Racing Blue has been slathered over French tearaways since way back in 1900. And with his Clio’s hot-to-trot chassis and surprising turbo conversion, Charlie Thompson’s bringing this classic colour screaming into the modern age…
There was a time, round about the turn of the century, when the Mk2 Clio was where it was at for young enthusiasts. Yes, Citroën were offering insane finance deals with free insurance on the Saxo VTR and VTS, and countless teenage gearheads took advantage, but Renault’s alternative was the more considered option. To a great many car fans today, the Mk2 Clio will always be a dreamy and aspirational thing; no matter how affordable they may have become in recent years, they’ll always be on a pedestal, always filed on our mental watchlist under ‘I want one of those, one day…’
You see, if you turned seventeen in the late-1990s or early-2000s, you and your mates most probably found yourselves driving about in a Vauxhall Nova or a Renault 5, something aged and rusty that you picked up for beer money. But for the fortunate few, those who had saved their pennies from their Saturday jobs and managed to scrape together a deposit for something shiny and new, the boxfresh Mk2 Clio was there to make your motoring dreams come true. Sure, no 17 year-old would be able to insure a full-fat Renaultsport 172, but the monthly deals on the small-engined models were amazing. The panache and mystique of a new car made the rest of us insanely jealous, in our rattly old runabouts.
So the new-millennium Clio is a special thing. And this mystique certainly wasn’t lost on Charlie Thompson: “I always had a soft spot for the Renaultsport Mk2,” he recalls. “One of the many reasons was the colour palette that Renault offered: Racing Blue, Liquid Yellow, Inferno Orange, Petrol Blue, and Flame Red… and of course there’s the idea of putting a big engine in a small car, the power-to-weight ratio is outstanding.”
It’s interesting to note that, while his first car wasn’t a Clio, the act of acquiring one really flicked a switch in Charlie’s brain. “I’ve only owned two cars in my twelve years of driving – a 1.2 Fiesta Zetec, and this Renaultsport Clio 182,” he continues. “The only mods I did to the Fiesta were a K&N air box, Kenwood CD player, big subwoofer and the old combo of Ripspeed gearknob, chrome pedals and wipers, and blue neons. It was a bit of a Halfords special, but we all have to start somewhere!”
After a couple of years of sticking things to his Fiesta, Charlie had started to hanker after the Clio of his dreams, and a chance meeting on a weekend away was the ultimate catalyst for change: trying his best (and failing somewhat) to race a Racing Blue 182, he just knew he had to get one of his very own. And so, back in 2010, he did.
This particular car was found on Auto Trader and, having just passed his 20th birthday, Charlie knew the insurance wouldn’t be too hideous. One test drive was all it took to seal the deal, the deposit was slapped down there and then. “It was everything I was looking for,” he remembers. “One previous owner, very low mileage; the cambelt was due for a change and I wanted to have this done by a specialist, as if they’re slightly out it can decrease the power on these F4R engines by a fair amount, so I wanted it to be bang-on. The bodywork was in great condition and finished in factory Racing Blue, and the car was bog-standard.”
Naturally, bog-standard was merely a starting point here. This may have been the car of Charlie’s fantasies, but it was never destined to stay stock; no, there was eager and effervescent mischief at play here from the start. The plan from the get-go was to create a one-of-a-kind Renaultsport Clio, and that’s precisely what he’s worked hard to achieve.
“The Clio was my daily-driver for the first three years, then a change in jobs meant I got a work van so the Clio became more of a weekend toy,” says Charlie. “And that’s when all the big stuff started happening! The modifying bug really kicked in when I went to my first Renaultsport meet in Southend, and found out about a specialist in Dorset: I was in need of a new exhaust as mine was blowing and rusty, so I decided to get booked in at K-Tec Racing for a full cat-back stainless system with matching decat.
Once I was there I noticed the amount of aftermarket parts which were available, and I ended up reaching further into my wallet…”In the twinkling of an eye, the blue 182 was being treated to a carbon fibre BMC induction kit, uprated spark plugs, ignition leads and a remap, and the journey from Dorset back to Essex was a revelation. Charlie was hungry for more, and it wasn’t long before he was back at K-Tec for a variety of chassis mods.
Now, it would be easy to paint this as a picture of a sepia-tinted dream fulfilled and that everything was candy and roses, but that wouldn’t be wholly accurate. You see, this car’s been through quite a few engines… not that they’re inherently problematic motors, but because Charlie’s been keen to chase more power out of them and it took a fair bit of trial-and-error to arrive at the tuning sweet spot. “I found I was pumping a lot of money into these engines and not really getting the gains I had hoped for,” he explains. “I had four engines fail on me, all naturally-aspirated; I’d always been told that the valves are the weak link and that’s what ultimately caused the failures. The fourth nat-asp engine I put in had a wild set of 421 Cat Cams which was great, but again this engine only lasted me three weeks! I decided I’d had enough of NA tuning and opted to go the boosted route with my fifth engine…”
That motor is the one you see here, and since he bought it back in 2016 we can assume that things are working out a little better this time around. The first job was to completely strip the thing down and rebuild it with the internals from the Renaultsport Megane R26, as well as uprating the valves and of course replacing all belts, pumps and gaskets. It’s a strong and carefully considered spec, and the cherry on top is the SB WORX turbo kit, which brings a Garrett GT2554R snail to the party along with all the necessary accoutrements – intercooler, fuelling, manifolds, pipework and so on. Combined with all of those R26 upgrades, Charlie’s force-induced F4R is now running a safe and reliable 265bhp and 260lb.ft, giving him an impressive power-to-weight ratio of 257bhp-per-tonne.
