Not Your Regular Renault

DTW discovers how to jump the queue at your friendly Renault dealer.

Renault Badge

“Can you hear a whining noise”?

“Yes, I think so”

“I heard it a little while back, but it seems to be getting louder”

Hmm, the noise seems to rise and fall with engine revs more than speed, and it’s following us, so that means it is us. I pull off the road as soon as we see a parking area, and lift the rear hatch, casting my eyes and ears around the engine bay, trying to determine the source of the whine. It seems to be from the right hand side.

“Can you see a fine mist?” I ask. “Yes, down in the right corner” replies my wife. Not really what I wanted to hear, but it confirmed what I thought I could see – fine metal flakes emanating from the engine bay.

Bugger!

It’s Thursday morning, and we were making our way back to Amsterdam following a week’s holiday in and around Alsace.  We need to be back by Saturday, the car’s not sounding too healthy and this weekend is a long weekend in France.  An older gentleman comes over to check if we are OK.

“Maybe, maybe not” I reply. Do you know if there is a Renault garage near by? “Mais, oui”, and he motions off up the road, not far away in the next town.

Off we set, me keeping a close eye on the gauges, and we pull up outside what looks like a very busy garage. A few moments rehearsing my French, working out how to explain my predicament, and into the garage I go.

“Any chance you could take a look at my car, it’s making a funny whining sound, and we need to drive all the way back to Amsterdam tomorrow?”

“Sorry Monsieur, we are completely full, and it is a holiday weekend, everyone needs their car serviced”.

“Is there another Renault garage nearby?” I ask.

“They’ll all be full too”

“Anywhere else you could suggest that may be able to take a look at my Alpine?”

“Alpine Monsieur?  What sort?”  “A Renault Alpine A310 V6” I reply.  Now I spot a glimmer of hope!

“Bring the car inside, we’ll see if we can at least have a look for you. Where are you from?”

“New Zealand, but we live in Amsterdam at the moment – the drive from New Zealand would be a bit too far!”

Minolta DSC
A310 V6 in Netherlands

So, I drive the car into the packed garage, and everyone stops. The head mechanic is summoned and there is a bit of a discussion and chin rubbing. The head mechanic gets the car on the lift and has a look around. After a few minutes he informs us that the problem is the alternator bearings have seized, and it’s slowly destroying itself. We should not risk driving the car further. He asks us to wait while he checks to see if they can source the correct part today or tomorrow. After a few phone calls, he informs me that nothing could be delivered until next week.

Double bugger.

After another chat with a few of the other mechanics and boss, they suggest that we both have a look around the town, have a long lunch and come back after 15:00h. With no other option, we do exactly as suggested.

Returning at 15:00h, we see the car still in the workshop. The boss meets us again, and tells us it’s all fixed! They couldn’t get the exact parts, but they had a similar rated alternator in stock for which they made a custom bracket.

“How much” I ask, not looking forward to the answer. “65 Euros”. I asked him to repeat the price, in case my French had suddenly deserted me. “65 Euros, that’s how much an alternator costs us. That’s all we are charging, it has been an honour to work on your car. Have a safe trip back!”

Now there’s a result, but in many ways, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. We’d had so much positive reaction to the car, especially in France. On our last night in France, the owner of an old hotel insist that we park the car in the covered courtyard inside the hotel. We’d had gendarmes pull up along side and motion for us to floor it.

I saw my first A310 in New Caledonia, and thought it looked absolutely gorgeous, especially the glassed in nose cone. I looked for one in New Zealand, but there were none in the country. A few years later, a few GTAs were sold new, but they were out of my price range. However, now living in Amsterdam and having just gotten rid of the Alfa 75 V6 we’d bought in London, I was under instruction that I should get “any car you like as long as it’s a sports car”.  Now, I’m not one to argue with an instruction like that!

After some looking around, a few test drives and a bit more research, I’d narrowed my choice down to one of two rear engined, 6 cylinder cars. One French, one German. The realities of having to leave the car parked outside, and the fact that the A310 simply felt more special to drive narrowed the choice down to the Alpine. I found one I liked for the right price, joined the club, fixed some niggles (mainly down to lack of use) and started using it as my everyday car.

