Not by steel but water.
Alpine, they of sporting Renault-based pedigree, was founded by Jean Rédélé in 1955, since then carving out a niche of elegant, rapid machinery. Having made a name for itself, not to mention an illustrious competition record with the seminal Alpine A110, its radical looking 1971 GT successor – the A310 – featured a wedge-shaped design inspired by de Tomaso’s Mangusta along with Ferrari’s Daytona and was something of a directional change for the Dieppe-based manufacturer.
This dainty dart weighing just 900Kgs, with a steel backbone and fibreglass bodywork might just squeeze four humans inside and gave the Nunelfer something to consider, handling-wise. However, while Stuttgart’s quality values edged ever higher, the somewhat threadbare Normandy facility came under scrutiny. Overall build quality was seen as lacking by wealthier customers. Reports of a vague gear change, possibly due to the long linkage between box and lever left Alpine selling under 2,500 units in its first five years. The 1976 updates, saw sales figures improve to 9,276 over its eight year tenure – Alpine’s finest hour to date.
Renault took a 70% share of Alpine in 1973, although production remained in Dieppe. Rédélé now had access to Billancourt’s larger reserves in both design and manufacture. With both parties brimming with confidence (if not cash), the augmented alliance actively looked towards poaching customers from Hethel, Stuttgart, the Far East and even Modena.
Retaining the rear-drive, rear engined layout, the 1986-released GTA measured 4,330 mm in length and a not insubstantial 1,755 mm wide. More demure in height at 1,197 mm, the composite steel and plastic substructure’s wheelbase came in at 2,339 mm, 70 mm longer than its predecessor. No panel commonality was held between the 310 and GTA. Double wishbones all round helped keep the tyres in contact; 195/50VR15s front with wider profiled 255/45VR15 rearward. The steering was unassisted.
Snugly fitted, the ninety degree Douvrin PRV6 – type Z6-A 700 – weighed 150Kgs. Displacing 2,849 cc, this engine developed 160bhp along with 166 ft/lbs of torque. Swerving the R25 references, GTA tipped the scales at 1,150 Kgs. Its svelte fibreglass bodywork was cut by means of a computer controlled nozzle, which emitted water at 3,500 bar with a diameter just 0.15 mm for exceptional accuracy – the process generating deafening amounts of noise.
The GTA’s styling meanwhile has become something of a competitive minefield. Renault appear to have instructed Berex, a “discreet office for studies and exploratory research” to begin with. Known for their secrecy, this decision seems obvious. But Renault also commissioned their in-house designers residing at Rueil-Malmaison in Greater Paris, under the leadership of Robert Opron. Here, Yves Legal started proceedings, whilst in America, the AMC studio of Dick Teague also took up pens. Adding more intrigue to the equation, was Yves Dubinard and the team at Heuliez, with all attempts known under code names D50 and turbo 501.
According to accounts, a three quarter complete 1:5 scale model was worked on for weeks in the Heuliez studio by Gérard Godfroy. Missing only the nosecone section, Godfroy, having been away for a few days, missed the deadline. The team hastily brought in a model maker to complete the study which won, to Godfroy’s dismay. The car then headed to Berex for extra fettling and made production ready.
Inside, the tasteful petale seating appeared ergonomically sound. The dashboard, with stereo was a forty button-fest. As regards the steering wheel, one might say broadly acceptable rather than handsome. Under-bonnet storage space was improved, compared to its 310 sibling; the spare wheel having migrated to the engine bay beneath a heatproof cover.
Contemporary magazines were impressed. Autocar cracked the 0-60 in 7.5 seconds with 0-100 in 22 flat, maxing out at 139mph. A stiff, stubby but precise five speed manual gearbox placed ahead of the rear axle was praised. Motorsport appeared to bring a model back to Blighty with favourable comments. “Terrific to look at, fun to drive and very fast”, they said. Gordon Cruikshank continued with, “neutral handling; you’d never know it’s rear engined. Comfortable, floor mounted pedals and no door handles. Press the button and the door electrically springs open an inch affording finger light use.” Renault GB charged £19,000, naturally aspirated and for 1987 the Turbo at £23,635. Pricey. Home customers were levied 199,100F; a 944 tipped 350,000F.
The idea of Renault selling such exotica was anathema to many – a contemporary French sports car gunning for Porsche? Billancourt gazed further West, the United States earmarked for invasion. Untold amounts were spent on a federalised version, replete with more controlled emissions along with unique bumpers and pop up headlights. But this brought about a conflict of interest.
During the mid-1980’s, Renault had exactly zero dealerships across the fifty states. Sales would therefore be confined to AMC franchises. After something in the region of 21 GTAs had been shipped to America, Renault offloaded AMC-Jeep to Chrysler. The Pentastar had other plans, prioritising their own TC by Maserati, and no desire to sell two, expensive sporting coupés, killing off any form of expansion and lucrative dollars to much chagrin on both sides of the pond.
