Buying Guide Renault Clio Williams
The Nineties hot-hatch legend is still surprisingly affordable for an icon.
Words JAMES WALSHE
Photography MAGIC CAR PICS ARCHIVE
Buying Guide Snag yourself a Nineties icon – the Renault Clio Williams – with confidence
Just as the Peugeot 205GTi 1.9 bowed out of production in 1992, the Renault Clio Williams took on its mantle as the king of the hot hatches. It became an instant icon and prices reflect its increasingly collectible status. An entertaining combination of a large four-cylinder engine and a lightweight, compact, well-balanced supermini, it was originally built as a race/rally homologation special, spawning a breed of hot Clios that continue to this day. But with fewer than 1200 UK-spec cars imported, finding a good one is not straightforward.
‘It took on the 205GTi’s mantle as the king of the hot hatches’
We called on the expertise of Karl Fasulo of modern-classic specialist KGF, Tony Hart of Renault specialist Prima Racing, and Fish Brothers Renault, which operates classic parts supplier Renault Parts Direct.
Which one to choose?
- Introduced in 1993, and following on from the 1991 Clio 16v, the Renault Clio Williams was devised to permit the car to compete in Group A rallying with an upgraded chassis while also homologating the 2.0-litre, 16-valve F7R engine for use in the Williams-designed Laguna Super Tourer. Renault built 3800 in 1993, all in Sports Blue, of which 390 came to the UK in right-hand drive. Each wears a numbered dashboard plaque.
- As demand outstripped supply, Renault continued building the car in 1994 after the homologation process was complete. The resultant Williams 2 did away with the dashboard plaque. 482 came to the UK. Again, all Sports Blue.
- For 1995, the car was evolved into the more luxurious Williams 3. Painted in the slightly lighter Monaco Blue, this car featured a sunroof, electric door mirrors and rear stereo speakers. Production continued until 1998 although UK deliveries stopped after 1995 with 308 cars sold. Succeeded by the cheaper, mass-produced Clio 172 in 1998.
Check the outer sills for signs of rot and accident damage, and be on the look-out for rust and bubbling paintwork around the rear wheelarches in particular; what looks like minor bubbling will be a sign of rot pushing through from behind. The doors and tailgate should also be checked for corrosion, as wellas the floorpans and the boot floor; crawl underneath the Clio to check the inner sills and box sections for corrosion. Crusty sills and rust on the floorpan cost upwards of £3000 to put right.
The engine fitted in the Williams is a 2.0-litre version of Renault’s F-Type powerplant that first appeared in 1982, with a twin-cam 16-valve cylinder head and fuel injection. It’s robust and reliable if it’s maintained well; just make sure you only buy a car with a comprehensive service history to ensure it’s been properly looked after. However, head-gasket failure isn’t unknown, so do check for the usual signs of oil in the coolant and vice versa. Check that all the fluids are to the correct level and examine the main engine mount to the right of the power steering reservoir – this is prone to cracking. Rocker cover gaskets are known to leak and hydraulic tappets can wear, so listen for excessive noise. Look out for blue smoke that can indicate a hard life, naturally. A top-end rebuild will set you back £500.
The Clio Williams’ clutch pedal is by nature quite stiff, although you should check for clutch slip and make sure that all the gears engage without crunching. The uprated JC5 gearbox is reliable but is not a unit that responds well to long-term abuse; on your test drive, make sure it doesn’t jump out of gear. The unit is common to several Renaults, so second-hand gearboxes can be found from £250, with rebuild kits coming in at £190. The likely cost of either replacing or reconditioning will run to £500. If you find excessive movement of the gearstick when the car is cruising at speed, this could be an indication that the engine mounts are worn.
Suspension and brakes
The all-round independent suspension is relatively uncomplicated with front struts, telescopic dampers and rear trailing arms, but check for signs of wear. Does the car feel sloppy when cornering, and is there more body roll than you’d expect? Try to inspect the dampers for signs of leaks, as well as looking for this on previous MoT advisories. Also check the front anti-roll bar because this can suffer from accident damage and abuse from incorrect jacking.
The braking system is basic with only the Williams 3 coming with ABS as standard – although each of the three generations at least has discs all round. On your test drive, make sure the car stops in a straight line and there are no scraping noises that suggest worn pads and probably discs. The handbrake was never the Clio’s strongest point, but it should still hold the car.
