the Monte Carlo it was finished in Elf livery and Group 4 specification. 

His team mate, Bruno Saby, drove a new car, widely believed to be this car, with the registration 127 TZ 91, finished in Calberson livery. With start number 20, Saby and co-driver Daniel Le Saux pushed through the varied conditions until stage 23, when they went off the road. 

With relatively minor damage inflicted as a result of the initial crash, the Renault 5 Turbo was stranded in place, only for another competitor to go off the road and land on top of the Renault. The titanium roll cage utilised at that time in the quest for weight saving did not stand up to the impact, and the roof damage forced the car to be retired. 

Ragnotti went on to take overall victory with 440 VB 91, to the great delight of the Renault team and management. Following this success, the Greek Renault importer Alexandros Maniatopoulos, also known as Leonidas, wanted to buy the winning car from Renault Sport to campaign himself in Greece. It is understood that 440 VB 91 was retained by the factory, and instead Leonidas was able to obtain 127 TZ 91, the damaged car of Bruno Saby.

Renault Sport engineer Francois Bernard recalled in a letter how 127 TZ 91 was finished at 6am on Saturday, the day of scrutineering of the Monte Carlo Rally, and that it had been crashed by the Thursday night. He commented that he thought it was very likely that the car could have then been sold to the Greek Renault importer Leonidas, as the team and especially Patrick Landon were very close to him. 

It has since been verbally confirmed by other former members of Renault Sport that the damaged Bruno Saby car was sold to Greece.

With the Monte Carlo Calberson car going to Leonidas’ company, MAVA Renault in Greece, it is as yet unclear whether the car was repaired at Renault Sport or in Greece with parts supplied by Renault Sport. Having come with the Works ‘Super Cevennes’ big turbo, dry sump engine set-up, externally identifiable thanks to the exhaust on the right hand side, Renault Sport instructed Leonidas that he was not allowed to run this set up in competition yet as it had not yet been made available to customers. 

Instead, the smaller turbo ‘Cevennes’ specification with left hand exhaust was used initially, and the repaired Renault was painted in yellow. Francois Bernard remembers flying out to Greece to do a week long test with Leonidas and the Renault at the Mount Parnas special stage in June 1981, with the ‘Cevennes’ engine set up. 

This testing resulted in the development of fabricated steel rear uprights, designed to better withstand the brutal Greek conditions than the cast aluminium versions. Leonidas’ first competition outing with the Renault came on the 25th September 1981 at the Rothmans Cyprus Rally, part of the European Rally Championship, co-driven by Arkentis Andreas. With start number 2, Leonidas retired from the rally.

Bernard remembered how he flew out to Cyprus to assist Leonidas there, armed with a batch of anti-roll bars to aid handling improvements. He further commented that every time the works team made an improvement on their cars, Leonidas’ chief mechanic Christos Smirnios was informed and many parts were supplied to him. 

Furthermore, it was remembered that the factory cars were breaking the beam between front damper pick-ups, and that Leonidas has developed the double braced layout which the factory then utilised and later homologated for 1984. Another development was the addition of damper ducts in the rear wheel arch vents, allowing cooling where without dampers would overheat and lose performance.

In October came two further outings; the Paladio Rally, where with start number 1 he finished 6th, and the Rally Mavro Rodo which resulted in retirement.

Into 1982 the Renault was painted in turquoise, leaving the bumpers and roof rails in yellow. On the 13th March 1982 at the Rally Giros Peloponnisou, liveried with FINA oil sponsorship and with start number 3, Leonidas and his co-driver  Kokkinis Sotiris went on to take a fine 3rd. Next was the Earino Rally on the 11th April 1982, where Leonidas and Kokkinis started with number 2 and finished 2nd overall. 

For the Acropolis Rally, the Renault was repainted into metallic blue with white bumpers and roof rails, and FINA livery. Evidence of this paint can still be seen to this day (more about that later). Held over four days at the beginning of June the Acropolis was Greece’s round of the World Rally Championship. 

