Officially established in 1976 as a merger between its Alpine and Gordini competition departments, Renault Sport had to wait two decades before it sold its first RS-badged road car.
Having discontinued the Alpine brand in 1994, and seeing a return to profitability after a challenging decade prior, Renault wanted a car to remind the world of its sporting pedigree. It would also serve as the basis for a one-make motorsport series, with no requirements to be based on an existing Renault model.
Project W94 spawned the Renault Sport Spider at 1995’s Geneva motor show as a mid-engined, rear-driven two-seater with no roof and, in initial form, no windscreen, either. It had a body built from plastic composite over an aluminium chassis and was powered by a version of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder F7R engine previously seen in the Clio Williams. Tipping the scales at 930kg, it was decidedly heavier than the Lotus Elise, but with 148bhp on tap, it could still manage the 0-62mph sprint in 6.5sec.
A revised version fitted with a windscreen came in 1997, with 96 right-hand-drive cars eventually produced for the UK, although Renault produced a total of only 1685 cars throughout the Spider’s lifetime – barely a tenth of what Lotus achieved with its now iconic Elise.
The division instead concentrated on performance versions of road-going Renault models, starting with the Clio 2. It had contributed to the Clio 16v and Clio Williams, but neither car had carried the division’s name. The Clio Renaultsport 172 was launched in 2000 with a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine tuned to produce 168bhp. A more purposeful bodykit and OZ alloy wheels set it apart from lesser Clios, while the well-honed chassis ensured handling was far beyond anything rivals were achieving at the time. A facelift followed, along with a stripped-out 172 Cup, which used stiffer suspension but lost air-con and anti-lock brakes to save weight.
In the meantime, the motorsport side of the business had created a radical mid-engined Clio to replace the Renault Sport Spider trophy race series. A road-going version was given the green light as company executives hoped to replicate the ballistic Renault 5 Turbo.