Turbocharged PRV’s producing 200bhp were re-routed to meet stricter emission standards for nations such as Switzerland, Germany and Austria, the openings generating a coefficient of 0.3 – 0.02 up on the natural breather. Alpine’s 35th anniversary in 1989 saw the exclusive Mille Miles released. Numbered 1-100, extras included ABS, polished alloy rims, Philips stereo, leather finishes and pearlescent hues. 1990 brought about Le Mans editions, of which only 26 units reached the UK, all in burgundy hues – now with 16” front rubber, 17” aft.
Almost forty years later, we still have a modern looking, chiselled coupé. Unfussy, a DTW mantra that we wish would continue, the car can only be an 80s child.
But was the weight of the diamond shaped badge too heavy? Akin to the music industry, not breaking America was financial suicide. Just 6,484 of all types were made before the replacement A610 arrived and soon after, Alpine’s temporary, if long winded hiatus. Meanwhile, a chance meeting with an almost forty year old example parked outside a a quiet village garage (closed on Sundays), revealed a car this author had almost forgotten. I’m most thankful for having been reminded of the GTA – we’ll probably never see its likes again.
Data Sources: Autozine.org, Gettotext.com, hemmings.com, motosportmagazine.com, Silodrome.com
44 thoughts on “Chiselled”
Good morning, Andrew. I can’t make my mind up about this Alpine. I find myself looking at these cars every now and then. A good example is still not that pricy and I like the exterior very much.
However, there are some downsides. I’m not that fond of the PRV engine and the dashboard looks rather fragile and brittle to these eyes. Some parts must be difficult to get hold off as well. Right now there are two nice examples in my area for sale for less than what a new base VW Polo is going for these days.
I’ve never had the opportunity for a close inspection of a GTA but I know somebody who bought a 310 V6. When he ripped it apart to repair the frame he found that the seat belt anchors (and the seat runners) were attached to the GRP with no contact whatsoever to any metal part of the frame. I don’t know how it is with the GTA but such carelessness would be enough not to buy the car.
Spare parts supply is astonishingly good – much better than for any Italian car of comparable production numbers – because in France specialists are remanufacturing many parts and caring for Alpines is seen as a matter of national pride.
That’s quite shocking. We have an expression in Dutch: “iets met de Franse slag doen”. It would translate to “do something the French way”. The expression means so much as to do something halfheartedly. The seatbelts you mentioned here are a good example of this practice.
Disclaimer: I don’t mean disrespect to anyone from France, French speaking, etc.
The seatbelt anchor DaveAR referred to must be due to some very dodgy repairs. My A310V6 seatbelt anchors are properly secured and were checked by a Certifier (along with everything else) when it was restored. The restoration was necessary due to the container in which it was transported from the other side of the world being dropped.
Some parts, like any parts for cars of that age can be tricky, but there are specialists (mainly in DE, NL and FR) that can supply most parts, and various clubs do get stuff re-manufactured. Mechanical bits are pretty easy for the most part, many other bits are sourced from more prosaic cars of the era. Certain body parts can be challenging.
The PRV engine actually works quite well in real world use non these cars, and on my A310 sounds pretty nice too.
The best aspect of these Alpines must be their windscreen wipers
Ah, that’s a deal-breaker for me: I’ve always thought there was something of the ‘kit-car’ about the Alpine and the sloppy, imprecise action of those wipers just reinforces that impression and would annoy me every time I used them. The seat belt anchorage issue is terrifying. It’s a good-looking and distinctive car, but I’d run a mile from it. That notwithstanding, thanks for an enjoyable read, Andrew.
Apropos of nothing else, wherever that video is shot (can’t read the location) is practically the perfect location to drive a car that looks like the Alpine! It’s an expression of the eighties vision of driving glamour made concrete…
That’s a mesmerising video, and not just for the wiper action. LHD car on RHD roads. I watched more than two minutes of it thinking it might be Birmingham, before realising the location was definitely Japanese.
Daniel. I too found the wiper movement distracting on that video, though like many quirks I think it would become endearing with ownership. But in defence, I’d point out the action isn’t imprecise. The wipers are slightly out of phase to allow a cross over in the centre of the screen, leaving a totally swept arc. You might ask why not use a single wiper, Citroen and Mercedes style, but having to only cover just half the screen means the wipers can do their job faster.
As for the build quality, Dave was referring to the A310 seatbelt mounts. With their own name on the GTA, I’m sure Renault would have been far more careful.
