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California Legal: 1985 Renault R5


While we often point to the MK1 VW GTi or the Honda CRX as the benchmarks for hot hatches in the U.S., there are other vehicles that will truly put some hair on your chest while keeping with the three- or five-door design. This 1985 Renault 5 Turbo, or R5, here on eBay is considered forbidden fruit by many due to never being officially imported. But this example spotted by Barn Finds reader Jim S. has some fancy paperwork that will put all your fears of smogging and registering at ease. 


This particular car is one that was officially imported by a company called Sun International that has been in the business of importing R5s for quite some time. What this means is for enthusiasts residing in states that are strict about emissions or other non-federalized vehicles is that they’ve taken care of the hard part of getting the necessary paperwork and registration documents squared away so you can drive the vehicle legally, even in states like California that thrive on government overreach.


Based on the photos, I can’t help but wonder if this R5 has been someone’s track toy. The Recaro buckets and spare set of wheels and tires may indicate someone who simply likes grippy seats and summer tires, but I think it’s more likely that it’s seen some regular track time. The interior does need some work as the carpets are stained and the headliner is missing. The carpets can be steam cleaned, but I suspect you’re looking at a custom upholstery job if you’re a perfectionist and want a replacement headliner.


The car has some mechanical needs as well. The fuel distributor will need a rebuild, but the seller did run a compression test and came back with perfect numbers across the board. Really, for a rare car like the R5 that’s supposed to be a hoot to drive – and one you can flog with abandon knowing Sun International has checked all the boxes needed to operate it legally – the needs presented here are minor. I’d love to own it, what about you?


  1. Dan

    As seen in Sean Connery’s Never Say Never…


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    • Rspcharger Rspcharger

      Back in the day did we even notice the action shots were sped up?

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  2. Blindmarc

    This is one of my all time favorite cars.

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  3. coolHluke

    Yes, yes, & yes…911’s dime a dozen..this is the euro ticket that punches my buttons..cars like the R5, Lotus Europa or Honda S600/800 are what I prefer…maybe this spring I’ll get the courage to sell my 40k Miata 93 LE …dam thing is such a great corner carver on the weekends I wake her up for our backroad adventures…never gives me fuss just miles of smiles :)

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    • Doug S

      I couldn’t have said it any better except the Honda thing (It gets a little personal between me and Honda)
      Watching Wheeler Dealer and boy oh boy they have some great cars never offered here in the US we got the Vega freakin’ A
      If I had the spare 38 LARGE that would be mine then get it painted (not a fan of white)

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  4. Scotty G

    If those dang carpets weren’t stained I’d buy this in a heartbeat! (kidding).. This would be a post-Powerball car for me, I could never justify spending this much on a single vehicle, it would not go over well at home.

    I saw one of these at the Lane Museum for the first time last year and it was pretty daunting and ferocious; two things I never thought I would associate with a LeCar. They seem like such friendly vehicles but that was one mean looking car in person. My dad had a LeCar as a company car for a few months back when they first came to the US, it was pretty fun. I used to drive it just to see the reaction on people’s faces – in Duluth, MN there weren’t many oddball vehicles back in those days; or even now.

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  5. angliagt

    I’ve wanted one since I saw a new one,back in the ’80’s.
    I still want one – but still can’t afford it.

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  6. RayT Member

    A lot of R5 Turbos had their OEM wheels replaced, as Renault built them with the odd-size Michelin TRX tires (on 390mm rims, if I recall). Not easy (or cheap) to find if you wore one out….

    The Turbo 2 (which this is) was a less-expensive version of the original, replacing the first model’s unique stylish dashboard, steering wheel and seats with standard Euro R5 parts.

    These were little rocket sleds, especially when equipped with factory power upgrades (there were both 185-bhp and 200-bhp “kits”), and the handling was phenomenal.

    Sun did an excellent job on the conversions. I couldn’t tell any difference between their “legal” cars and the unmodified European jobs, of which there were a few in SoCal.

    Brings back some great memories! And makes me wish I had the loot to get into one now — I didn’t then, alas; the credit union said “no!” — and head for the hills to do some serious canyon-running.

    Not sure getting parts would be easy, though. In the early ’80s, even getting bits for my “regular” R5 got me lots of blank stares at the parts counter.

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    36g? I can find much better cars to spend my money on in my humble opinion. It’s cool and all but not that cool….

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    • MjModern

      $36K and 9 days to go on the auction. I think the final price will surprise you if it meets reserve. These have become $85-$125K any day of the week. A true giant slayer from 1300 and 1400cc motors.

      A Group 5 Rally Beast for the street.

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  8. Healeydays

    These cars use to be the terror of the pro rallying circuit beating all comers. I remember seeing one of these take on a Turbo Porsche and holding it’s own.


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    • jim s

      thanks for the link. that was fun to watch.

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  9. grenade

    Love it. Add this car to my list- Lancia Stratos, an old Quattro and this thing. Fantastic little toy!

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  10. van

    Guys traded 930 turbos for these when new.
    We watched Renault win F1 every week

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  11. bcavileer

    Sweet! Enough said.

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  12. rangeroger

    When I lived in Fallbrook, CA, in the late 80’s, there was one of these running around town. It beat the pants off of everything. Everybody thought it was a standard LeCar with weird fenders, and nobody knew a monster lurked in the back seat.
    I finally saw a for-sale sign on it. Guy wanted $5000. There was no way I could come up with the money, but man I lusted after that car.

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  13. Dan h

    A California legal R5? Man, I wish I hadn’t just blown my wad on a 280sl, I would be all over this one!!

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  14. AMCFAN

    I knew what these were in the 1980’s and wanted one too. The local mechanic in town was a good friend and big fan of Formula One. He maintained that anyone can be fast in a straight line. It is the handling that is a science he would always say. One day we were talking about the merits of Renault and I brought up the Williams Renault team who at that time were unbeatable. He said Hell yeah! They only drive them for one day!! Referring to the Franco American Alliance. In retrospect he would have to be referring to the 1.4 version. Had many early problems. 1.7’s better engine but interfering valves and owners oblivious to changing a timing belt= bad. 2.0 GTA Awesome car for the times but much too late. However the R5 is quite a different animal. Too bad these couldn’t have been imported and sold through select dealers. Certainly would be a little more respect for Renault today. Pretty sure people would still think it was a LeCar

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  15. Ralph

    I use to work at a Lancia dealership in Holland,
    And we had one of those in the lot, one day some guy stole a idling bmw right in front of the owner eyes, he had the keys from the R5 in his pocket and raced after him but he didn’t warm it up as was required and went 150 km in no time and blue the head gasket!
    Guy escaped but his wife called him in later that evening when she didn’t trust his story and found papers inside where the car came from!
    And I got to fix the R5 ;)

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  16. Bobsmyuncle

    Amazing cars with incredible racing heritage. I’d rather one of these than any 911.

    Those hips… Drool.

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  17. rick deleon

    My dad imported a Turbo1 to S. America and it spent a few weeks in Miami with us. I can tell you first hand the R5Turbo pressed me back into the seat the same as the 930 did !! These cars are my unicorn

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  18. Mark-A

    Fantastic Tarmac/Asphalt rally car in the day! Jean Ragnotti & Jean Todt (Ex Ferrari F1 Team Principle) ran these hella fast on the Monte Carlo rally!!

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  19. Claus Graf

    Wanted one when I was in high school.

    Still want one.

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