My First Renault - Clio 197 Weekend/Track Toy Project


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Bit of background - I did a driving experience day at Palmer Sport in Bedford about 10 years ago. Ever since then I wanted a track toy. I spent the last decade thinking about it and making plans. Originally I wanted to build a Haynes Roadster, but I didn't have the space nor could I weld. I decided it would be easier to buy a car to prep. I looked at all the usual RWD suspects but found issues with them all...
  • MX5s - too rusty
  • 350Z - too heavy
  • GT86 - too new and expensive
  • 130i/328i/330i - too heavy
  • S2000 - too expensive
...and so on. Then I thought back to my Palmer Sport visit. I drove lots of cars that day; Porsche 911 GT3, Jaguar XJR, Caterham's, but the car I had the most fun in was the slowest one of them all; The Clio Cup. It felt like a coked up football hooligan combined with an energetic dog in car form. I even had a tyre blow out on one lap in the first Clio I drove and had to change cars mid session. Still loved it. In between then and now I had moved house and now I had a garage, so it was time to pull the trigger.

I started researching the Clio Mk3 and it ticked all my boxes except the RWD bit; cheapish, fast, small and light, not rusty. So off I went in search of a reasonably priced 197. I spent an entire weekend driving all over the place and test drove about 7 different 197s and a 182 most of which were in a bad state until I viewed the last one on my list, a white 197 Cup with 120k miles going for £2825.

I viewed it, took it for a spin and it felt the best out of all the Clios I'd driven that day even though it had some questionable styling and smelled of dog wee, so I bought it.

I got it home, and managed to squeeze it into my garage.



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It's amazing what you don't notice on a test drive. I hadn't actually noticed the smell of dog wee at the time, but now it was permeating the very fibres of my being. I began dissecting the car to see what needed doing to it. The first thing I found was a puddle of wizz under the tool stowage thing in the boot. Next I discovered that the red alloys were in a really bad state. I knew they weren't great from when I originally viewed the car, but closer inspection showed that they were just a complete mess.

It turns out literal nail varnish had been used to touch up the dodgy red paint job on these kerbed to hell and back raiders. Both of the off-side wheels had big chunks out of the edge of the rims which made me think this had had fairly high speed meeting with a kerb at some point.

Then I discovered two of the tyres were essentially bald, at least on the inner 30/40%.

The most worrying thing was the loud clonking noise coming from the suspension on bumpy roads, which seemed to be related to both front top mounts being completely shot and split. They could be rotated by hand while still bolted in place.

I started stripping the Clio down to see what other horrors were in store for me. Next I found out the radiator cross member support was completely rusted through on one side.

The front bumper was all stone-chipped to hell, and the rear bumper had a hole in it that I somehow never noticed when I first viewed it. Looked like it had been reversed into something fairly sharp. It was at this point I discovered that I'm pretty bad at buying used cars.
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I expected an 11 year old car to have a lot of rusty nuts and bolts, but I can only assume this had spent it's last 5 years parked on its drivers side in the sea. The passenger side was rusty but there are parts of the Titanic in better condition than many of the components of the off-side. Armed with 2 cans of penetrating oil I began to disassemble all the parts that needed replacing or at least a good clean.

Front bumper came off to have all the stone chips repaired.

New tyres ordered - Federal 595 RS-PROs in 225/45/R17...

I began the task of stripping the alloys ready for refurb...

I found out that the alloys had the red top-coat followed by primer, followed by silver paint presumably from a past refurb, followed by more primer followed by what I assume is the original finish followed by yet more primer. I spent literally hours sanding these and go so annoyed with it, I ended up ordering a set of Team Dynamics Pro Race 1.2 in graphite.


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I got hold of a new radiator support cross member for £75 off eBay which was supposed to fit "all Mk3 Clios to 2012"...

Spot the difference. Turns out what the advert should actually say is "fits all Mk3 Clios to 2012 EXCEPT the 197"

The radiator support bracket is in a different position for the 197, and their cross members are available from £175 and up. I didn't fancy dumping an additional hundred quid for this. The bracket is spot welded in position, so with a bit of strategic drilling you can end up with this...

...and with a bit of terrible amateur MIG welding, Dremel and some spray paint, you can end up with this...

Top tip. If you don't have access to a welder but need a new radiator support cross member and don't fancy trying to beg Renault to replace it under the anti-corrosion warranty, buy yourself a cheapo £75 replacement off eBay, drill through the welds on the original to get the bracket off and then drill some new holes in the new cross member and just bolt the old bracket into place. The metal is pretty thin and with a decent set of HSS drills you'll be 'reet.


