The Renault Sport Spider Is A Rare Open-Top Roadster From One Of Renault’s Wildest Eras

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Back in 1996, Renault relased a roadster designed to be extremely minimalist. Built by subsidiary Renault Sport, the Spider didn’t have a windshield, a roof, ABS, a heater, or any real comfort feature. Instead, it was supposed to deliver pure sports car thrills. But the company made relatively few examples and the car, overshadowed by the Lotus Elise, seems to have been forgotten to time.

Renault of the 1990s and 2000s released banger after banger. It’s honestly hard to pick a favorite because the company put out some truly fantastic vehicles. There’s the Espace F1 concept, a people carrier for four fitted with a 3.5-liter V10 rocking 820 HP. And who can forget the quirky Avantime, the cheerful Twingo, and the hot Clio V6. Perhaps less remembered today is Renault’s effort to make track-oriented roadster with a striking design. Just 1,726 Sport Spiders were made, and yes, you can import them into the United States!

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Craigslist

In an archived press release, Renault explains the Spider’s origins. In the 1990s, Williams-Renault Formula 1 cars racked up wins and podium finishes, putting Renault into the spotlight with racing fans. The company decided to capitalize on the extra attention by releasing a range of sporty cars.

Renault traces the Spider’s design back to the Laguna Roadster concept that was presented at the 1990 Paris Motor Show. Like the Spider, the Laguna Roadster featured a striking design that was devoid of such comforts as a roof or a windshield, just a huge wind deflector. Renault got to work making a prototype of the Laguna Roadster concept car.

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Renault

Originally, Renault thought to just make a fun track car, but the decision was later made to make the resulting vehicle road legal. Renault Sport teamed up with French engineering firm Nogaro Technologies to make the roadster happen.

The Spider made its debut at the 1995 Geneva Motor Show, and attendees got to see some great engineering at work. The body is plastic, but underneath is an aluminum chassis. Renault says that going with aluminum not only helps strength, but cut weight to 2,050 pounds. Mounted behind the open cabin is a 2.0-liter F7R engine from the Clio Williams and Mégane Coupe. That’s making 150 horsepower and delivering it to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual. This was good for a zero to 60 mph sprint in 6.7 seconds. Oh, and for some extra flair, these have sweet butterfly doors.

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Renault

As noted before, Renault intended this car to be a pure racer, and thus it came without any creature comforts. The company even recommended that you drive it while wearing a helmet. Renault notes that this car would be the first to be badged as a Renault Sport, a brand that started as a motorsport division, and would later be a performance label for Renault. And these cars continued Renault’s rich history with Alpine. The two companies collaborated and such famous cars like the A110 and the GTA. The Alpine plant in the French town of Dieppe was chosen to build the Renault Sport Spider.

Renault’s Spider was to be more than just a track car and a road car, too. The company also intended the car to be a part of a one-make racing series. Of the 1,726 examples built between 1996 and 1999, Renault says that 90 Spider Trophy cars were built for competition use. These came with changes like safety cages and got 30 more horses than the standard car.

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Renault

The Spider came at just the right time. Its contemporaries include the Caterham 21 and the first-generation Lotus Elise. And by the looks of things, it almost seems like Renault copied Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s idea of “simplify, then add lightness.”

And a year into production, Renault also decided to give buyers a few luxuries. They could get a windscreen, wipers, and a tent of sorts that acts as a roof. Unfortunately for both Caterham and Renault, the Lotus stole the show. UK’s Evo did a road test of the Spider and found the Spider wonderful, but it wasn’t enough to compete with the Elise. Lotus says it produced 12,000 Elises between 1996 and 2001.

