Renault Confirms Gordini Badge Reborn, Just as Peugeot Signals the Death of its Last GTI
By Andy Bannister
There are mixed messages coming out of France in terms of the future direction of the country’s sportier cars.
Renault has officially confirmed it will revive its Gordini sub-brand to take on Fiat’s Abarth and provide a more prestigious name to compete against the likes of the Mini Cooper.
Following the path trodden by Abarth – the name which is currently appended to the sportiest versions of Fiat’s 500 and Grande Punto models – and Cooper, the emphasis will be on selling much more personalised hot hatches. Mini and Fiat have both done well peddling a wide range of bespoke – and highly profitable – accessories to make their cars stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Whilst the original Gordini models were the hottest in the company’s range, the new badge will diverge from that tradition. Instead the name will adorn models at the zenith of the Renault brand, but the cars themselves will be mechanically identical to the existing sportier Renaults, most of which currently carry the RenaultSport badge.
The first offering will be the Twingo Gordini RS, based on the RenaultSport Twingo 133, and due to be unveiled on 25 November in Paris.
Renault has long been one of the most active European manufacturers in offering near-racing versions of some of its mainstream models, with the Clio and Megane as well as the Twingo benefiting from this treatment.
The brand is named after Amédée Gordini, an Italian racing driver born in 1899, who became famous as a tuner known as “the sorcerer” for his ability to coax extra power out of seemingly ordinary engines.
For a time he made his own bespoke sports cars, and worked with Simca before switching allegiance to Renault, where fast Gordini-badged versions of classic saloons like the Dauphine and 8 were offered, usually finished in French blue with white stripes.
In the 1970s, colour schemes were gaudier, and models like the 12 and 17 had sporty Gordini variants, as did the tiny 5 hatchback. Then, a change in Renault’s priorities saw the badge to rest a quarter of a century ago.
Gordini is one of two historic sporting names in the Renault cupboard, the other being Alpine, a maker of delightfully quirky rear-engined Renault-based sports cars until the 1990s. A more ambitious revival of Alpine has recently been canned by the French company due to lack of funds.
Renault’s announcement of the dusting-off of Gordini ironically came hot on the heels of the declaration by arch-rival Peugeot that it is to abandon its time-honoured GTI badge, first seen on a hot version of the Peugeot 205 in 1984. The 205GTI was arguably Peugeot’s greatest-ever small car, which put the company on the map in the 1980s.
With its 1.6-litre and later 1.9-litre engines, the wieldy little 205 vied with the better-made but more costly VW Golf for the title of the archetypal GTI of the 1980s, and was beloved of a generation of boy racers across Europe. It was soon joined by the bigger 309GTI – a real wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing.
The 205GTI was also the basis for Peugeot’s long-lasting and successful rallying campaign, which helped transform the once-staid image of the marque to appeal to younger, sportier buyers.
That was a long time ago, however, and Peugeot’s move is tacit recognition that the magic of those early days has been forgotten, and badges – like fashions – come and go.
By comparison with the 205GTI, the next generation 206GTI was stodgier to drive and altogether more ordinary, and today’s 207GTI – the only Peugeot to retain the badge – is a definite also-ran, little regarded by today’s hot hatch buyers. They have moved on in their droves from Peugeot showrooms to more prestigious brands which offer a more involving drive and a better ownership experience.
A hot hatch, therefore, has no place in Peugeot’s future masterplan, so the 207GTI will be the end of the line. Instead, despite no real track record in such vehicles, the company is pinning its hopes on entering the premium sports market with its recently-previewed (and rather handsome) RCZ model, ambitiously targeted at the Audi TT.
Like many middle-ground car companies, caught between the likes of Hyundai, Kia and Skoda at one end of the market and prestige brands such as BMW, Alfa Romeo and Audi at the other, Peugeot and Renault are desperately trying to reinvent themselves. Unfortunately, it may take a bit more than tinkering with badges and introducing low-volume halo models to change the perceptions of the great car-buying public.
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