Everyone has owned a car that made them think differently, possibly in breaking away from a favourite brand, a random test drive, love at first sight on a garage forecourt, or even that old adage of I went out to buy a toothbrush and came back with this, in my case a Renault Megane R26.
The Megane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team 11 R26, or in order to keep this piece below 2,000 words, the Renault Megane R26, which is not to be confused with the all encompassing R26.R which had two seats, plastic rear windows, kevlar bonnet and a roll cage. May already be a future classic, because the Renault Megane R26 seriously helped me form the views I hold today about classic cars. You see even shopping in the newer car market my tastes were on the more interesting side of the norm and yet I was still missing something in my life. For instance a 1997 Nissan Pulsar GTI-R, a Japanese import Sunny for mentalists, that despite its humble beginnings had rally inspired 4WD and 220bhp but at the end of the day was just too good at getting the power down to be fun at anything below three digits, or anywhere above freezing.
Subaru Impreza WRX, a car I traveled 80,000 miles in just over three years, again not for the feint hearted, again with 4WD but with lovely engine note from its flat four Boxer unit to offer some interest with driver’s window wound down through tree lined lanes. A car that also carried some flaws to allow a bit of character to shine through, was it possible to have a modern day classic car after all, I was beginning to think so. Maybe not though, because next up was a Honda Civic Type R, a car that was completely bombproof, regularly achieved 30+ to the gallon, cost no more than £200 to service by the main dealer ever, revved to over 8,000rpm, was competitive in its class in sprints and yet just didn’t have any personality whilst out on the road. This was a car that was just too good and I craved something I could run every day for 25,000 miles each year that also made me smile.
It was then I passed that garage forecourt and although not being smitten immediately thought well if anyone could provide a modern day fun machine, surely Renault could? I wasn’t wrong either, this car was an absolute hoot. Front wheel drive maybe, it had 230bhp as standard, later upgraded to 270bhp, a limited slip differential that steered the car over every crest in the road to ensure your full concentration 100% of the time. I loved it. But it wasn’t just the power and performance, it was as you might expect from Renault flawed, which let’s face it equates to personality, one of the reasons we love classic cars so much.
A Jaguar E-Type would be perfect if it didn’t keep needing things fixed that either require the back axle or engine to be removed. An Aston Martin DB6 ideal if only the brakes would match the performance. A Mini Cooper S perfect if only you could get your hands in and out of the engine bay without suffering severe lacerations. A Jensen Interceptor sublime if only it could, just once, top 15mpg and not have electrical gremlins that make you ask whether it was just the bodywork that was designed in Italy. I could go on but I think you get the message some of these flaws are what make classic cars what they are and why we love them so much.
In the case of a Renault Megane R26 the same is true, in part because it never felt the same on any two journeys and also because it would suffer faults and then fix them itself. The automatic lights and wipers both spring to mind, oh yes and a miss-fire that only occurred whilst passing Membury Services on the M4. The fact it was always good on track was a bonus, a car surprisingly competitive in its class when pitched against Mitsubishi Evo’s and Subaru Impreza’s. Someone even suggested from the front it looked like Darth Vadar’s helmet, in a good way of course. Inside, some of the switches that got added to this range topping model were randomly scattered around like a handful of black sticky sweets thrown at a wall. The cruise control on-off switch required a full stretch of your right arm to the lowest part of the dashboard, next to of course the sport button which disabled traction control and increased throttle response. Try doing that whilst wearing a harness.
I traveled over 60,000 miles in this car and fittingly its final outing was a drive down to Le Mans whilst still wearing the Toyo R888 tyres I’d been using on track that year. A journey that I had to temporarily halt in a contra-flow section of motorway because of that pesky miss-fire at yes you guessed it, Membury Services. The fix simple as always; stop the car, it was quiet at 5:00am incidentally, switch it off, remove the key, open the driver’s door and reverse the sequence to pull away without any further issues. Now if that isn’t the makings of a future classic I don’t know what is.
Renault Megane R26 is a left of centre family sized hot hatch that should be allowed to join other greats like the Peugeot 306 GTi and Golf GTi and not be written off in the passages of time like so many others. Below is a video playlist of the Mégane in action during sprints at Colerne Airfield and Castle Combe circuit in Wiltshire and Llandow circuit near Cardiff in South Wales, there are also a few heart stopping moments in there as well.
How does this car make you feel?
In one word: French
As a favourite meal: Giant chips in a baguette with Mayo, Le Mans Style.
Anything Else: I really hope the Mégane R26 does survive to become a future classic.
Key Ingredients: You’ve got to love big booties, but for me the looks, performance and personality combine together beautifully in their own unique way just like with any other true classic from any other era.
With thanks to Renaultsport for not being afraid to think outside the box
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