In the north-west of Spain there is a town Ourense, province of Galicia. It is famous not only for the Cathedral of San Martino of the XII century and the remains of the ancient Roman stone bridge. There is a bronze monument in the central square of the city. So what, are there not many bronze monuments in Spain? There aren’t many more like it. This is a monument to the Alpine A110 car. On the front wings of the rally car sit Stanislav Reverter and Antonio Coleman, stars of Spanish motorsport. It seems that they are thinking about a new tuning project for the French coupe…
Beautiful, fast and rare One Hundred and Ten
Monuments to automobiles are rare. And historical chronicles include only the bestsellers or the most powerful, the most expensive, the most unusual ones. The Alpine A110 is neither one of them, nor the other, and yet this car is considered one of the most desirable by collectors. Of course, the last 110-series coupe was produced in 1977, and today the price of the Alpine A110 can go over three hundred thousand euros.
This excitement can be explained simply – it is one of the most famous rally cars of all time in the world. It is amazing that a car of the simplest construction, theoretically unable to survive in the competitive car market even in the 70’s, attracts the attention of not only collectors, but also ordinary fans of proper classic cars.
The architecture of the Alpine A110 is simple and unpretentious – a ridge frame, rear engine location, rear drive, a cramped two-seater interior and a trunk almost completely occupied by a spare tire and a gas tank. But by timeless design and ideology the Alpine easily puts on both shoulder blades VW Beetle, Ford Mustang or Porsche 911.
Born to win
In post-war France, there was no time for expensive cars. The nationalized company Renault stamped inexpensive cars, vans and trucks to provide the country with motor vehicles as much as possible. The Renault dealer network was also developing. One of the youngest regional dealers in France was 24-year-old Jean Redelais from Dieppe. This business was not new to him, since his father had been selling cars all his conscious life. The sales hit for France in the 1950s was the uncomplicated and cheap Renault 4 CV.
It was the beginning of the young Redelet’s passion for motorsport. He managed to settle some points with the parent company in Paris and with the help of the car factory to prepare the people’s Renault 4 CV for the competition. Aluminum body panels and five-speed gearbox have been installed on the car. The engine has not been touched yet and in this form the people’s four went to the racetrack.
Under the hood remained a four-cylinder 750cc, 21 hp engine. With the modified car Redel managed to win the 1954 Alpine Cup in his class and the Mille Miglia in Italy. Around the same year, the racer and part-time Renault dealer began to think about modifying the car’s design, as the Deveaux’s capabilities were running out. It was necessary to build a real sports car. Otherwise there would be no victory.
Alpine A106, on the road to success
Redele again appealed to the management of Renault for help and they did not refuse, helped with spare parts and equipment, giving the young talented designer freedom of action. It was decided to keep the concept of the car the same – rear-engine, rear-wheel drive, but to fundamentally change the chassis, adapting it to rally races as much as possible. The project invited Parisian designers, the Chappet brothers, who drew a very successful two-door body, which was made of fiberglass.
As a result, the total weight of the car was 540 kg, and the body length was only 3.4 m. This coupe was the beginning of the history of the company Societe Anonyme Des Automobiles Alpine, officially founded in 1954. The model received the name A106. The elegant coupe was produced in small batches from the kits supplied by Renault and soon became quite popular even among the Parisian beau monde. At least Belmondo was happy to pose in the A106 with a convertible coupe body.
About 700 copies of the A106 were produced. There were two engines to choose from – the stock 38-horsepower engine and the modified 43-horsepower engine. Redele developed a completely new manual transmission. With its low weight and excellent balance, it could reach up to 155 km/h. Fantastic dynamics for that time and so little power.
New model, new company
In parallel with the release of the hundred and sixth model, the young company was developing a new coupe, even more perfect, lightweight and powerful. But again only on the basis of Renault units. Those were the conditions. At the end of the 50s, Redele was already creating his own design of the A108 based on Renault’s Dauphine platform. This car was the next step on the way to the birth of the A110 Berlinette, thanks to which the company is still remembered today.
