Renault Sport Spider: An Overshadowed Track Day Weapon
The name ‘Renault Sport’ usually brings to mind sporty versions of Clios and Nürburgring lap-record hunting Méganes. While front-wheel drive hot hatches are the bread and butter of the brand, its debut model was drastically different. In the mid-1990s Renault hoped to build a connection between their road and race cars, and so set about designing a car to launch the Renault Sport name. Early prototypes of this new car were built during 1994, and in 1995 at the Geneva Motor Show Renault unveiled its first model for the new brand: the Renault Sport Spider. Positioned as a hardcore enthusiast’s car, the Spider was more than striking enough to draw a highly promising reception.
Built at Alpine’s Dieppe factory, the Spider went on sale in 1996 and remained in production until 1999. Weighing in at only 930kg, the focus for this model was clearly in the handling department. A lightweight aluminium chassis was used, along with plastic composite body panels. Powering the Spider was the 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine also found in the Clio Williams and Mégane Coupe, which produced 150hp and 136ft-lb of torque. This was connected to a five-speed manual gearbox, but unlike in its other applications the engine was mounted in the middle of the car. In terms of stats the Spider could reach a top speed of just over 130mph and achieved a claimed 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds.
In the pursuit of a raw driving experience, Renault elected to equip the Spider with little in the way of luxuries for its occupants. This meant there were no driver aids, no power steering and no assisted brakes. On top of this, there was no heater for the interior, buyers had to option in a radio if they wanted one and there were no airbags. Evidently this wasn’t enough weight reduction for Renault’s liking, so they took the only reasonable step and decided not to bother with a roof. Or a windscreen. After the first model year Renault did offer the option of fitting a traditional windscreen instead of the original wind deflector, but at no point was a roof made available. It was possible to fit an aftermarket fabric cover to act as a roof, but these were only really usable at low speeds.
Inside, the Spider did at least receive Recaro seats and adjustable pedals to give the driver the chance to try and get comfortable. The interior was weather-proofed, which was a good job considering the lack of a roof, especially for the Spiders sold in the UK. The only button of note you had to play with on the centre console was for the heated windscreen, and even then that was only if you actually had a windscreen. A centre-mounted digital speedometer was fitted, which also showed the fuel gauge, clock and trip information. Renault also opted not to fit exterior door handles, which meant to open the spectacular scissor doors you had to use the interior handles.
At launch the Spider was priced at £26,595 in the UK (over £47,000 today), with plans for a production run of 200 right-hand drive cars in place. These UK models were all fitted with windscreens from standard, but were otherwise the same as their continental counterparts. However, the Spider’s time in the spotlight was immediately killed off by the launch of the Lotus Elise. The Elise was lighter, quicker and around £7,000 cheaper than the Spider, and as such very few people chose the Spider. The UK production run ended up being just 96 units, with roughly 1700 built in total. Without the Elise, the Spider would likely have been far more widely remembered: it was just incredibly unfortunate timing for Renault.
While the road car was largely overshadowed, the Spider did at least get attention on the race track. 80 cars from the production run were Trophy-spec cars, built to be raced in one-make championships. These cars got a power increase to 210hp, a six-speed gearbox and a full roll cage, along with a slight reduction in weight. The UK Spider series is notable for helping to launch the careers of Jason Plato and Andy Priaulx, who were both immensely dominant in the seasons they competed in.
In the present, the Spider does at least have the collectability factor in its favour over the Elise: RHD models have held their value fairly well and now offer an interesting potential investment, as values are unlikely to fall. Despite its lack of impact at the time, the Spider did help establish the Renault Sport name which continues to live on to this day.