Almost everything has a slush box these days, which is why Lenny’s five-speed manual Renaultsport Clio is a sight for sore eyes. He tells Imran Malik why he loves it.
Kids usually hate going to school but you didn’t mind so much because of your ride…
That’s right, I remember being driven to school on a rainy day in a silver, late Seventies Fiat 1100 with a slightly raspy exhaust. If your first memory of a car is something Italian, you are bound to turn into a car nut.
After I learnt to drive I really started to appreciate good drivers’ cars. I realised that a car did not have to be powerful to be fun. Tearing up and down the hills around Bombay in cars with no power steering, a manual tranny and a small high-revving engine is some of the most fun I have had in a car.
You had quite an interesting first car. Tell us about it…
My first car was a HM Contessa, an Indian model based on the Seventies Vauxhall Victor. It was in the worst possible condition. Its black paint was cracking, it was rusty, it ran rough and almost none of the electrics worked. But I loved it because it was cool, unpretentious and looked mean compared to the swarms of Suzukis roaming the streets of Bombay. It had quad round headlamps, which were broken and the sharp pieces of glass looked like sharks’ teeth. I had to sell it when I moved to the UAE but I will buy another one some day.
You then bought this Clio. How did you come across it?
I bought it from a fellow enthusiast in Dubai about a year and half ago. It’s a 2005 Renaultsport Clio 182 cup pack which is quite rare in the region. It was a car I always admired, generally regarded as one of the best hot hatches of all time.
It has a lot of character and that slight hint of lunacy really appealed to me. I have been told by the previous owner that it is one of just fifty in the UAE and one of only three painted Gordini racing blue, so the rarity made it even more appealing. But from a practical point of view it’s a small, comfortable, fuel-efficient car. There really wasn’t a downside to the deal..
It’s in really good nick…
It is my only car and I use it to commute to work so it has about 120,000km on it. But I have always serviced it on the dot and replaced parts — in some cases before they
needed to be just as a preventative measure. I intend to enjoy it for a few more years so I try and keep it in the best condition that I can.
These are great for the track. Have you taken it there yet?
Yes I have been to the Yas Marina circuit for a evening track day once. It was an awesome first track experience. There was even a Lancia Delta Integrale there and I passed it! Probably the best drive I have had in this car and it’s not going to be my last.
It has a 2.0-litre four-pot putting out 180bhp and has a power-to-weight ratio of 165bhp-per-tonne, meaning it is rapid. The engine revs all the way to 7,500rpm and really begs to be thrashed and I, of course, love to do just that.
You chose this over a couple of other hot hatches, right?
Yes I was considering a Mini Cooper and a Golf GTi but opted for the Clio for two reasons. First, it represents the kind of cars I like the most, so even knowing this car is parked in my garage gives me a kick. And secondly, I absolutely love to drive it. The chassis is superbly engineered to scare you and make you smile, all in the same corner.
The short wheelbase means it changes direction like it’s dodging bullets. The steering is perfectly weighted and communicative and there is never a dull moment in this car.
Best of all, it’s a five-speed manual!
You feel more in tune with how the car behaves driving a manual. Holding a gear lever and adjusting the car’s line through a corner using the throttle is great fun.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of blipping the throttle on downshifts in preparation for a corner and it makes it even more rewarding when you get everything
Any plans to modify it?
I think the car is very well set up from the factory so I won’t do anything too drastic to it. I’ll just treat it to a few things that the factory might have skimped on.
A lightweight stainless steel exhaust by KTR is first on my list to get a little more crackle and pop on the overrun and a set of Recaro seats from the Clio 200 to improve the driving position a bit.
Do you find it is instantly recognisable?
To be honest not many people know what it is. I have only had maybe a handful of people come up to me to tell me how much they like it, which was nice. I guess it’s just that sort of car, it has a small but loyal fan base but it’s not to everyone’s taste.
Maybe not, but we sure like it. What is the performance like?
It really surprises other drivers sometimes. It goes from 0-100kph in six and a half seconds, which is enough to keep up with bigger, more powerful cars.
But the real highlight is the handling. I just wish we had more corners than straights in this country. Jebel Hafeet is my favourite stretch of road. The car feels at home there
but sadly I don’t know of any more like it. But it’s only in the confines of the track that I feel free to really throw the car around and explore its limits.
Finally, what cars are on your wish list?
I have a few — a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, TVR Cerbera 4.5, Lotus Esprit V8 and the Porsche GT3 RS 4.0.