Past Mas­ter

The F1 link was a mar­ket­ing stunt, but this French hot hatch sated the ap­petites of fun-starved en­thu­si­asts. Will Nightin­gale reap­praises it

Autocar - - THIS WEEK -

Re­nault Clio Wil­liams in the spot­light

The Clio Wil­liams is alert to turn in and bal­let­i­cally poised when it does so

By the early 1990s, a golden era of the hot hatch was in its twi­light. Ex­cess was out, pru­dence was in and truly en­ter­tain­ing pocket rock­ets had be­come an en­dan­gered species. The 205 GTI had just been culled and the Fi­esta XR2I was on its last legs. The Golf GTI sol­diered on in Mk3 form, but only be­cause it had sold its once joy­ful soul to the devil of lower in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums.

When it seemed all the mer­ri­ment was over, Re­nault came to the res­cue – with just a lit­tle help from Wil­liams. And we re­ally do mean ‘a lit­tle’ be­cause the ex­tent of the then F1 world cham­pi­ons’ in­put into the Re­nault Clio Wil­liams was pretty much a name and that achingly cool navy-and-gold colour scheme. All the hard work was done by a di­vi­sion of Re­nault that would be­come Re­nault­sport. But out of that onesided project came one of the finest hot hatches there’s ever been.

There was al­ready a zesty of­fer­ing, the 16V, in the Mk1 Clio line-up, but the Clio Wil­liams was much more than a makeover and few ex­tra horse­power. The 16V’s 1.8 F7P engine was swapped out for a 2.0-litre F7R (later to be used in the Sport Spi­der), boost­ing power from 137bhp to 150bhp. The re­sult? A very re­spectable 0-60mph time of 7.8sec and a top speed of 134mph, per­for­mance fig­ures the Golf GTI of the era couldn’t even get close to.

It never was fire­power that made the Clio Wil­liams such a won­der­ful driver’s car, though. Rather, it’s how per­fectly in tune ev­ery com­po­nent and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing mus­cle fi­bre feels – what­ever the road and what­ever speed you’re scram­ming down it. Thanks to a wider front track, fat­ter tyres and lower sus­pen­sion than the 16V, the Wil­liams isn’t short of out­right abil­ity, ei­ther. A 205 GTI may steer even more sweetly, but we’re talk­ing tenths of a per­cent­age and the Clio coun­ters with more grip and less tem­per­a­men­tal on-limit han­dling.

The car wasn’t de­vel­oped in Britain, but you’d swear it had been, such is the flu­id­ity with which it rides our dread­ful roads. Pot­holes that would see a 205 skip­ping side­ways are smoth­ered with ease by the Clio’s re­laxed sus­pen­sion. You’d ex­pect such a set-up to de­liver poor roll stiff­ness but it re­ally doesn’t; the Wil­liams is alert to turn in and bal­let­i­cally poised when it does so. It’s qui­eter and eas­ier to live with than most hot hatches of the day too.

That 2.0 engine needs 6100rpm be­fore it gives its all, but it’s torquier than you might imag­ine, al­low­ing plenty of en­ter­tain­ment from sev­en­tenths up­wards, rather than the balls-out-only thrills of some of Re­nault­sport’s more re­cent cre­ations (think Mk3 Clio Cup).

The orig­i­nal – now known as the Wil­liams 1 – is light­est and best, and was meant to be a lim­ited run of 3800 cars. A fur­ther 1600 were built, to the an­noy­ance of those who’d bought into the sup­posed ex­clu­siv­ity. That wasn’t the end for the Wil­liams, be­cause 2 and 3 ver­sions were later launched, each ad­ding more safety aids, more lux­ury kit and, less ap­peal­ingly, more weight.

None is yet quite as re­li­giously cel­e­brated as a 205 GTI or even a Golf GTI Mk1. But true bar­gains are a thing of the past, with Clio Wil­liams prices kick­ing off at around £3500 for a scruffy Wil­liams 2 – the most ubiq­ui­tous ver­sion. For a low-mileage, well-loved Wil­liams 1, ex­pect to pay £12,000 or more.

YEARS PRO­DUCED 1993-1996 PRICE RANGE £3500-£15,000 POWER 150BHP

Ex­pect to pay £12k for a mint Wil­liams 1

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.