Renault in NL Dorpje
Suburbia, Dutch Style

The A310 was the successor to the famous A110, a car with extensive competition history. It was larger and heavier, more GT than out and out sports car. The first versions, released in 1971, had a 1600cc four cylinder engine from the A110. This model featured six lights behind a glassed in nose. The A310 would have to wait until 1976 to get the power it deserved, this time from a 2.7 litre PRV V6, but with a four speed gearbox, and the front end was changed to four lights behind glass covers. Whilst the engine is not particularly powerful, it only has 1000kg to push around. I went for the later series two, in this case a 1983 model year, which came with the 5 speed gearbox, and it’s even got air conditioning fitted as standard. The alloys are gorgeous 3 piece Gotti wheels, shod with 15″ Toyo Proxes.

Work commitments had me driving all over the BeNeLux region in it.  If the client saw the car, that usually wasted a good half hour discussing the pros and cons of running such a “work” car. We went away on holiday in it around France, Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. The only time we ever felt uncomfortable in the car was travelling over some appallingly maintained roads in parts of Belgium which threatened to shake the car (and us) to bits. It was rock solid at 240 km/h down the autobahn, and an absolute joy to drive round the twisty bits in France. While the (front) boot wouldn’t hold much in the way of luggage, the back seats and parcel shelf could hold quite a lot. Stopping for some boxes of champagne?  Pas de probleme!

With the arrival of our son, we made the decision to come back to New Zealand. The house was packed up, and I confirmed that I could bring the car back without problems, since I had owned it for more that six months. The car was given a fresh APK (Dutch road-worthiness check) prior to it being put into the shipping container – divided in two with the car secured in one end, the rest of the household belongings in the other. I’d also made sure I’d packed a selection of spares, since there was not likely to be a ready supply back home.

DP2M0778_s

We’d been back in NZ a couple of weeks when we got the call that the container had arrived. When we got to the shipping company, we were told that there’d been a bit of an accident, and the the container had been dropped on one end. The result was that the household belongings had slid across and hit the rear of the car, while the front of the car had been pushed into the container door.  Not a pretty sight.

Further bad news arrived a week later when the certifiers checked the car. Apart from the shipping damage, they were concerned about some areas of surface rust that they could see on the steel backbone. They would not certify the car until they could see the full extent of the rust. That meant separating the body from the chassis. And so began the journey of the contents of my wallet to another destination….

After some asking around, I decided on a company that specialised in restoration work not far from home, and I decided that we’d do a fully body & chassis restoration over a couple of years. The interior could wait until the New Zealand sun had done its worst on the original.

After an eventful couple of years, including the challenge of finding suitable RHD headlights, the car was almost ready for me to collect. Now to register it for use on New Zealand roads. Land Transport needed details from the manufacturer in order to decode the VIN number.  Ordinarily that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but it was the beginning of August. And in August, there’s no-one in the former Alpine factory in Dieppe, nor many Frenchmen in any factory in France! Fortunately a considerate official accepted details from a specialist A310 book, confirmed by the Dutch Alpine club, and we also managed to confirm that this was indeed the only A310 V6 registered in New Zealand

So, one wet early spring day in September, number plates in hand, I went off to collect it. I’d forgotten quite how low the car was!  It took a few moments to re-acquaint myself with the car, but after a few kilometres, I started to recall the narrow gear change gate, the smell of the car, the talkative steering and the feeling of being at the same level as most other vehicles hub caps. Oh, and given the rain, those wonderful drunken “clap hands over your head” wipers!

There are some fabulous roads nearby that snake their way over the many hills and mountains round the southern North Island, roads that I know will feel like they are made for the car.

Renault in Wellington
A310 V6 in New Zealand

Bienvenue à Nouvelle Zelande, Alpine. Let’s see what living with such a rare car, as far away as it is possible to get from your homeland, is like. But that’ll be a story for another day.

21 thoughts on “Not Your Regular Renault”

  1. Thanks for that.
    Isn’t it notable how one is re-acquainted with a car after a pause. Your body and brain take a while to sort out the slight confusion and you rediscover controls and levers that previously were utterly familiar.
    How is that V6 to live with?

    1. The V6 is quite pleasant to live with. Being of humble origins, the V6 is not finicky or costly to maintain, it quite happy pootling around the city, and economical on long trips. It’s got a lovely pop on the over-run, and sounds good when given it a bit of a work out. Not quite the same quality soundtrack as the 2.5 litre Alfa V6, but very pleasant nonetheless!

