40 years of the Fuego coupe: a car that made history on the street and on the tracks

Same protagonists, two different times. Juan María Traverso with a Fuego de calle and the version that ran on TC2000. The first photo is from 1986, the second, from 2022 (Photos Rogelio Cano and Press Renault Argentina)

The first units arrived from France at the end of 1981. It was a revolution for the Argentine market, accustomed to medium-sized saloons or sedans and large sports cars, rather American, such as the Dodge coupe or the Chevy coupe, not to mention the beloved Torino coupe, which was also born from a model from the US market.

Only Ford had sought to update to the European trend with the Taunus coupewhich had the “something eighties” straight lines to offer anyway. Renault had brought the R18 and had shaken the market with a car that was strong, powerful and equipped, but front-wheel drive. Another innovation. Then the Fuego coupe arrived in Argentina.

Robert Opron's novel design was noted for excellent drag coefficient but the roominess of a four-door sedan
Robert Opron’s novel design was noted for excellent drag coefficient but the roominess of a four-door sedan

The drawing was by a Frenchman who came from Citroën, Robert Opron. It had in its portfolio no less than two icons from another of the great French manufacturers: the SM and the famous CX. And his first success at Renault was this sporty, rounded coupe that, seen from the side, was shaped like an egg, even with its strange One-piece curved bezel. A victim of COVID-19, Opron passed away in March 2021, at the age of 89, but he did know and enjoy the success of that idea called Fuego in Argentina.

Because since the end of 1981, when the Fuego coupe was imported into our lands, the immediate demand meant that in record time, Renault decided to adapt the Santa Isabel assembly line to be able to manufacture the car in Argentina. So it was. The fact of sharing Renault 18 platform made it possible for the manufacture of the first pre-series units to begin in March and serial production began in July. At the beginning, the Argentine version had 50% national components, but only a year later that proportion was already 63%.

Juan María Traverso, Oreste Berta and Pablo Sibilla, next to the restored 1987 Renault Fuego, at the Santa Isabel Plant (photo by Renault Argentina Press)
Juan María Traverso, Oreste Berta and Pablo Sibilla, next to the restored 1987 Renault Fuego, at the Santa Isabel Plant (photo by Renault Argentina Press)

The version was the GTX, with a 103 hp 2-liter engine and a top speed of 183 km/h. For the time, they were very acceptable values, and being a front-wheel drive vehicle, even more so. If on the outside and under the hood it was a completely different car from what was known, the interior equipment was too. First for being a coupe but having capacity for four passengers comfortably seated. Later, at special “petal type” seatselectric windows, air conditioning, AM/FM radio with autoreverse cassette player, electromagnetic door lock, digital clock and spot light for the passenger.

It was in 1985 that the first Fuego coupe appeared on the tracks. I would run in TC2000, the most sophisticated category of Argentine motorsport of tourist cars. It was prepared by Oreste BertaDuring those years, the person in charge of the technical management of Renault in competition, who had put the Renault 18 at the top of the Argentine Rally Championship from 1982 to 1985.

TC2000's first Fuego coupe.  It was prepared by Oreste Berta, handled by Daniel Mustafá.  He could not win, but it was the kickoff to a long period of victories (Photo Rogelio Cano / Alejandro de Brito)
TC2000’s first Fuego coupe. It was prepared by Oreste Berta, handled by Daniel Mustafá. He could not win, but it was the kickoff to a long period of victories (Photo Rogelio Cano / Alejandro de Brito)

With the Cordovan pilot Daniel Mustafá, debuted in Las Parejas, and shortly after, a second car driven by Ernesto Bessone (h), managed to win for the first time with the model in Las Flores. Renault left the rallies and with the certainty of the proven technical possibilities with a R18 in the hands of Juan María Traverso first and after those two particular Fires, he decided to disembark with an official team in the category.

The challenge was double, because Ford had just presented its revolutionary Sierra XR4 coupé the previous year, and that 1985, the first unit that was put to run, had taken the TC2000 championship with Rubén Daray. You had to go in and beat him, because in the streets, the competition between both models had already been born sports too.