I seem to remember Setright being very impressed by the GTA’s braking on the North Circular (I wonder what he was doing) and, among Clarkson’s many crimes, there’s a video of him, that I won’t dignify with a link, appearing to trash both verbally and physically its A610 successor. This seems particularly unfair since, back in the 80s, Alpine reportedly understood far better than Porsche how to make a rear-engined sports car handle safely.
Hi bristowfuller. I understand the reason for the wipers to be out of phase but it’s the apparently flimsy (for want of a better word) way that they sweep and, in particular, the way the right-hand wiper jumps back up an inch at the end of its intermittent stroke that suggests to me that the engineering is a bit sloppy and imprecise.
This is how to engineer a windscreen wiper for a tall, heavily inclined windscreen:
These windscreen wipers would drive me mad.
If they had to fit two wipers close together why couldn’t they use an arrangement like Mercedes W116 or R107?
Daniel. Comparing it to Mercedes’ magisterial wiper mechanism is just plain unfair! Even Citroen had to admit that they couldn’t match that and had to revert to twin wipers on the XM.
They could have made the wipers like this. Then there’d also be no vertical stream of residual water
‘Salvage Hunters Classic Cars’ featured a GTA in the last series ( and found spare parts an issue ) and many years ago Ed China fettled an A310 in Wheeler Dealers.
I know the GTA is more polished, but I always preferred the looks of the A310 with the solid rear quarters.
I spend a considerable amount of times behind the wheel of a Merc equipped with this wiper and it drove me mad. It looks great in this video, but when you are stationary you can actually feel the wiper move inside the car. You hear it too. My favorite wipers are on the 993.
@ Robertas: This is in Tokyo. Judging by the roadsigns I think it is the metropolitan express route 4 in Shinjuku city.
I found the A310 to be much more fun to drive than either GTA versions. The GTA are much further along the Grand Tourer scale, while the A310 still retains an element of “go-kart” and is narrower, perfect for French (and Kiwi) roads . That said, they are both very comfortable long distance cars, and plenty of space for two. Plenty of room for boxes of wine and beer!
A very welcome reminder of a sadly underappreciated car- thank you for this Andrew. Apart from the Mangusta and Daytona as possible styling influences, the likeness (at least from the A pillar backwards) with the Monteverdi Hai introduced at Geneva in 1970 is likely coincidental but interesting:
The Hai looks good in that picture; 2D images generally make it more brutal than it is in real life.
Monteverdi only made two Hais, of which four survive!
Respraying the cars in different colours certainly seemed to have multiplied the production numbers…
I’ve always wanted an Alpine GTA. As for the wipers…Meh. Its “drunken” ones make early-noughties “rain-sensitive” ones look like kittens high on a combination of ketamine, LSD, cocaine, and pissed-on low-grade pot. And that’s an understatement, mind you.
For the past year I’ve been driving a Mondeo sometimes, and I find the ‘clap-hands’ wipers rather annoying.
These poor kittens! Proverbs 12:10.
Here’s a description of the elements of the GTA’s bodywork.
There’s certainly not too much steel.
The floor is polyester with wooden inserts (insert bois)
Thanks for that: a car I found quite fascinating as a kid. Renault? Sports car? You what? Once I learned about the A310, though, I preferred that. I seem to remember a sentiment at the time that Alpine/Renault had moved upmarket too quickly. The GTA was never much entered in racing, either.
The federalised version looks neatly done, though the indicators are a bit random like this:
Much as I like the current A110, I wish they’d stayed a bit closer to the concept (although looking at it now, it does have quite a few Renault styling cues from around the same time, so perhaps it would have aged quicker):
Let’s link that properly (I hope).
So now we know from where the Renault Fuego design comes from.
Yes the Fuego has a unique wiper configuration as well.
May I suggest that our esteemed DTW takes up wiper design/mechanism configuration/coverage sweep as a subject matter, just like prior deliberations on shutline, and DLO…..
The pantograph wiper is mentioned here:
It’s not unique, Countach immediately comes to mind, and all full-sized North American Ford products from 1973-1978 (also washer jets on the wiper arms, works very well).
It’s just one of the many strategic mistakes made by Renault, as a result of their corporate hubris. As Alpine’s drivetrain provider and sponsor (or big brother) they first demanded that the A110 be branded Alpine Renault, then that it be branded Renault Alpine as if Renault was the car maker and Alpine a model. Enventually they took it over and, as they usually did in such cases, they finally killed it. It happened too with the lorry maker Berliet that they immediately rebranded by their own lorry division SAVIEM and which went steadily downhill until it was taken over by Volvo.
The A310 was praised in the French press in a patriotic fervour as the French competitor of Porsche as if trying to compete with Porsche was a sound strategy especially with its many handicaps:
• With the lozenge logo you go nowhere in this league.