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Next I decided to look at the rear brakes and found that they were binding on even though the car had been parked inside for a few weeks by this point without the handbrake on and it was now up on axle stands. The passenger side was just a bit sticky and was eventually freed, but the drivers side; I tried to rotate the hub with a 3 foot breaker bar between the wheel bolts and nearly bent the bar in half. The caliper was completely ceased and both were in a really bad state so off they came.

It took me a while to figure out the situation with the rear calipers. The seals were ruined and the pistons wouldn't move. I tried to blast them out with compressed air before figuring out I needing a special tool to wind them out. Turns out I didn't need a special tool either. Operating the handbrake mechanism gradually forced the pistons out completely.

The pistons are screwed onto a threaded spindle which the handbrake mechanism rotates to push the pistons out a small way allowing the rear brakes to be applied. When the piston is free, releasing the handbrake should allow the piston to rotate back and retract into the bore. When they are ceased this doesn't happen, so the handbrake mechanism itself can be used to wind the piston out.

I stripped the rear calipers down and prepped them ready for repainting, new seals and a new pistons.

Pro-tip. If you buy new pistons for the rear calipers, you actually need to remove a bunch of stuff from inside the old pistons and fit it into the new ones. There's a circlip, a few washers and a bearing which need to come out and be transplanted into the new pistons.
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Front calipers now came off and I found that the pistons/seals had been absolutely drowned in regular grease. Not rubber friendly grease, just packed with tons of golden low-medium melting point grease. As such the seals were looking a bit odd...

Slightly more ripply than expected, but they looked intact.

I cleaned up all the calipers and fixed up the paint. The rears needed to be painted then have the pistons and seals replaced.

I was just getting ready to re-grease the front calipers with rubber grease on the seals when I discovered that some of the dust seals were actually split. So now this meant I needed an overhaul kit for the front Brembos and needed to remove the pistons and old seals.

This was a painful and scary process that required a lot of various sized pieces of wood, ear protectors, compressed air and a can-do attitude.

Removing pistons from the 4-pot Brembos is difficult, because as each piston is removed you have to then block up the air-flow from that bore. Having lots of various sized pieces of wood with different thicknesses helps here. It's surprising just how much pressure is required to get the pistons to pop out. This isn't a gentle process, when they finally give up they go with a bang. Be ready for it so you don't poop your pants (like I did).

More to follow...
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While I waited for parts to turn up, I decided to do some work on some of the cosmetic defects. The front bumper was severley stone-chipped and had been touched up in a few places and the rear bumper had a hole in it where it looked like the car had been reversed into something pointy. Front bumper came off to be stripped down and sanded...

I then used some HB BumperSoft filler to repair the nicks and chunks that were missing...

...and then did a lot more sanding once dry, ready for a second application of filler to fill a few remaining pin-holes...

The hole in the rear bumper got its first coat of filler. You can still see the damage to the bumper itself underneath, but this will get sanded and refilled a few more times until it's not visible.



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I mentioned before that I'd discovered a loud clonking coming from the suspension on bumpy roads. On further inspection I found both front top-mounts were wrecked and needed to be replaced. As the car has done over 120K miles, and I had no idea how old the shocks were, I replaced both front cup shock absorbers too as they're quite cheap.

The OSF came out no problem, but on the NSF the nut on the anti-roll bar drop link was really stuck. To get them off you have to stick an allen key in the end of the thread and then use a spanner to remove the nut. Without the allen key the whole joint just rotates. However the thread was so corroded that the allen key kept slipping and eventually chewed it up completely.

I ground a slot into the end of the thread so I could attempt to use a big flat screwdriver, but that too just got chewed up.

In the end I had to resort to angle-griding through the drop link thread, which meant a quick trip down to EuroCarParts to pick up a new pair of Moog links.

Finally got the whole thing off and removed the springs from the shocks.

You may notice the rubber mallet in a lot of these pictures. This says nothing about my competence as a mechanic and more about the crappy weather we have in the UK :smile:

This car came with H&R springs which were pretty bad shape on the front. Lots of the power coating had come off and much more of it was flaking and trapping water and debris close to the steel.

They got treated to a few coats of industrial paint stripper...

After stripping them clean, I primed them and spray painted them black with some common satin black rattle cans, just to give them a bit of short term protection. I know that finish won't stand up to the constant flexing, but they're better than they were.

New cup shocks went back on, new anti-roll bar drop links and freshly re-painted H&R springs. Also gave the hubs and uprights a bit of a clean with a wire brush and everything got a generous smear of copper grease.



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Seal kit and piston arrived from BiggRed this week, so tonight I replaced the seals and the buggered piston on the front Brembos.