  2. Alpines have always seemed highly attractive to me and, in the UK, all the more exotic because of their rarity, with the A310 the rarest of all. I like the idea of the buzzy 4 cylinder in the light A110, and the V6 in the later A310s. Even when Renault brought the GTA here in the mid eighties, sightings were few. Which is vastly unjust. By most accounts, Alpine discovered how to give a rear-engined sportscar civilised road manners before Porsche did. Snobbery? In the UK I’m sure that was the case. Apparently J Clarkson gave the A610 a glowing review, only to smash one up in a willfully ignorant jokey video a few years later – a strange man. I hasten to say that I came across that on YouTube.

    1. The A310’s ride is pretty good for such a light weight low slung sports car. Proper aspect ratio tyres (225/50/15 on the rear, 195/50/15 on the front) probably help in eliminating harshness.

      Handling on the A310 and later cars is pretty benign when compared to its German rival. When testing the cars prior to buying, similarly aged 911s always felt less secure and planted compared to the A310. I’ve done a handful of track days, and the chassis is quite communicative. Plenty of warning is given before the back starts to let go, and you have to be ignoring all common sense to completely lose it. In then end, physics will always win out though.

      The A610’s handling and road holding was widely praised in its time – LJKS was a fan. The A610 (in this case, a lightly breathed on specimen) can claim to have transported me at the fastest speed I’ve been driven on the road – I last observed the speedo passing 270km/h, and it still felt very stable and composed….

  3. What a great story Paul. I’ve never seen an A310 in the flesh but have always greatly admired its simple 70’s car of the future styling; what a contrast to the messy “styling” of the Prius in the next article ( the advantage of it being, if involved in a crash, nobody would know any different ).

    1. I can see why you call the Prius messy. However, there is an internal logic to it. It’s actually another type of internally consistent form language, akin to the Baroque in relation to pure Classicism.

  4. Since your article I’ve been wondering about the kinship of the A310 with the Renault 5 Turbo, with which I think I read somewhere it shares rear suspension (and gearbox?), as well as the Delorean, with which it shares an engine and engine location, and whose genesis apparently involved the purchase of six A310s to investigate and dismantle.

    1. The phase 2 A310 V6 did indeed share suspension with the R5 Turbo II, a car which I would love to have too. Absolutely bonkers, as is the only slightly more sane Clio V6.

      The gearbox was to be found in numerous small volume cars, including the Delores, Lotus Esprit, etc. The engine in various forms was installed in many vehicles, including the other fast frog, the MVS / Venturi.

    1. Yes, it was a 911. I looked mainly at the 2.4 litre ones. From a financial return point of view, the 911 may have been a better investment, given prices now. I have no other regrets though!

  5. Paul, thanks for this great article about one of my secret favourites. Great title photo, too!

    The reactions of people are mostly positive when you come with an old car, that’s also my experience. Although I’ve never actually tested it in France, and luckily, I never had to use the services of a garage when travelling with my GS.

  6. Great piece and lovely video. It made me want to go out for a spin.

    Are those wheels original and where they available from Renault at the time, or are they an aftermarket addition?

    And no surprise at the reaction from the Gendarmerie – they were among the early users after all

    1. I’m not 100% sure the wheels’ status – Gotti were popular fitment on Alpines. I’m not sure if they were officially sanctioned, official extras, or had some agreement with Alpine. Maybe I need to do some research!

    2. That’s a great photo, studiously posed ‘ “OK guys, keep the helicopter hovering. Pascal can you hold the map a bit higher, I can’t see your holster. Jean-Paul, if you could just look over to the left and stop grinning. Hurry up, we’ve only borrowed the Alpine for the morning. Great … hold it fellows …. SNAP”

    3. You’ve got to admire the cops who persuade a gullible accountant that the only way to stop speeders is to have a Ferrari, an Alpine, a 911, an Impreza or a Gallardo. Though I guess the Dubai Veyron takes the prize.

    4. Judging from the first picture, the Gendarmerie obviously had a very good taste in cars at that time. Too bad they didn’t use a BFG as their motorcycle.

  7. That’s a stunning car. I’m going to keep an eye out on TradeMe for it, but I reckon I might be waiting a while…

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