The prospect of a turbocharged 1.4-litre hatchback wouldn’t usually get too many juices flowing.
But this is not your average French hot hatch. Indeed, it’s not your average Renault 5 Turbo 2: not in the metal, in its mechanicals, or in sentimentality.
For this is not the usual story of had car, sold car, bought car back.
So many stars aligned, whether their flickering was noticed at the time or not, that the words ‘fate’ and ‘meant to be’ turn from ridiculous hyperbole to the only words that really make sense.
And, in weaker moments, would make believers of us all. Which probably all sounds a bit much.
Still. When young engineer Alexandre Bradley was driving home in his new pride and joy more than 25 years ago, it was the beginning of an incredible journey for him, his future wife Helen and the 1984 T2 – not all of which would be taken together.
“It was always the plan to get one,” he says. “I wanted to get my engineering degree and had drooled over them for years, doodling them in books. Then one came up in Sporting magazine.
“He had two: a blue one in better condition that I couldn’t afford and this, which I decided I’d do at my own pace.
“I was working at Stansted at the time, and I brought it back from Doncaster on my own, which was a bit hairy because the fuel gauge didn’t work.
“It had received some paintwork and colour-coded bumpers, but I later put it back to the black and white. I knew instantly I’d done the right thing. And then, when I went to fill it up, this Mini shot past with about four lads in it, all of them giving me a thumbs-up.”
The Renault was then the peak of the couple’s enviable ownership history.
“It was something else when Alex came home with this one. I used to drive it all the time.”
That passion continues, too: today, the T2 lines up beside its modern equivalent, a Phase 1 Clio V6, and their son’s Lotus Elise.
For Alex, whose mother is French, the connection goes way back: “When we’d go over to visit family we would always look out for R8 Gordinis.
“And I remember as a kid in the early ’80s going down to collect my dad’s new car from a garage on Edgware Road. There were about 20 Turbo 2s lined up, all in different colours; Radbourne Racing in Wimbledon imported them, but it had a deal with Bell Street Garage.
“We don’t know who owned ours before 1989, but we have been in contact with the previous owner. It was a bit tired when I got it, so I did a lot of work such as rebuilding the gearbox myself and I rebuilt the engine.
“I also did the front suspension, but I was a young engineer at the time so I wasn’t full of knowledge…”
“We went to our wedding in the car in 1995,” he continues, with a nervous glance at Helen to confirm.
“And six weeks before, a Renault mechanic was MoT-ing it and blew it up. He’d taken it for a little spin and originally they didn’t have rev limiters.
“An engine is not cheap to repair – a professional rebuild is £15,000. I literally read a book because I’d never built an engine before, and I thought: ‘I’m a mechanical engineer, that’s how they go together.’
“So I had the engine on the floor in a million bits, four weeks before our wedding. One of my friends was the engine stand! I put it together and, no word of a lie, it started up second time. And there were no bolts spare. It was a good book…
“To be honest, people say they’re hard to work on but you can drop the suspension easily enough, and have the drivetrain off in three hours.”
“Then the children came and we moved to Canada in 2002,” continues Alex. “We insisted that it was a deal breaker: if the car couldn’t come, I wouldn’t take the job. So the car came to Montreal.”
“It had one drive around the block,” Helen interjects. “It mainly stayed in the garage, which was heated because it gets down to -30ºC.
“When we came back to the UK they lost the container with all of our things for a month in Halifax.”
As circumstances changed, the couple held on to the car, waiting for the inevitable value increase.
“In about 2005 I said ‘I don’t know why these aren’t going up in value. This is a Group B car’,” says Alex.
“I paid about £5500 for it, needing a little bit of work, but it was the rare colour of pear lwhite, where if you drove under a street light it would go orange.
“But we were looking to sell it, and a gentleman called Yann saw the car. He had been living about 20 minutes away from us in Montreal and was working for the United Nations in Afghanistan, writing new legislation.
“He flew back, came to see it with a friend, bought the car and shipped it to Auto Body Shop Diffusion in Marseilles. There it was stripped and the bodyshell went to Milan.”
The end of one story, so they thought, and the beginning of another.
Yann Guezel, too, had long craved aTurbo after a diet of R5s as a youngster. According to Yann’s sister, Sandrine, his first car was a sporty 5. “Probably a Gordini,” says Helen.
The T2 was acid-dipped, the non-factory sunroof was filled with new steel and spot-welded to the original points using a jig owned by ex-Renault man Jean-Christian Abbruzzino, as part of its slow return to perfection.
With the UN contract work taking Guezel farther and farther from the R5 in Marseilles, at one point he asked if the car and restorer would go to Vietnam. The offer was politely declined.
Guezel’s life, as it had for the Bradleys, changed with the arrival of a young family and a sentimental thought brought the trio together once more – via an old laptop.
The couple had wanted only the numberplate, tokenly adding that they’d like first dibs should the car become available again. The old email address was still active, and photos and positive noises came back.
“We told him we knew they had gone up in value,” admits Helen. “[Alex] had been clinging on to it, then sold it for £8000 in 2005 and within two years they had gone up to £60,000.”
“Yeah, or £80,000,” chimes in Alex, almost ruefully. “And he didn’t really want to sell it.”
“Then the correspondence stopped,” says Helen. “When we went to France to celebrate our twins’ 21st, we flew to Marseilles en route to Monte-Carlo. We were almost tempted to say to Yann that we were near and to ask if we could see the car, but when we were in Monaco Alex received a message from Sandrine, saying, ‘I’m really sorry to tell you that he has passed away’.