The first version of the A108 was shown in Paris in 1957, it differed from the 106 model only by a more powerful liter engine from Renault Gordini. The final version of the coupe was developed with the help of Italian designer Giovanni Macelotti, but in addition, a certain Philippe Charles, a student of architecture, also worked on the silhouette of the 1008. It is said that the elongated front end and characteristic stern belong to his pencil.
The basic design did not change. By the 1960s, the ridge frame was refined and made lighter and stronger. The frame consisted of a central tube, to which the beams and subframes were attached, and a tubular frame was installed on top of the main frame. It was already clad with fiberglass panels. The stiffness and lightness gave the Alpine the excellent handling that Jean Redelais wanted.
The iconic A110 Berlinette
It was not until early 1962 that the first Alpine A110 coupe on a Renault 8 Gordini chassis rolled out of the factory gates. The wheelbase was increased to 2270 mm and the body grew to 4050 mm in length. The base version was equipped with a 48-horsepower engine, but a more powerful 1300 cc 125 hp engine was offered at extra cost. It allowed acceleration of the lightweight coupe in 9 seconds up to a hundred, and the top speed was at 200 km/h. How could one not use this treasure in rally races?
The 1.6L version of the 1600S with 155 horsepower was built especially for the rally. The engine was designed by Amadeus Gordini. This car accelerated to the first hundred already in 6 seconds, and the maximum speed exceeded 220 km/h. This car in 1971 won all three first prizes in the Monte Carlo rally, and from that moment the stardom of the Alpine A110 began.
Incredibly, a coupe with a plastic body and a virtually stock engine was ahead of specially prepared cars for rally races. And not just any car, but such rally grandees as Porsche 911, Ford Escort Twin Cam, BMW 2002Tii and Lancia Fulvià HF.
Alpine A110 1600S. In the race and in life
1973 was another year of absolute victories for the A110. The drivers took all the gold at Monte Carlo, scoring 147 points and winning six out of 13 races. In the early ’70s it was the best car in the discipline and in its class. However, as time went on, power went up and the rules changed. Stock engines from Renault could no longer compete with motors specifically designed for rallying. For example, by the end of the 70’s a new star appeared, the Lancia Stratos with a V-6 engine from Ferrari Dino 246 GT rated from 260 to 305 hp.
The A110 was produced not only in France, but also in Spain from 1965 to 1977 and was produced from ’67 to ’69 even in socialist Bulgaria, where the coupe was called Bulgarpine. There was also a modification for Latin America, it was assembled in Mexico and Brazil under the name Willys Interlagos.
They tried to compensate for the lack of power by reconstructing the side head and even installing a turbocharger, but it was not successful, the inline four-cylinder engines were too weak for competition. Do you remember, we told you about two Spanish rally drivers, which are cast in bronze along with the Alpine A110?
Well, that’s exactly what they attempted to install other, more powerful engines under the hood of the coupe. Reverter and Coleman installed 220 hp 2.2 liter engine from Porsche model 911R, and later they tried 2.7 liter 280 hp engine.
However, in real life the Alpine A110 was not as successful as on the racetrack. Impractical Spartan interior, impossibility of easy restoration of the plastic body even after a small accident, small trunk… But this did not affect the popularity of the car already after the end of production in 1977.
Nevertheless, back in the conveyor life, the Alpine A110 was gladly used by the patrol police working on major French highways. The maximum speed of 200 km/h allowed the police to easily get any offender.
This is far from being the end of the story. Not so long ago, Renault presented several variants of the revived Alpine A110 – a racing track sports car and a two-door coupe. The first one was shown in 2012 and was called A110-50, and the second one was presented two years ago, in 2016, as a Vision concept. The coupe goes on sale in the summer of 2018. How close in spirit they are to their great-grandfather, time will show and future test drives of the new models.