“There’s been a lot of people and companies involved with my build over the years; some I would like to thank… and some I wouldn’t,” he says. “There were many hurdles with this car – a lot of companies who let me down and left me without a running car that had to be trailered around the country to other places for them to finish the job. This happened a few times, but that’s all water under the bridge now, I’m just happy that I can take it to shows and events and it gets the attention it deserves.”
See, this isn’t some fly-by-night project knocked together for Insta-likes, this has been a labour of love over a number of years. The fulfilment of a long-held dream, which has spun itself out into a prolonged effort to reimagine the Mk2 Clio as the best possible version of itself. Back in 2000, we’d have all been gazing with wide eyes and open mouths. Let’s face it, that’s exactly what we’re doing now.
TECH SPEC: Renaultsport Clio 182
Racing Blue, Clio 182 Trophy spoiler, Clio 172 Phase 1 rear bumper, Clio 200 rear diffuser, Clio 182 front wings modified for vents, CCF fibreglass bonnet with aerocatches, Evo V bonnet vent, Streamline Carbon front/rear diamond badges, Streamline Carbon foglight surrounds, Streamline Carbon 2.0 16v side bullets, Streamline Carbon rear wiper blank, Streamline Carbon exhaust surrounds, Streamline Carbon side spats, Streamline Carbon front splitter, Renaultsport (RS) rear badge, Team Heko wind deflectors
Clio 182 2.0-litre 16v F4R block/head – full strip down and rebuild, Megane R26 rods and pistons, Megane R26 head gasket, Megane R26 bottom-keyed pulley, Megane R26 injectors, Megane R26 spark plugs, Supertech inlet/exhaust valves, ARP rod bolts, ARP head bolts, all belts, pumps, oil jets and gaskets replaced, Magnecore 8mm ignition leads, Pure Motorsport air-con delete kit, custom 2.5in cat-back exhaust system with 2.5in decat, K-Tec Racing solid engine, gearbox and dogbone mounts, Bailey Motorsport header tank, oil catch tank, Forge coolant hose kit, relocated Odyssey race battery under passenger seat, Innovate SGC1 boost controller/AFR gauge, Evo Pro Sport oil pressure gauge, Mocal 13-row oil cooler, Engine Dynamics 5-paddle clutch kit, Pure Motorsport Racing Precision gear linkage kit/short shifter, SB WORX turbo kit inc. Garrett GT2554R turbo, custom boost pipes, front-mount intercooler, cast exhaust manifold, Engine Dynamics 2.5in downpipe, Engine Dynamics 2.5in link pipe, custom air box, RamAir filter, turbo/water lines, Walbro 255 high-flow fuel pump, modified fuel sender unit with fuel return, EFI boost module, uprated map sensor, Racing Blue engine cover, mapped to 265bhp / 260lb.ft
16in Clio Cup Speedline Turini wheels, Racing Blue centre caps, 205/45 Yokohama Advan AD08R tyres, GAZ GHA coilovers, Whiteline rear anti-roll bar, K-Tec Racing solid top mounts, K-Tec Racing 15mm (front) and 5mm (rear) spacers, Pure Motorsport wheel stud kit, Pure Motorsport bump steer correction kit, Pure Motorsport 1.5° rear camber shims, Pure Motorsport camber bolts, OMP front and rear strut braces, K-Tec Racing Wilwood 4-pot front calipers with Brembo high-carbon grooved discs and Mintex 1144 pads, Brembo drilled rear discs with Brembo pads, K-Tec Racing braided lines, Motul brake fluid
Sparco Rev seats, Sparco 3in 4-point harnesses, Sparco subframes and side-mounts, Sabelt Renaultsport steering wheel, MOMO boss kit, rear seat delete, 4-point bolt-in rollcage, K-Tec Racing rear boot mat, Renaultsport mats, boot net, fire extinguisher, carbon shaft on shifter, custom cruise control bracket, Pioneer DVD headunit, Sony speakers, white LED conversion throughout, custom 2-pod pillar-mount gauge holder, colour-coded centre console, door handles, door pulls, dash strips and speedo surround in gloss black/Racing Blue
“Thanks to Jonathan Saidi, Tom Cazneaux, Connor Wragg, Dale Masterman at Meguiar’s UK, Chris at EFI Parts, Simon Bates, Dave Kemp, Kevin Cleasby, Jules and Fast Car for giving me the opportunity to get the Clio out there and noticed, and most importantly my wife for putting up with me and the car.”
Words Daniel Bevis Photography Slim Jules