Check for play in the steering column – a common problem on high-mileage examples – by seeing if it’s possible to wobble the steering wheel left and right when the road wheels are static. On ABS cars, usual problems are the clip from the driveshaft gaiter coming off and spilling grease on the sensor, or ABS ring wear.
Interior and electrics
The interior of the Clio Williams can suffer if the car has been abused or covered a lot of miles, so check for upholstery wear as well as sagging front seats. Make sure the original blue carpets are in place and in good condition – replacements aren’t available and even the overmats cost £200 a set. Feel around for signs of dampness, especially under the glovebox area which would suggest a leaking heater matrix – an impending £1000 fix. Electrical problems are common, so check that all the gauges work and that the electric windows aren’t slow.
Closely check that the various ‘Williams’ stickers are positioned correctly. If not, it could be a sign of previous damage. Worse still, it could be a fake Williams. On that note, make sure it has the correct Williams kick plates too.
Other clues that’ll confirm it isn’t a replica based on a 16v include the wider track front and rear, and a yellow dip stick with a white dot on it. Williams 1 and 2 models didn’t have a sunroof, while only the Williams 1 got a numbered plaque.
The genuine Williams powerplant is a 2.0-litre twin-cam unit with a 16-valve head and fuel injection and not simply a boredout version of the 16v’s 1.8.
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Peter McIlvenny of specialist classic car insurer Carole Nash says, ‘Over the last ten years the Renault Clio Williams has seen a steady appreciation in values and I see no reason for this not to continue for the next decade. There is a premium for the first incarnation, while its successors enjoy broadly similar values. ‘Where these will level out is hard to gauge at the moment – as is the case with a few Nineties classics – but if you’re looking to buy one it’s fair to say there are very few bargains out there. ‘The good news is the majority will have been taken care of, but don’t rush in, and do your homework. Ensure everything is as it should be, such as the numbered plaque (only on Williams 1) and the engine code is stamped F7R, not F7P. Finally, as with any hot hatch, look for poor accident damage repair, and the after-effects of over enthusiastic driving on the engine – but most importantly of all, get in the driving seat and enjoy it!’
Classic car insurance quotes: 0333 005 7541 or carolenash.com
Interior isn’t the best quality, and can suffer wear Check for dreaded ‘mayonnaise’ under the oil filler cap
Owning a Clio Williams
Phil bought his Williams, car 180, in 2014 and spent four years restoring it from the ground up. ‘There are so few available, I am lucky to own one. I had to work hard to restore it though. Parts like trim and plastic fixings are hard to find. But it now looks like new and, crucially, it drives like new. The Williams is every bit as fun as I had hoped it would be.
‘The Williams 1 will always be the most desirable because of that little numbered plaque. W3s are actually the rarest and come with a sunroof and a few extra goodies, although values don’t reflect that, making it a bit of a bargain. Few Clio Williams of any kind come up for sale, so it’s worth joining a club or chatting with owners to see who’s selling theirs.’
Dave has loved the Clio Williams 1 since it was first released. ‘It’s the archetypal Nineties hot hatch and I’m reliving my youth!’ he says. ‘I paid £2200 for Williams number 179 five years ago, but it was in boxes. I finished restoring it in summer 2020. ‘My friends repainted it in its original Sport Blue; I did all the other jobs myself. It cost £16k to build a balanced engine and rebuild everything else. And that’s with no labour! Fragile plastic trim was hard to source, and I bought four basic Nineties Clios as donor cars. Finding the outer window seals and original parcel shelf was a challenge.
‘It’s had a small snagging list. I had to find a new sealing ring for the exhaust manifold, then a synchromesh retaining spring broke – I had to rebuild the gearbox again.’
What to pay
- The market generally likes the raw original homologation-run special, so the cheapest Clio Williams are 2s and 3s. Sound but scruffy running examples with dubious history can be found for as little as £4000, with the best examples making £8250 and dealers asking up to £13,000.
- A genuine 1993 Williams,authenticated and complete with numbered dashboard plaque, will fetch a lot more — £10,750 for an average example, rising to £20,000 for a mint one at a dealership.