Siblings Claude and Bernard Marreau were born in Nanterre, sons of garage mechanic Robert – and petrol flowed through their veins from an early age. In the late 1960s that led them to take a world tour in a Renault 4 – and a movie of their adventures won amateur film of the year at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. The brothers went on to break the world record for the Cape Town to Algiers run in 1971 and featured in several other African races before taking their little Renault 4 Sinpar 4X4 to the inaugural 1979 Paris-Dakar rally. Their unexpected fifth place finish gained them their nickname, ‘the Desert Foxes’ and, the following year, they exceeded their own expectations by finishing third in the same race. An official partnership with Renault soon followed.
Another assault on the Paris-Dakar title was planned for 1981, this time using a Renault 20 as the base. Designed and created by Renault's Head of Automotive Styling, Gaston Juchet, the Renault 20 took its name from its 1,995 cc engine, and was known for its simple presentation, flexible suspension and comfortable interior. Little did people know it would soon conquer one of the world’s most prestigious rally raids.
BUILT FOR THE DESERT
In February 1980, a bare body was delivered to the Marreau brothers, and the pair set out to cut, strengthen and weld their ideal car ready for the 1981 edition of the race. The front suspension remained standard, but a Renault Trafic body bottom was grafted to the rear. The exhaust emerged spectacularly from the front bonnet and ran along the windscreen and then the roof. Other modifications included the removal of the rear bench seat to be replaced by a 200 litre petrol tank that supplied a 1,565 cc Renault 18 turbo engine, that offered 110 hp and connected to a modified five-speed gear box, also serving to adapt it to 4X4 conditions.
The brothers had to drop out of the 1981 race with car trouble, but were more determined than ever when the 1982 edition came around. Departure from Place de la Concorde saw 382 participant vehicles set off in an atmosphere of fun and fanfare. Over the coming days it became clear that the Desert Foxes’ now long-standing knowledge of racing in Africa and their Renault 20 was giving them an advantage. Eventually, their excellent navigation and driving skills won through, and they resisted the challenges from Briavoine-Deliaire (Lada), Jaussaud-Brière (Mercedes) and Ickx-Brasseur (Mercedes) to cross the finishing line ahead of the rest of the field.