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© Vauhdin Maailma, translation: Juha Moisio all>

Jommi Salomaa tests:

Renault R8 Gordini

Many citizens interested in motorsports have surely noticed there's a new name on the results lists of domestic races. Amédée Gordini, Renault's "court tuner", has caused panic introducing his latest creation: an engine with more bhp/litre than any other serial-produced engine in the world at the moment!

Renault's previous attemt to gain reputation on race tracks remained a good try, as their Dauphine 1093 never gained any significant success. It was necessary to improve their image, so the new soapbox-design Renault R8 was taken to Monsieur Amédée's atelier for further development. The results undoubtedly caused headache on the executive level of many car manufacturers. The Tour of Corsica win was an impressive first outing, and also the apparent reliability and robustness of the engine was noticed. Eight of the 79 cars that started the race, finished. Four of these eight were R8 Gordinis.

Amédée's recipe

Experiences from four years ago were fresh in memory, so they decided to go more radical and cast a new cylinder head in aluminium. Each hemispheric combustion chamber was given its own inlet and exhaust ports. The spark plug was evicted from the combustion chamber, as room was needed for large valves. The plug got its own chamber from which two small canals lead to the combustion chamber. The cylinder block with its five-bearinged crankshaft and connecting rods stem from the original 1100 cc Major engine. The valvetrain layout resembles that of the standard model. There are two sidedraught twin-Solex carburettors, giving the engine room that special "Weber atmosphere". The awesome exhaust manifold seems to be carefully dimensioned to guarantee the best possible flow. The combustion ratio is 10.4:1 (8.5:1 in Major), cylinder stroke is slightly longer than the bore (70x72 mm) which, together with ordinary valvetrain, reveals that high rpm wasn't the target. Quite understandable, considering it's an upgraded production engine, not a pure-bred competition engine. Despite this, it willingly revs to over 7000 rpm (!), but the maximum power, 95 bhp SAE, is achieved at 6500 rpm. That figure means 86 bhp / litre, which to our knowledge is more than in any other mass production car. This, however, doesn't mean the R8 Gordini is superior in its class, because the car is relatively heavy compared to the engine displacement.

A threat to Mini-Cooper?

The Finnish debut of the R8 Gordini was last April at the One Hundred Cars race on the Artukainen racetrack, where Risto Einto with this car was quite superior in the under 1150 cc class. Unfortunately not all races have this class, which would be optimal for the car. Instead it has to compete in the under 1300 cc class, facing the big Coopers. As long as it's a standard Cooper, the match is even, even though the Cooper has "only" 75 bhp. The Cooper weighs 620 kg, the Gordini apparently appr. 800 kg (we don't know the exact homologation weight as there are no homologation papers in Finland. Hmmm!) Assuming it weighs 800 kg means it's 8.4 kg per horsepower. In the Cooper it's 8.2. Speculating like this, the two are equal in performance. But by using factory homologated tuning parts it's possible to get 105 bhp out of the Cooper, 110 bhp if tuned to the maximum. That means 5.6 kg / bhp. To reach similar weight/power ratio, the Gordini would need appr. 140 bhp. We don't know what homologated parts are available for the Gordini as, like already mentioned, we haven't seen the homologation papers. So far no-one in Finland has tuned a Gordini to the Gr. II specifications. So far. Also so far no-one knows how much tuning these engines can take, but a rumour has it that the Gordini of the Swedish Berndt Jansson develops over 120 bhp. Under no circumstance should we stare just at the weight/power ratio, as it is a very rough indicator. The good torque of the Gordini engine earns it a few extra points. But first and foremost, a new close-ratio 5-speed gearbox is needed. If the factory also enlarged the engine displacement from 1100 to 1300 cc, that would mean 112 bhp calculated from the nominal output. A couple more tuning measures and the Gordini can only be reached by mail, to put it that way. What was said earlier perhaps gives some background to speculations about the future of the R8 Gordini. At the moment, it doesn't seem likely to have means to beat the hottest Coopers, otherwise we would have seen it racing on the continent.

Confidence-inspiring

My preconceptions towards the tested car were quite flattering. However, after the first acceleration test the co-driver asked: "What do you reckon's wrong with it? It doesn't charge forward." You can say that again, I replied and engaged first. This time it was 11.9 seconds 0-100 km/h. "Well, it seems to go ok. Just doesn't feel that way." That time remained the average, but the acceleration never felt as fast as it actually was. It was probably how smooth the car behaved that caused this perception. Other performance figures were:

0-80 km/h 8.0s
0-50 km/h 3.5s
0-1000 m 34.5s
0-400 m 19.2s

Considering the engine displacement, I'd say the performance is phenomenal. Other examples of the same model are known to have achieved even better figures. The actual measured top speed of 158 km/h however is quite far from the factory-claimed 170 km/h.

The most usable power band is 4000-6500 rpm, but the engine really started pulling after 5000 rpm. The engine is free of vibrations and is in every way very convincing. A special citation goes to the clutch, which under no circumstance showed any signs of fatigue.

The way the car behaves on road is generally very pleasant. The ground clearance is 4 cm lower than in the Major, there are two more shock absorbers added to the rear and an anti-roll bar fitted to the front. No doubt wider wheels and tires would be welcome - I think they should be there. Also stiffer suspension would be nice, especially at the front. The weight distribution is biased towards the rear (36:64), which manifests itself clearly as oversteering, although that probably is less apparent than in the Major. One would have expected e.g. the fuel tank to have been moved to the front luggage space, which already had had a significant effect on the weight distribution. The aforementionend doesn't mean the car's difficult to drive - on the contrary - but it requires much more delicate hand than e.g. the Cooper.

Brakes, on the other hand, get very high grades. The weight distribution enables disc brakes to be used at every wheel, and the brake servo contributes to safety. The brake performance is by far the best I've come across in any car.

A so-called panic braking from top speed is quite an experience in this car. A sensitive foot is asked for, as already after a couple of seconds of braking, too much pressure on the pedal causes the wheels to lock. The stopwatch showed it took 5 seconds from the top speed to a complete halt. The time from 130 km/h was 3.5 seconds. I can't swear the times are accurate, because looking back at them they seem quite unbelievable. There might have been a measuring error, so I advice all Gordini owners to judge for themselves. However, it is advised to check the rear view mirror before braking on a heavily-trafficed road. Several successive brakings showed that brake fade is relatively minor. When the discs were already glowing red, it was possible to lock the wheels at 70 km/h! It seems that the factory has taken braking seriously, as there is even a red warning light in the facia for low brake fluid level. That 's the way to do it!

The cockpit is extremely comfortable with comfy seats and a stylish facia. Revcounter is standard, as are fuel and water temperature gauges. I'd like an oil pressure gauge, there's just a warning light instead. All gauges are situated so they're easy to read. I think the accelerator pedal is a bit too far apart from the brake pedal; one must twist the ankle too much for heel-and-toeing.

The gear selection by modern standards is slow and there's room for improvement in syncronisation. The gearlever movement feels like macaroni, which can cause frequent nervous breakdowns for sensitive drivers, although after a bit of getting used to it's not common to miss a gear.

The driving position is extremely pleasant and vision both forwards and from the mirrors good.

Finally I should mention that I've knowingly focused on things that are important to people somehow involved in motorsports. The general impression the R8 Gordini gives is strongly that of a touring car. Long journeys in it are a joy. Thanks to its apparent versatility it's also a premium example of its price class, and a vehicle especially for those with an appetite for speed. On weekends, you can take your family to the country cottage in it and after that head straight to the starting line of a competition - and even win, as we've seen.

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