• The A110 had a very faithful fan base because of its successes in racing, of its exceptional road holding on winding roads and of its very cute design by Giovanni Michelotti. They didn’t like the ’embourgoisé’ style of the A310. On top of that it was way more expensive.
• The PRV engine proved to be no match in sports.
• The A110 fan base loved its craftsman type of quick and dirty manufacture. The A310 looked more industrial but it was actually in look only.
• The beam-chassis had proven to be light and sturdy enough for the A110 with the engine of the Dauphine but not rigid enough for the 1600cc engine of the R16. The A310 rapidly proved problematic to drive at speed, especially in windy conditions.
• Last but not least: as Freerk de Ruiter says, “iets met de Franse slag doen”. It would translate to “do something the French way”. I am afraid it’s not only the Dutch who think that, even the French do. They prefer German cars. So in terms of build quality too the A310 had long way to go before it could only think about competing with Porsche.
So the A310 is just one of the futile attempts that Renault (just as Peugeot) did to play in the same league as the big boys.
The GTA was certainly a great car. (I would have loved to have driven one) But how many people at the time were convinced that “a sports car in the 3-litre class”: Sure, Renault!
Based on history, Alpine-Renault would probably still have gone, Renault-Alpine was probably also too much Renault for a sports car.
And if they’d stayed in the 2-litre class with a lightweight and focused on racing….
Would have… If…
The French wiki article on the GTA claims an unrealised 2-litre Turbo version was planned before being abandoned when considered unprofitable.
It would have entailed using the 2-litre Turbo from the Renault 21 and was said to have easily been feasible without having to make major modifications, being 60 kg lighter than the PRV and complimenting the GTA range in countries like Italy where displacements over 1999cc are heavily taxed.
Also fond of the original A110 and GTA, yet agree Alpine drifted away from its roots and needed something along the line A105 project (French link below) and the A710 / W71 project, the latter potentially having a pre-Exige type of longevity.
The A310V6 is nicer to drive than a similar age (and spec) 911, at least the ones I drove when deciding between a GTA, A310 or 911. It certainly handles much more predictably than the 911 (of similar age). It’s not especially bad in the wind, something one has to do regularly living in the world’s windiest city!
MVS / Venturi managed to get decent power out of their (extensively modified) PRV units.
In my village, a connaisseur of good things bought a new Alpine GTA as a successor of his Alfa GTV6 about 1990 and kept it till he died a few years ago. I always loved his car, my favourite detail was the Philips stereo system but the whole interior is a fantastic place to be.
Here is a comparison with the Turbo and its rivals from Porsche and Lotus: https://www.flickr.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/albums/72157623388975346/
An interesting view into the semi professional way of producing the GTA, including the water jet cutting machines mentioned above
Bertone proposal for an A310 successor.
The Car Design Archives Facebook page caption reads: “1980 Alpine A480. The second mock-up is the Fiore fastback proposal. Image: LIGNES/auto, Marc Deschamps Archive”
Looks like it was seriously considered…
Though the images come from Deschamps’ photo archive, this one clarifies the design’s lineage.
For me it’s a lot more coherent than the Tundra.
This story starts to remind me of the XJ40’s design genesis. So much design talent got washed down the drain before they settled on a watered down “more mainstream” version of what they already had.
Looks like something from Giugiaro ten years before like the asso di quadri
That looks pretty great. As Dave points out, it’s a bit of a theme rather than a bespoke design, though. As with some other studio designs, I’m left to wonder what the connection with the actual marque is.
Lovely as it is (and that it is), it doesn’t say ‘Alpine’ or even ‘French’ to me. If they’d brought it to market and left the design alone, that would leave two options in my mind: either it would have been a great car and redefined ‘Alpine’, or it would have become a footnote or even aberration. Of course, they could also have ‘Gallicised’ the design, which would have opened all new possible alternate realities.
They even had their forerunner to the internet ‘minitel’ proudly next to the boss’s desk. 12m44s
A dour team but surprisingly advanced. A great watch thanks
Been driving W124 for ages and from behind the wheel the single wiper is one of the best things about the car amongst a sea of pure win. You hardly see it because of the movement. It mostly stays out of the way yet works extremely wel. It is super effective in doing it’s job. There is no better system. None of that left right left right x2 sad action leaving large parts still wet regular cars come with and a beautiful piece of machinery way overdesigned an built to boot. Replacing the mechanism is not cheap tho. Had to it once 13 years ago or so and a new one was like 1200 euros I think. Worth it.
The most beautiful steering wheel ever to grace a car.
I always felt that the “GTA” suffix, evoking “Gran Turismo” touring, was a bit of a stretch. The car actually has zero luggage space outside the glove box.