Today, it seems like these little French track cars have been lost to time. When was the last time you’ve even heard of one of these, if you’ve even heard of these? I was only reminded that they exist when one was recently found abandoned. [Editor’s Note: I grew up in Germany around the time the Spider came out, and I remember seeing them fairly regularly on the roads around Europe. I loved them as a kid; still do! -DT]

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Craigslist

And yes, you can have these in the States! The wonderful folks of Opposite-Lock found this 1997 for $69,990 on Craigslist of all places. That’s more than what they sell for in Europe, but of course, you’ll find fewer of them in the States. Right now, you’ll find 16 of them on German vehicle marketplace mobile.de. The cheapest is about $37,300 at current exchange rates and the most expensive is about $58,000. Most of them have the optional windshield like the one here and all of them have low mileage. Even the cheapest one has just 50,000 miles. The one for sale here has just 8,790 miles.

I did some digging and the aforementioned $69,990 car seems to be the one of if not the only one for sale for the United States right now. And it’s apparently still on the boat on its way here.

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Craigslist

This car is said to be coming from Switzerland, and, amusingly, this is one of the few ads where the lack of safety items and the lack of creature comforts are selling points.

While the Spider wasn’t a smashing success, Renault remembers the roadster as the first road car to get Renault Sport branding. Today, Renault Sport has its hands on models from the Mégane to the cutesy Twingo. And, if you’re looking for something different to import, the Spider might be the ticket!

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19 Responses

  1. I have fond memories of seeing Jason Plato (later of Fifth Gear, the Channel 5 rip-off of Top Gear) absolutely dominating at Silverstone in the Renault spider racing series back in the day. According to Motorsportwinners.com, he went on to win 9 out of 13 races in 1996, but astonishingly also says that Andy Priaulx won every single race in 1999. Perhaps the racing wasn’t as competitive as I thought!

  2. The Renault Sport Spider is probably my favorite late 90’s design. That line that defines the lower bumper, then wraps around the air intake, and transitions into the out profile of the headlight. It then drops down to define the frunk, finishes off the outer intake line and ends up back at the bumper line. *chefs kiss*

  3. For what it’s worth, the quote is “simplicity and add lightness”, inaccurately ascribed to Colin Chapman and William Stout, creater of the Scarab. Apparently the originator was Stout’s mechanical engineer

  4. I knew of these in the late 1990s when I was a kid. Loved them. They were quick for the time period they came out in, but compared to today’s offerings, they could use significantly more power. For the price, I’d much rather have an Ariel Atom.

  5. I have always loved these, and the similar (but not street-legal) Nissan Saurus. I’m not too proud to say that those exposed coil-over shocks in the engine bay make me think all kinds of impure thoughts.

  6. Always loved these, never seen one on the road, I don’t know how many were sold in the UK.
    I assume they were much more expensive than the Elise, I can’t see why else they sold so very few.

    1. I can’t find the Renault’s original MSRP, but its real Achilles heel was it’s porky curb weight. Despite having no roof, it weighed 2050 lbs. The Elise, meanwhile, weighed in at a featherweight 1541 lbs. The Elise was faster to 60 and nimbler in the corners…and it had a roof!

  7. A friend of mine has one, and it has some interesting details. To go into reverse you have to turn the shift lever, I haven’t seen that in any other car. And the handle to open the frunk is under the driver’s door. To store a small suitcase in front you have to stand over the door to put the key in the lock, open the door and then you can open the frunk.

  8. > When was the last time you’ve even heard of one of these, if you’ve even heard of these?

    I actually said, “Renault Sport Spider” as my answer to June 27ths Morning Dump question: “What car made between 1997 and 2007 and never sold in America would you bring in if it were legal?”

  9. I think the only reason I knew about these was through taking copious advantage of my library’s Road &Track subscription in the late 90’s (I’m certain they tested one against an Elise to show the forbidden fruit). I’ve still never seen one IRL (unlike the Gen1 Elise), although Toronto’s Lotus dealer had one for sale for quite some time.

  10. That is a very cool and weird car that I had no idea even existed, thank you! Not sure if it’s $37,000 worth of cool, though. Definitely not $70,000, not with those power numbers. But I’m glad they exist, because major, mass-market automakers don’t get this crazy nearly often enough.

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