Leonidas and Kokkinos piloted the car with number 17 and ran consistently at around the 7th and 8th position mark over the stages, taking a best of 5th in the last stage of the rally. This stage to stage consistency yielded a very impressive finish of 8th overall in the WRC standings, with the rally being won by Michelle Mouton’s Audi Quattro, followed by Walter Rohrl and Henri Toivonen in second and third.

Leonidas completed a further five rallies in 1982 with the Renault, including the Rothmans Cyprus Rally and Halkidiki Rally as part of the European Rally Championship. Highlights from the remainder of the season included a 2nd overall at the Rally Achaois in July, and winning the Rothmans Panathinaiko Rally in November. Leonidas rounded out the season finishing in 2nd position in the 1982 Greek Championship. 

At the end of 1982 and for 1983, the Renault was repainted into yellow, with a white roof and black roof rubbers. With the transition from Group 4 rules to Group B, it would only compete in one rally during 1983, the Giros Peloponnisou in early March, where Leonidas took it to a 4th place finish.

In order to be ready for the new Group B regulations, it is understood that Leonidas wanted to return the car to Renault Sport to be upgraded to Tour de Corse specification, but that his friend Patrick Landon recommended that he should instead buy one of the 20 new Tour de Corse homologation cars. 

Leonidas’ chief mechanic, Christos Smyrnios, recalled in a letter how Leonidas had instructed him to remove the dry sump oil system from the Group 4 car and fit it onto the new car. With focus shifting onto the new Tour de Corse Group B car, this car, the Group 4 car, was sold to fellow Greek, Kostas Damigos, albeit updated to match the Group B homologation.

A letter from Leonidas dated the 25th September 1984 to Damigos outlines the history of the car as being run by Renault Sport of France in the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally, then used in the 1982 Acropolis Rally with FINA sponsorship, and citing the chassis number VF182204D0000020. It would appear that Leonidas had used the number from his new Tour de Corse, likely because this car, being a very early ex-works example, had been supplied to Leonidas in Greece without a number of its own. 

Renault Sport designer Michel Tetú wrote about his findings of the chassis number D0000020, that it was one of the new factory made Tour de Corse homologation model, which was bought by Leonidas in January 1983.

Damigos, with the Renault painted white with red details, is understood to have competed in rallies only a handful of times, including at the Ipirotiko Rally. On the first occasion in October 1984, he finished 5th, the following year on the 23rd June 1985, with start number 7 he did not finish. It is understood that Damigos crashed the Renault relatively soon in his ownership, and sold the car to Dimitris ‘Taki’ Manopoulos, also of Greece.

Having paid the sum of 12,500,000 Drachma and a Jaguar XJC, which at the time was apparently equivalent to three apartments, Taki went on to own the Renault until 2017, campaigning it continuously throughout his 31 year ownership. Taki began rallying the Renault in 1986, painted white with red bumpers and details, and sporting the registration XE 9999. 

The registration documents present with the car show this registration was first applied on the 10th October 1984, when Damigos had just bought it. Leonidas is not seen to have used a registration with the car during his ownership.

The Renault remained in the white and red livery until 1992, when Taki revised it to be white with blue and yellow sides. The livery was revised again in 1998, with the car being painted yellow with light blue details. In 2000, the Renault was returned to white with a blue and red Fuchs scheme, and in 2001 Taki had the car converted to Maxi body specification, running in primer initially. 

By 2002, the Maxi body had been completed with a white and red bumper paint scheme. Taki continued to rally the Renault in Greece in this format, and in 2009 altered the livery to be blue with red bumpers, similar to that of the Philips sponsored Maxi. 

In 2017, Taki returned the Renault to the body format in which he had first run the car, painting it yellow and with sponsor details as Leonidas had run his later Group B Tour de Corse in 1983. In this configuration, the Renault was part of an Evo Magazine group track test at Rockingham, driven by Richard Meaden. 

Meaden wrote of driving this car, “It’s so much more extreme to drive than the others. The noise, the explosive power delivery, the ultra-tight gear ratios and the sharper, grippier chassis…” “Such is the grip, there’s little sense of the rearward weight bias, even though there’s a far keener rate of turn-in response. On the tight twists and turns of a mountainous tarmac rally stage, I’m sure the added agility and power (around 300bhp, according to Taki) must be an explosive combination, albeit one that takes immense concentration and physical effort to stay on top of.”

