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The Renault Sport Spider Was a Wonderful French Twist on a Lotus Elise

July 16,2016 08:17

Such low mileage is understandable, because the Sport Spider is about as practical for everyday use as a hat made out of a chocolate soufflé. There are zero concessions to comfort, storage is tight, the interior is essentially just exposed bits of the ...

Weight was 2050 lbs. The Megane 2.0-liter made 148 hp in road-going trim and 180 hp in the racing version. Suspension was double-wishbone, with the dampers located inboard to keep the car extra low. The brakes were sourced from the much larger and heavier Alpine 610.Each car was hand-built in the Alpine's Dieppe factory and available with very few options. ABS wasn't on the list. Neither was a heater. You could get a radio if you really wanted.

Brendan McAleerEighty track-only Trophy models were also built, each one getting the horsepower bump and a 6-speed transmission (the road-going car makes do with five). A single-make series called the Spider Trophy launched the racing careers of several well-known drivers, including British Touring Car Champion and sometime television star Jason Plato.Alevras had his own racing career, starting out in karts at Westwood in his early twenties, and eventually moving up to Formula Ford open-wheelers. The pressures of raising two boys and running a business forced him off the circuit, but as his sons grew, he found himself looking for a sports car again. He came across the Spider on a Japanese auction site, and recognized it immediately.

Brendan McAleer"I remembered [Renault] bringing one to the Vancouver Molson Indy circuit years ago," he says. "It just clicked."Alveras pulls the removable cushions out of his Renault whenever he takes it for a drive. At 240 lbs, he says he's too big to fit easily into an Elise. The Spider, weirdly, is actually quite roomy despite the low height of the windshield. I swap into the driver's seat: Getting in and out requires a bit of contortion, but once settled in, it's nearly comfortable.The car corners completely flat, suctioned to the tarmac with huge mechanical grip. The steering is totally unassisted and hugely heavy, minor inputs equaling an immediate response from the chassis. The brakes require a firm foot on the pedal, and the 2.0-liter zings up in the revs with light throttle pressure.

Brendan McAleerScampering along an old piece of the Sea-to-Sky highway, the car feels deft and eager and raw and vibrant. The whole road to the resort town of Whistler used to be like this, a narrow thread between rocky cliffs and the choppy waters of the sound. It's a little secret nook, rising up from the water to join the main freeway; below us, holiday-makers are lining up in Horseshoe Bay to take the ferry across to Vancouver Island.
In the Spider, you experience everything in its immediacy, speed and sound and smell from the outdoors.It's a perfect day, bright and sunny, with a whiff of pine coming off the trees crowding close to the road. In the Spider, you experience everything in its immediacy, speed and sound and smell from the outdoors. The little Renault is something very special indeed, and despite its odd and foreign origins, there's a familiar story here, too.John's son David is waiting to welcome us back from the drive. When I first met the pair at the car show, the 13-year-old was fielding questions from onlookers about his father's car. He rattled off specs, production run, and provenance like the car was his.

Brendan McAleerThe pair have begun working together on the Spider already, fitting a third brake light required by Canadian transport law. David wants to become an engineer, he's fascinated by the exposed mechanicals of the Spider. As it's such a simple car, working on it is relatively easy, and John has been able to find sources for most parts from fellow enthusiasts in the UK and France. Come winter, the plan is to get the Spider up on jackstands and begin going through it to address any minor deficiencies.David fields a call from Mom—the family is headed out of town on a long holiday, and there's still packing to be done. John and I are talking about the local car shows, planning the next meet up. He mentions one out in a suburb South of the city that evening. David's ears perk up."Hey, can we go there tonight, Dad?"John shakes his head, thinking of chores yet to do. Then he says, "Maybe."The pair head out in their little French roadster, off to take the long route back home. It's an oddball of a car, and tiny. And yet, it's still big enough to carry all the things that really matter.

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