Berta-Traverso's first TC2000 Fuego coupe debuted winning the title in 1986 (Photo Rogelio Cano / Alejandro de Brito)
Berta-Traverso’s first TC2000 Fuego coupe debuted winning the title in 1986 (Photo Rogelio Cano / Alejandro de Brito)

Renault commissioned Berta to make the team with two Fuegos, one for Traverso and the rest for its official rally driver, Ernesto Soto, who did not have much experience on the track. And the result was crushing. Traverso won the 1986 championship, was runner-up in 1987, champion again in 1988, runner-up to teammate Miguel Ángel Guerra in 1989, and from 1990 to 1993, he took the next four championships. The Fuego coupe dominated the category in those 8 years, taking all the titles consecutively.

But at the end of 1992, after celebrating 10 years of commercial and sporting success, the Fuego had already left the assembly line in Córdoba.to give way to models more in line with the times. As well as the Fuego had replaced the Torino, other cars would take the post of this phenomenon that retired with all the laurels.

Fire at its best.  An afternoon of qualifying at Concordia in 1993, with Traverso taking a Pole Position.  It was the last year of the car officially running on the tracks.  (Photo Rogelio Cano / Alejandro de Brito)
Fire at its best. An afternoon of qualifying at Concordia in 1993, with Traverso taking a Pole Position. It was the last year of the car officially running on the tracks. (Photo Rogelio Cano / Alejandro de Brito)

Almost like a twist of fate, the partnership between Berta and Traverso also ended with the Fuego coupe, and from then on, both would go their separate ways. But throughout that shared time, there were milestones that will never be forgotten. that race that Traverso finished on three wheelswinning second place Mario Gayraud in Pigüe in 1987the famous victory with the car catching fire (paradoxical) in General Roca in 1988, and the farewell that was not, because Traverso could not run the last race of the official Fuego in TC2000, since he had been declassified on Saturday in Resistencia, Chaco, in December 1993.

But without a doubt, one of the most exciting stories is another that occurred in 1988, and was motivated by the car color change which is still fondly remembered. “At the request of one of the team’s sponsors, that year 88 They decided to paint the coupes of my Fuego and Guerra (who joined the team that year instead of Soto), black. The impact it caused was such that every Monday after a TC2000 race, dealerships across the country were filled with requests for black Fuego coupes. But since it wasn’t the best-selling color, they couldn’t supply it at the factory and people were left on the waiting list to receive their car. So the following year they were white again”, says Juan María Traverso.

In 1988, the TC2000 Fuego was painted black, and its success generated so many orders that the factory decided to go back to white for 1989. (Photo Rogelio Cano / Alejandro de Brito)
In 1988, the TC2000 Fuego was painted black, and its success generated so many orders that the factory decided to go back to white for 1989. (Photo Rogelio Cano / Alejandro de Brito)

As a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Fuego coupe in our country, Renault Argentina invited both characters this July 25 How much identity does that car have? Oreste Berta and Juan Maria Traverso were entertained at Santa Isabel Plant by Pablo Sibilla, President and Director of Renault Argentinain the company of a group of retired brand employees that were part of those years, and of Fuego coupe fanswho took some units to exhibit along with one of the Traverso cars that has been restored to new and is part of their personal collection.

Tribute to the queen.  The Fuego coupes of all the models that were sold in Argentina, surrounding the 1987 Fuego by Juan María Traverso, the first to have the number 1 painted on its sides (Renault Argentina Press Photo)
Tribute to the queen. The Fuego coupes of all the models that were sold in Argentina, surrounding the 1987 Fuego by Juan María Traverso, the first to have the number 1 painted on its sides (Renault Argentina Press Photo)

At the meeting there was many anecdotes of all kinds, experiences of both, trainer and pilot, not only regarding the TC2000 races but also the car in everyday life. In 1986, when the official Fuego coupe began to compete with Traverso at the wheel, part of the brand’s advertising campaign was to link the racing car with the road car. Emulating that photo, which illustrates this note, Traverso returned to stand between the two coupé Fuego with his hands on the ceiling of both units, although now, without the flameproof suit and helmet, but with 6 TC2000 Champion titles that at that time, they had not yet entered their statistics.

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