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Renault RE20, 1980

History of the actual car

The Renault RE20 as raced in 1980 was a successful development of the RS01 (Renault Sport), first raced during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1977.

Initially, the car failed to finish each GP during 1977, then in 1978 the Jean-Pierre Jabouille piloted car finished five times and scored three points at Watkins Glen in the US. For 1979, the new RS10 was available from Spain and Rene Arnoux joined the team and with Jabouille’s first win at Dijon in RS11, Renault’s exploitation of a rule allowing turbo-charged engines as an alternative, was justified.

Following RS10, RS11 and RS12, the new ground-effects 1980 car was the RE20 (Renault Elf), although three sensational wins in Interlagos, Kyalami and at the Osterreichring were counter-balanced sadly, by continued unreliability.

In 1981 the RE20B (e.g. Heller 1/12 scale model) continued where the RE20 left off, new driver Alain Prost winning three races, which then led neatly into 1982 and the sharper-lined RE30B, ever-improving and winning four races two each for Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux. By 1981, only Ferrari and Toleman (Hart) had entered turbo-charged engined cars. The Brabham prototype BMW turbo tested during practice at the 1981 British Grand Prix and was entered in Grands Prix in 1982.


The Model

This is a beautifully executed model produced by Tamiya which I built in 1986. It was  a really impressive modern car back in 1980 and with turbos, with side pods and skirts, acres of bodywork and big Michelin tyres, this model makes a big impression after a run of mid 70’s Cosworth powered cars and the bolder, slightly exotic Ferrari 312T.

I have very few photographs of this model because in the mid 80’s being a University student, I had very little money and although I had a decent camera (Pentax LX), I relied on print film which was quite expensive. There was no reason to record the build process when the final result was right in front of you – why photograph it in and wait a week or two for mediocre pictures? However, what I did do was use the RE20 for a new-found discovery in the Pentax LX which was its ability to take multiple exposures. Therefore, I have a few prints of the Renault RE20 with bodywork on, however showing the internal structure too, a sort of colour X-ray, almost as if Tamiya had brought out clear body shells a decade early. I even went one stage further, projecting these negative images onto actual X-ray film and having a true ‘X-ray’ of a Formula One car (they will be hard to find, stored somewhere safe and precious no doubt). This was 1986, I was 24 and in the middle of my veterinary degree and was in fact recuperating after a bicycle accident in the January and having an enforced year-off. I was very much into photography and artistic expression and spent much time using my camera properly, on a tripod and exploring its limitations. This was a relatively silent world of hours and hours of free time to express oneself creatively like this, also wondering what the point of life was and establishing my faith in God, truly valuable years. Nowadays, youngsters are bombarded by the constant noise of music via headphones and the continuous onslaught of the distractive endless options via computers and social media. I am glad I was born before all this modern explosion of man’s inventiveness with the silicon chip which risks squeezing God out of our lives.

When I built this model in 1986, I was still brush painting all the parts and as a result the model looked sufficiently second-hand ten years later for me to feel confident enough to take it apart and canabalise the parts to bring about a transmogrification into the Renault RE30B, an even more modern-looking car. I always meant to remake a RE20, so the vision was of having the RE30B alongside the earlier car, however to date (2014) the RE20 remains unbuilt in the loft. Additionally, the new car would have one of the upcoming most modern drivers, Alain Prost as driver, a future champion surely!

I recall enjoying the RE20’s variation of superlative engineering represented by the small 1.5 litre turbo-charged engine, the intercoolers, double turbo units, exhaust waste gates, plenum chambers, narrow monocoque, tidy suspension around the latest Hewland gearbox (rather than the previously ubiquitous FG400) and the concept of the aerodynamic floor – the undertray with venturi generating ground-effects. Make no mistake, this is a superb model of a truly important car which began to win Grands Prix for Renault and for those who took a risk in 1977 and exploited the loophole whilst accepting the normally aspirated 3 litre equivalence, in taking on the 1.5 litre turbo.

It took a little while to overcome turbo-lag and especially reliability due to previously unheard of pressures and temperatures the engine parts would be subjected to. Numerous self-destructing turbo units and engine components saw many a Renault racing competitively and having qualified at the front, only to signal a sudden spontaneous end with the high revving engine haemorrhaging vast plumes of superheated water vapour as the internal parts communicated with each other without permission, scattering metal shrapnel across the track.

The large bodywork panels fitted well and justified spray painting, a skill I didn’t have and neither did I have the equipment. Nonetheless, using generous Humbrol gloss paint and the right amount of thinner, a smooth surface could be obtained even with a brush. Many parts of the bodywork were helpfully self-coloured by Tamiya and this lent itself to a quick build, perhaps a matter of a few days, certainly less than a week. If I were re-making a Renault RE20, I would be super-detailing and altering parts left, right and centre and the build would take many months I’m sure, perhaps 6-12 months. The beautifully chromed wheel rims and big perfectly moulded tyres were  a joy to assemble and never looked out of place, unlike the offerings by Heller and Protar which frequently spoilt a model.

So all in all, a really special model to be richly enjoyed and worth making a real effort with, I certainly look forward to doing that when I get round to adding it to my collection again.

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