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Renault Espace F1, a monovolumen at 300 km / h

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In the autumn of 1994, Renault celebrated within the framework of the Paris Motor Show, the “Mondial de l’Automobile de Paris” as it is its official name, the 10 years of Espace, the legendary pioneer of minivans. And he did it with a very special version, powered by an atmospheric engine that had won several world titles for drivers and brands, mounted on Williams chassis. We are talking about the Renault Sport RS5, a ten-cylinder V, 3.5-liter displacement as the regulations of those years marked.

The origin of the idea came from Jean Louis Coussin, a true “Professor Calculus” and number two of Matra, the inventor of Espace and in whose Romorantin factory the Renault minivan was produced.

Competition was in Matra’s DNA, which is why an initiative of this caliber was not strange.

This mutant was the result of joining elements of an F1 Williams car and the Renault Espace. And the material author of this work was Phillip Moch, one of the pioneers of carbon fiber applied to competition. Moch, who in the seventies manufactured its own sidecars to break records, had been commissioned to make in 1976, the composite material parts of the Formula 1 Renault RS01: the cockpit built by Alpine weighed 10 kilos compared to 2.7 made by Moch in kevlar.

Only two units were made

His construction

Moch incorporated the rear half of a Williams FW 14, world champion with Nigel Mansell in 1992, on a Espace skeleton. The upper structure and the front block of the Renault minivan were preserved. But it was necessary to redo the entire floor, manufacturing a carbon fiber monocoque, in the style of those used by F1 cars. It was a double floor built like a box, with a thickness of 25 centimeters. The gap comprised a central tunnel that ran from the front spoiler to the engine, located centrally between the two rear seats. Its role was essential: in addition to obtaining the highest rigidity, it ensured the entry of fresh air into the V10.

26 centimeters widened with a reduced ground clearance, it changed its appearance and that the gate and the lights, for example, were the original
26 centimeters widened with a reduced ground clearance, it changed its appearance and that the gate and the lights, for example, were the original

This RS5 engine with more than 700 hp, with which Alain Prost had achieved his fourth world champion title in 1993, was associated with a very advanced semi-automatic gearbox designed by Williams: it was possible to shift gears (with a few buttons on the steering wheel), keeping the foot fully depressed, a system that was prohibited in the Formula 1 regulations in those years.

The rear suspension was that of the Williams FW 14, with superimposed triangles like the front, although in this case it was made by Matra. Four carbon discs were in charge of braking, and the tires, Michelin, were fitted with 18-inch wheels.

The performance was spectacular, with an acceleration from 0 to 200 km / h in 6.3 seconds
The performance was spectacular, with an acceleration from 0 to 200 km / h in 6.3 seconds

After its construction, the development work was commissioned by the prestigious engineer Gerard Ducarouge, author of such iconic cars as the 1969 world champion Jackie Stewart’s Matra MS80, the Senna Lotus, or the Le Mans winning Matra. Ducarouge counted, that it was necessary three engineers to start the car: one from Renault Sport for the engine, another from Williams for the change, and a third from Magnetti-Marelli, for the ignition: the car remained silent, yes, computer in hand, the three technicians did not coordinate everything.

Features, sound …, unique sensations

But once started, expectations were far exceeded. Speaking at the time, the driver Emmanuel Collard, who took care of its set-up, said: “It is more impressive than driving an F1. Although it weighs three times more (about 1,400 kilos), the sensations are multiplied by ten, due to the elevated driving position. And the noise, more deafening than an F1 car, as the body acts as a resonance box ». And according to Jean-Louis Caussin, this Espace F1 «recreates 70 percent of the sensations of an F1 under acceleration and cornering. The value should go up to 90 percent for braking. ‘

We are talking about a Espace that went from 0 to 200 km / h in 6.3 seconds, with a top speed of 300 km / h and, at this speed, it could be stopped in just 100 meters. In comparison, the Espace V6 on the street used 240 meters to go from 200 km / h to 0.

A double floor made of carbon fiber, and the engine in a central rear position
A double floor made of carbon fiber, and the engine in a central rear position

The upper part of the body is that of the series model. It is the huge wheels and the fact that the body is very close to the ground, which create the feeling that the Espace F1 is more compact than the original version of the time.

Two units were manufactured, one to be shown in salons and exhibitions, and another, differentiated by the design of the rims and larger air intakes, was entrusted to Alain Prost to carry out some dynamic demonstrations on circuits, and understand the term “dynamics” in its purest sense, until it is cornered. In 2002, Renault decided to dust off this unit on the occasion of its announcement of a return to Formula 1.

Alain Prost led him in various shows
Alain Prost led him in various shows

The steering wheel was entrusted to Jean Ragnotti who, as expected, nothing was cut when checking that the Espace F1 had preserved all its dynamic qualities, and that it went from 0 to 200 km / h in 6.9 seconds before to reach 300 km / h …

It would not have much to envy a current Formula 1 when it comes to accelerating, and sound level any classic fan would not change that of this fantastic and winning V10 created by Renault Sport, for that of the current hybrid engines of the maximum specialty, quite bland to the ear.

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