Plans for this weekend are to...
  • Lube up the front calipers with Castrol Red Rubber Grease on the seals and copper greases on the pistons
  • Replace the rear caliper seals and pistons.
  • Replace the rear axle rigid brake lines (assuming DHL deliver them tomorrow)
  • Re-install all the calipers and pads
  • Install the Goodridge braided lines front and back.
  • Change the brake fluid to Motul RBF600 and bleed everything.
Hopefully my new wheels will also arrive tomorrow, so I can go and get the Federal RS595-PROs fitted and balanced. Once I can get the car back into a road-worthy condition, I need to take it out for a 30 minute run to let the STP rad flush I put in do its work and to warm up the fluids before dropping engine and gearbox oil and coolant.


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A few other minor repairs I've done...

Painted up the centres of the brake discs with high temp satin black paint... probably overkill as I doubt they'll get too hot.

Swapped in some new NGK sparkplugs. The old ones didn't show any obvious signs of oil consumption or overheating, but did look like they'd been around a while. The electrodes are quite worn down. There is a lot of corrosion around the nut and bottom of the insulator, so I made sure to use a bit of dielectric grease around the tips of the coils when putting the new ones in.

Repainted the alarm button holder thing for the bonnet as it was rusted very badly.

Also repainted the brackets which hold the rigid brake lines in place in the front wheel arches as again they were very rusty.

I've also been trying to replace as many non-load-bearing nuts and bolts with stainless equivalents for ease of future maintenance. The torx screws that hold on the brake discs for example (although I got the wrong size) and the torx screws which hold the brake hose bracket to the hub.
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Busy day today, and the Clio is starting to look a bit like a car again rather than a pile of parts. My replacement rear brake lines turned up today after the drivers side one got mangled trying to undo the nut from the caliper. I can't stress how useful a decent pair of locking pliers or vice grips are when working on rusty cars. I can recommend Milwaukee ones, only about £15 on Amazon.

The first job today was to reassemble the rear calipers with the new pistons and new seal kit. Got everything laid out. Cleaned up the slides and bolts and got ready to transfer the stuff inside the old pistons into the new pistons.

Used Castrol Red Rubber grease on the slide pins. I've had a tub of this stuff for years and it's really great for brakes as it doesn't damage or weaken rubber seals like normal grease does. I suppose you could also use silicone grease.

When fitting new rear pistons, you have to remove a load of parts from inside the original piston as these are part of the handbrake mechanism. First thing you have to do is remove a circlip and then if you're unlucky everything just drops out and you have no idea what order things are meant to go back in. Don't worry, I got you fam...

Into your empty new piston, put the threaded spindle thingy labelled 1. It's got a rubber seal on its underside which you should replace. The threaded hole/shaft points towards the open end of the piston.

Next drop the bearing labelled 2 in, you want it facing the way it is in the photo. The other side you see the metal ring is recessed and more of the ball bearings are visible, you want that side facing down, towards the closed end of the piston.

Then drop the rest of the stuff in, in order and finally put the circlip back in. You'll ideally need a proper pair of circlip pliers to do this as it's pretty strong. It's a bit fiddly, but not impossible. Just make sure the circlip has seated properly.

Here's a closer look at those parts...



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New pistons in, with new seal kit for rear calipers. The dust seals are a pain in the arse to get right.

Front calipers overhauled with new seals, re-greased and re-fitted along with Goodridge braided hoses.

Test fitting the new wheels which arrived on Friday. Team Dynamics Pro Race 1.2 17" in Satin Graphite.

Brembos looking much better after a refurb, clean and touch-up of the paint using E-Tech red caliper paint. Not an exact match, but close enough.

Refitting the rear calipers... don't do what I did and fit them to the wrong sides. Only noticed when the brake line wouldn't reach...

New Goodridge rear hoses fitted.

Rear calipers re-fitted after a refurb, looking much nicer and much cleaner. Replaced the brake hoses on the trailing arm too with genuine Renault from Kam Racing (which are cheaper than RPD, but actually came from RPD)

Scuttle panel cleaned and refitted. Took the opportunity to clean out the drainage channel which empties out into the wheel arch. Both sides had the rubber drain completely blocked with crap, so that was all removed. Wipers also put back on.

Replaced the failed washer pump and refitted the screenwash tank after giving it a good clean. I now have working front and rear washer jets!

Front light clusters are now back on too. It's starting to look like an actual car now :smiley:

Continued with some of the cosmetic bodywork stuff too. Got the front bumper sanded and first coat of primer added. There was an area of paint on the drivers side wing where it looks like the clear coat had flaked off leaving a weird sharp ridge, so that got filled, and the rear bumper damage got what is hopefully it's final coat of filler.

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Awesome job. Which paint did you do your brake disc bells with? My 200 needs this doing as they look rusty.

Frank Perry

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This thread is brilliant. I check in every update to give it a read and it's like I'm watching a new series on TV. Gutted when the episode ends and can't wait for the next.

Fantastic stuff @bigsid - Keep it coming!
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