Ask any car fan to name the most famous nation for performance cars and there are a few answers that will always come up. Italians are famous for their exotic supercars, Germans for their technically excellent and brutally fast machines. Americans produced the muscle car, and the Japanese took automotive technology to the next level. The nation of France doesn’t usually come up at all, but it’s produced many more incredible machines than most car fans might think.
The French have been producing some of the best sports cars around ever since the birth of the racing automobile. Many French manufacturers have a strong rally and racing heritage, and that’s produced some seriously good cars over the years. French auto history encompasses everything from hypercars to vintage racers, but there are some models that stand out above the rest. Let’s take a look at ten of the greatest sports cars ever to come out of la République Française.
10 Renault 5 Turbo
The Renault 5 Turbo was a sports version of Renault’s 5 hatchback, originally commissioned in response to the racing success of rival Lancia in the late ’70s. The Turbo was designed by Marcello Gandini of Bertone, best known for designing the Lamborghini Miura and Countach.
Although the body looked similar to the mundane regular Renault 5, underneath the car was almost completely different. For starters, the Turbo was RWD, and used many parts from racing manufacturer Alpine’s parts bin. Originally only 1,000 examples were to be produced to meet racing homologation requirements. However, the car sold so well that in the end Renault sold nearly 5,000 cars through a six-year production run.
9 Peugeot 907
In the early ’00s, Peugeot came tantalizingly close to producing an all-out supercar. The 907 was designed by the company to showcase the their design talent, and featured a 6.0L V12 engine making 500hp.
It was only ever built in concept car form, but unlike most concept cars, the single example made was actually fully functional. Unfortunately it was relegated to limited track testing and touring the car show circuit, but it’s a testament to Peugeot’s capabilities as a performance manufacturer.
8 Citroën SM
This delightfully weird sports coupe was produced from 1970 to 1975, and gained much critical acclaim for its ride and design. The SM’s engine was designed by Maserati, after Citroën bought the Italian company in 1968.
Combining the Maserati engine with Citroën’s revolutionary new suspension meant a ride and smoothness unlike any other car on the market at the time. It wasn’t the fastest of models, but reviewers reported it being streets ahead of rivals in comfort and handling dynamics.
7 Renault Clio V6
The Clio V6 is a sports version of the company’s popular hatchback. It was designed by RenaultSport and developed by Tom Walkinshaw Racing. That gives the car some serious performance pedigree and it has the spec sheet to back it up. The car sported a 252hp engine, making it the most powerful production hot hatch in the world at the time of its release.
As well as power improvements, the car underwent a full transformation in almost every other aspect. The engine was moved from the front into a mid-engine position, then the car was converted from FWD to RWD. The car was also stripped of anything not deemed essential, and a wide body package was added. It resulted in a seriously fast hatch that is unlike anything Renault have produced since.
6 Delahaye 135MS
The automaker Delahaye was founded in 1894, way back in the early days of the motor vehicle. The 135 was the manufacturer’s first foray into sports cars and produced strong racing results, including in the prestigious Alpine Rally.
The 135MS was the sportiest version of the 135, produced in a significantly different body shape to other 135 models. It was the most popular variant for racing, with the hottest version offering over 160hp. It’s not known exactly how many survive today but many examples were lost to racing accidents or stripped for parts.
5 Renault Alpine A110 1600S
French racing manufacturer Alpine was taken over by Renault in the early ’70s, with their first car under the new ownership being the A110 1600S. The A110 model had been around since the ’60s, but this new iteration proved to be the best yet.
The A110 put in a spectacular performance at the 1973 World Rally Championship, winning six rallies and the overall series title. This was a seriously impressive feat considering rivals like Porsche, Lancia and Ford all had much more financial backing than the little French manufacturer.
4 Bugatti Type 35
Many car fans don’t associate Bugatti with France, as the name sounds distinctly Italian. Although the company was founded by an Italian immigrant, the company is French through and through, being based in the town of Molsheim, Alsace.
During its early days Bugatti was solely a racing manufacturer, and the Type 35 was the most successful of its models. Astoundingly the car won over 1,000 races, including the 1926 Grand Prix World Championship. It also won the Targa Florio for five years running, from 1925 to 1929.
3 Alpine A110 ’17
Alpine launched their new A110 as a standalone brand in 2017, separate from parent company Renault. Developed largely in-house, the top-spec car sports 288hp while weighing just 1,114kg (2,456lb).
It’s an all-round excellent sports car, so good in fact that the designer of the McLaren F1 uses one as his daily driver. In an era where the sports car market is on the decline, Alpine proved that it’s still possible to make an all-new future sports classic.
2 Peugeot 205 GTI T16
Only 200 examples of the GTI T16 were ever built, as homologation requirements for the unhinged 205 Group B rally car. They share a lot in common with the rally version, having the rear seats ripped out and replaced with a mid-mounted 1.8L turbo engine.
A wider body is underpinned by a tubular steel chassis, with huge scoops and vents also taken from the WRC car. Unfortunately the T16 doesn’t get the rally-spec 500hp, instead having to make do with a more sensible 197hp. It does have 4WD though, so it’s a scarily capable machine in the right hands.
1 Bugatti Veyron
The release of the Bugatti Veyron quite literally changed the car landscape forever. It helped usher in the era of the hypercar, producing speed and power that most had assumed impossible before.
With a top speed of 253 mph, the original Veyron was the fastest production car in the world when it released, beating the Koenigsegg CCR. The even faster Super Sport version recorded 267.9 mph in 2010, making it again the fastest car and holding on to the record until 2017.
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