This May, Jalopnik’s Patrick George stuffed an unruly V-6-powered Chevrolet Camaro into the tire wall at a press launch in Detroit, and the internet came alive with some of the greatest YouTube comments in history. Crashing a car at a press launch isn’t new, though, as evidenced by this July 1965 Popular Mechanics article.
Associate Automotive Editor Alex Markovich was on hand to run the Renault R-8 Gordini. The R-8 Gordini was a smoking hot little rally car right out of the gate, was the basis of a lot of successful rally cars.
The R-8 Gordini launched in 1964, at the Paris Motor Show that October. The R-8 Gordini was just 11,500 francs (about $2,350 in U.S. dollars in 1964), yet still offered a 105 mile per hour top speed, and razor-sharp, rear-engined handling.
Like the Volkswagen GTI a dozen years later, the R-8 Gordini was the performance version of a cheap, plentiful compact car. It was derived from the Renault 8 released in 1962, but it got a power boost from a 1108cc engine, boosted to 95hp thanks to a cross-flow cylinder and dual twin-choke side-draft Weber carburetors. In 1966, the Gordini got a slightly bigger engine, and the dual Cibie driving lamps mounted inside the outboard headlamps.
In the hands of rally drivers, the R-8 Gordini took victories at Tour de Corse, Rally Poland, Rallye Açores, Rali Vinho da Madeira, Boucles de Spa and Rajdowe Samochodowe Mistrzostwa Polski. In the hands of Associate Auto Editor Alex Markovich, though, it suffered a less-than-spectacular outing.
“I entered the corner corner at about 45, gently feeding gas. What happened next has never happened to me before, in seven years of testing hundreds of cars on highways, byways, and racetracks,” Markovich wrote. “The tail should have slid out. Instead, without warning, it lifted; the car rolled bumpety-bump on its roof and flipped. But the windshield popped out neatly, as it should. The roof, though wrinkled, had not caved in, and thanks to the seat belt, I suffered only scraped knuckles.”
Markovich’s advice for making the R-8 Gordini handle more predictably was the kind of advice you only got in an era when doctors were still recommending which cigarettes to smoke: “Another possibility is switching from radial tires to conventional tires,” Markovich wrote. “Many racing drivers dislike radial tires because of the suddenness of their breakaway.”
For Renault’s part, it defended itself by providing a litany of comments from auto journalists that didn’t end up on the roof. Without coming out and saying it, Renault suggested that Markovich should maybe take a few driving lessons: “The nation’s top 20 auto authorities who have tested R-8s praise them. All leading car magazines laud R-8 cornering. How do expert views compare with yours?
Denise McCluggage, Town & Country‘s racer-writer, called it ‘easy to handle in corners.’
Science & Mechanics added ‘You feel a skid coming long before it happens.’
Writer Steven Wilder summed up respected opinion. The MIT graduate, Society of American Engineers member and ex-race driver said: ‘If you try, you can roll almost any car, but even a skillful driver has to try much harder with a race-ready car like the R-8 Gordini.'”
In not so many words, then Renault suggested that Markovich was not a top 20 auto authority nor an expert, and that Popular Mechanics was not a leading car magazine.
Thanks to Jon Yonan for sending along the vintage Pop Mechs. The hernia truss ads alone are worth a read.