15th January 2020

Whatever happened to Nicole? A warm romance and a hot hatch - The Renault Clio turns 30

A nation was hooked. Millions waited for the latest instalment of the romance, being teased by cliff-hangar after cliff-hangar. With a main character that was proved to be more recognisable to the British public than the current Prime Minister of the time, an enduring romance for the 1990s had been created; not as a soap opera, but in the form of a car advert.

Unveiled in Paris in 1990, the Renault Clio was the successor to Renault’s enduringly popular super mini of the 1970s and 80s, the Renault 5. Loosely based on the Renault 5 platform, the Clio featured updated styling, a range of up to date engines, and a broad range of trim levels to appeal to buyers, but most of all, from its UK launch in 1991, the Clio enjoyed sales success thanks to those adverts.

When the Clio was launched with a choice of 1.2 and 1.4 petrol engines, and 1.7 and 1.9 litre diesel units, fuel economy and low running costs were assured, but excitement for the driver was somewhat lacking. With the hot hatchback still being very much at the height of its popularity, and the high excitement of the Renault 5 Turbo still fresh in the buyers’ minds, Renault saw the need to introduce a more performance focused version. The 1.8 litre Clio 16v was duly launched at the end 1991, its 130 bhp engine and subtly tweaked styling cues proved popular, if not electrifying for the public.

The real Va Va Voom (to borrow the Clio’s later slogan) and the hot hatch that the public had been waiting for came in 1993, in the form of the homologation special, the Clio Williams. Related to Renault’s F1 partner in name only, it was engineered and built by RenaultSport the motor sport division of Renault. The Williams was a Clio built for the track, but legalized for use on the road. Enjoying a 2.0, 16v engine which, contrary to the popular belief was not merely a bored out 1.8, but which was was unique to the model, it featured an uprated 5 speed gearbox, a bespoke front subframe with a wider front track, a bespoke manifold and higher performance suspension components than any other version. The public and press were impressed, and the limited edition run of 3800 cars sold out so fast that Renault went on to build a further 1600 examples – much to the annoyance of the owners of the initial examples.

Today, the Williams Clio is still considered by many to be one of the greatest hot hatches of all time. Still renowned for its sweet handling, and the potency of its 145 bhp engine, they have been considered modern classics almost from new. As the Clio now approaches its 30 year anniversary, and with just 56 examples still currently on the road, it is fair to say that the status as a collectors car is here to stay.

For those wondering how Nicole’s story ended, when a staggering 23 million UK viewers tuned in to watch the final advert go live in 1998, it was to see her marry not Hugh Grant, or Richard Gere, but to abscond with Bob Mortimer in a witty send-up of the Graduate film. The Clio may have grown old gracefully, but it seems Nicole did not.

Do you have classic Williams Clio? Let us know in the comments!