Renault 12 Gordini: Front paws in need of lion claws

31 March 2014
High hopes. Renault expectations that its new 12 Gordini would soar to greater heights of motor sport success than its R8 predecessor would not be met. The switch from rear engine/rear wheel drive to front engine/front wheel drive proved to be a critical shortcoming in competition use. (Image from: www.telegraph.co.uk)

Renault Australia’s victory over the Holden Dealer Team in the 1970 Australian Rally Championship, using its potent R8 Gordinis, had such a positive effect on image and sales that the company was keen to launch another assault in 1972 with its new front wheel drive Renault 12 Gordini – but this time Holden’s lion was roaring and ready to pounce.

A year is a long time in motor sport and by the time the new works-backed Renault 12 Gordini attack led by 1970 ARC champion Bob Watson was underway, Holden’s LC Torana GTR XU-1 had more than a season of intense competition and development behind it.

This resulted in a fast, agile and rugged rally weapon that clinched the 1971 ARC title. And for 1972, the LC had been replaced by the latest LJ model, powered by a larger and more powerful 3.3 litre (202 cid) version of Holden’s triple-carbed hot six that promised to make life even harder for the competition.

Even so, given Renault’s audacious 1970 ARC win and the French marque’s renowned commitment to competition excellence, its latest rally weapon was considered a threat to HDT’s dominance even before the first shot was fired in the 1972 ARC war.

The new Renault 12 sedan in standard form was an advanced car for its time and, with a very light kerb weight below 1000 kgs, was considered an excellent starting point for the development of another Gordini-tweaked competition car.

Australian rally champion Bob Watson flings the agile Renault 12 Gordini through the forests during a special stage of the 1971 Dulux Rally. The new car showed great potential on debut, finishing fourth against quality opposition. Another four Gordinis were shipped in for the 1972 season. (Image from: www.bobwatsonrally.com.au)

Released in Australia in 1970, the front-engined/front wheel drive Renault 12 was designed to fill the gap between the rear-engine/rear wheel drive R8/R10 models and the larger front engine/front wheel drive Renault 16.

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