He continued, “The noise is mighty – that characteristic hollow-sounding Group B blare that hardens as the boost builds, then pops and bangs with a fusillade of gunshots as the throttle is snapped shut. It’s almost impossible to believe that this small-capacity four-cylinder engine – just 1397cc – can generate so much sound and fury, but then you recall that when this car was at the cutting edge, this is what turbocharging was all about: fire and brimstone, not flat, featureless plateaus of torque and micromanaged boost pressure.”

Meaden concluded “…when it comes to Renault’s most compelling road car, I’m pleased to confirm it’s that magical five-letter word that still packs the biggest punch: Turbo.”

With an ownership lasting for 31 years and having won over 200 rallies in Greece, Taki sold the Renault at auction in 2017. Before going for sale, the engine was rebuilt in Greece with new pistons, liners, rods and rings.

Over the years, Taki accumulated a huge array of parts, many of which came with the car, including factory quick lifts as can be seen at the Monte Carlo Rally. On the sale of the Renault, the parts selection was retained in Greece, while the Group 4 suspension was refitted to the car.

In the current ownership, the Renault has been repainted into the metallic blue FINA livery run by Leonidas at the 1982 Acropolis Rally, when he scored his most significant result. Renault 5 Turbo specialist Olly Melliard of Melliard Motorsport has sourced and supplied the correct parts to present the car in Group 4 appearance and assisted throughout in research and publications since ownership with Taki.

Historical Evidence:

Today, evidence of the Renault’s history can be found on the car. From roof repairs, to welded up boot latch holes, reinforcements, remanence of dry sump system installations, and Super Cevennes engine set up are all present. What’s more, in the most recent repaint, the opportunity was taken to go back through old layers of paint and observe the story shown. 

Having had several accidents in it’s full life of rallying, paint has previously been removed across the car. However, in some areas, paint was missed. In harder to reach places across the car, the 1982 metallic blue of Leonidas has been found as the base layer. 

On the top of a door body, less thoroughly prepared, there is black, followed by yellow of 1981, then turquoise of early 1982, metallic blue of 1982, on top of this is yellow of 1983, then white as seen initially with Taki in 1986, yellow as run in 1999, and white as seen with Taki in 2000. 

Along with the many references of the Calberson liveried works 127 TZ 91 of Bruno Saby from the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally going to Leonidas, these factors also add to the likelihood that it is that car. 

For example, at the time when Leonidas obtained the car in 1981, the big turbo and dry sump Super Cevennes engine set up was a works only package, not yet available to customers. This has been well remembered by several people involved at the time, both at Renault Sport and in Greece.

The three early works Group 4 cars, 440 VB 91, 126 TZ 91, and 127 TZ 91 used over centre latches position below the rear window in the centre of the boot lid, and are the only cars seen to have done so. When Leonidas was rallying the car through 1982, these same boot catches can be seen clearly in photographs, and the welded up bolt holes are present on the car today.

The two works Monte Carlo cars of 1981, 440 VB 91 and 127 TZ 91, can be seen to have short front bumpers, devoid of the bottom lip or splitter. From the first appearance in Greece in 1981, Leonidas has a short front bumper, which continues on the car through to his final participation with it in 1983. 

This Renault 5 Turbo has lived a full competition career, rallying in virtually every year of its life and taking many a significant result. From being thought to be one of the first works cars at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1981, to finishing 8th overall in the 1982 Acropolis WRC Rally, to taking over 200 victories with the last owner of 31 years, it has always been used as intended.

Today, the Renault is eligible for historic rally events such as the Tour de Corse Historique, Modena Cento Ore, Eiffel Rallye and FIA European Historic Rally Championship, along with demonstration events such as Race Retro at Stoneleigh. This car is one of just a handful of true Group 4 Renault 5 Turbos in existence, and even fewer have taken a top ten World Rally Championship result.