“Tragically Yann had got malaria from his time in Africa and it took him quickly, in just three weeks. He was in his 50s, a young guy.
“The story is all so connected: we were in Montreal when he was in Montreal; we were near Marseilles when we heard, and the car was down the road. All of these things, these connections; we were heartbroken because he was a lovely guy.”
That email chain had been found by Guezel’s sister, who with a heavy heart agreed to part with the car – but only to Helen and Alex.
With Sandrine being in Peru, the R5 in France and the Bradleys in England it was a logistical nightmare.
And when they went to see the car, they found it in bits.
“There was no front bumper,” says Alex, “only two shocks and the old engine was shot – it hadn’t been started in 15years. It did have a new ’box – it’s one of very few with a six-speed.”
“It was a bit of a shock,” admits Helen. “It’s a fascinating place: ‘JC’ is a specialist on Turbos and races them. His wife is English – also called Helen, coincidentally – so she did the translation, and he said, ‘Oh, the car’s over there.’ Under a dust cover, behind a Maxi, there it was.”
Returning the shell to the UK, Abbruzzino needed his local knowledge to escape unwanted stowaways at Caen.
And later, while bringing over the fettled engine, the Bradleys stumbled across a house in the Alps bedecked with Alpine-Renaults.
“They were owned by André Milesi and his wife Marie-Claire,” says Alex. “He was mechanic to Bruno Saby, who was French rally champion in an R5.
“They welcomed us in and shared their personal museum including Alpine A110s, a 5 Turbo and an R8 Gordini. We showed André the T2 engine in the back of our car and he said that it was superb!”
Eventually all the bits landed with specialist Gavin Allison in the south-west for the rebuild.
He has quite a reputation, having restored Alain Prost’s Marlboro-liveried R5. The car was stolen then unearthed in a barn years later, complete with a Breitling watch under the carpet, and returned to the four-time F1 World Champion.
The Bradleys, meanwhile, had taken the delicate and admirable decision to restore their car to both how Yann wanted it and how they remembered it.
“The aim was 50% us,” explains Alex. That meant the original seats were retained instead of Yann’s dream of a Turbo 1 interior – though they are now retrimmed in Connolly hide, and face a detachable Momo wheel.
“Yann had bought Compomotive alloys, but they were white and still in their boxes, eaten through by mice. He’d actually been sent four front wheels, so I had to go back to Compomotive to get two rears and gave the others to Gavin. We had them repainted Pewter, a Land Rover colour.”
The body itself glistens in black, the colour part of Guezel’s dream because at 18 years old his first fast 5 was black. A plaque sits on the sill in Yann’s memory, and to celebrate all involved.
Out has gone the long, soft clutch for an AP Racing competition set-up, which might be swapped back for something more suited to the life the car leads around the Sussex Downs.
All manner of other mods and updates have been done. Within the original engine is a hotter cam, uprated pistons and rings. “The usual sort of things to make them more robust,” Alex says. “It has a high-pressure oil pump as well.”
The turbo has been rebuilt, the manifold is Cevennes-spec, the intercooler is bigger and the K-Jetronic injection has been replaced. Poking out beneath the rear bumper is that six-speed.
Even the dials read more clearly – the kind of improvements you’d expect from a couple that designs airports and cargo systems for a living.
There’s an OMEX ECU, and the headlining is velcroed using a hack Alex saw on YouTube.
The sixpence-sharp brakes are cadmium-plated, with Porsche 911 calipers and to Tour de Corse spec, along with the widened front arches.
The delicate slats in the cooling vents have been re-engineered and 3D printed, testing the skills of SCAN HD, and a set of sidelights (shared with the Citroën LNA) were somehow found.
Once a hefty dose of throttle settles the idle, it all combines for a mechanical, metallic tone, which has onlookers scouring the landscape for the source of the noise.
The Bilstein dampers skip the R5 over broken roads, any softness fully deserted from the car, but it’s comfortable.
Yetnot all is new. The radio is the one Alex’s dad bought them and two of the spotlights are from their garage, where they’d waited for 15 years having been a gift from Helen’s parents.
The stickers in the window remain, along with the tax disc from the year of their wedding.
The 11-month restoration was completed just in time for the Bradleys’ silver anniversary, with ribbons attached by Allison to mark the occasion.
But still the serendipity continued.
“We followed the old route of our wedding for our anniversary and two weird things happened,” begins Alex. “On our big day a girl said, ‘Love the wedding car, wow!’ And we got to the exact same spot and a chap in a van said, ‘Wow, fantastic car!’”
“Then at the venue,” picks up Helen, “when we got married there were two weddings on the same day – ours and a bigger one.
“We got there and asked if we could take a photo outside and they said, ‘That’s really strange, a couple were here earlier and they wanted a photo because they got married 25 years ago today, too.’”
Chances are it won’t be the last time it features in a repeat-memory photo, because Yann’s sister has said the car must never leave the respective families.
“She has adopted Yann’s daughter and is returning to Montreal,” reveals Helen. “It was Yann’s wish that she was educated in Canada. She said our story and his are embedded in this car.”
The Turbo 2 now seems destined to stay with the Bradleys, because it could never be worth more to anyone else.
It is an investment of the emotional kind; priceless, heartfelt, and part of the family. Or two, in this case.
Images: John Bradshaw