The Little French Car That Could
For most of motoring history, sports cars have been synonymous with the likes of Italy, Germany, and even England. From the immortal brand known as Porsche, to the fan favorite Ferrari, to the world renown Jaguar, these brands have stood the test of time and continue to live in today’s society as dream machines. But when we look back on the motoring world and delve deeper into the history of the automobile, we can find some truly outstanding vehicles from some surprising manufactures.
One such vehicle: The Renault Alpine A110. The A110 was one of the most incredible sports cars of its day. From eye-catching looks, to mind numbing performance, this car had it all. In fact, I’d argue that it still holds up today as one of the most beautiful cars ever built. The A110 was launched in 1961 and stayed in production until 1977. The A110 was fitted with a few different engines over its lifetime in order to keep it relevant. To make it easy to understand, the A110 was given an I4 ranging from 1.1-1.5 Liters depending on the model. Regardless of which model you got, the engine was always mounted to a 5 speed manual transmission.
However, what makes the A110 worth talking about is its motorsport history. This little French automobile truly was one of the best cars to ever grace Rally. In 1970 during the inaugural season of the International Championship for Manufacturers, the A110 took second place behind Porsche. With one race left to go in the season and down by three points, Alpine was confident and determined to destroy the competition. The team recruited star studded driver Ove Andersson who had driven for Mini, Lancia, and SAAB prior. The win was almost guaranteed. However, Andersson unfortunately had an accident causing the team to retire the car and thus giving the season to Porsche. But Alpine was not going to give in just yet. The team came back in 1971 and this time were ready to kill. Anderson returned behind the wheel and put the little French monster to the limit. Alpine dominated the 1971 season, winning four out of 8 races, thus taking the season championship. But even still, Alpine was not done there.
In 1973 Renault finalized their purchase of Alpine and continued forward with the A110 as its prime time rally machine. They entered the car in the newly made World Rally Championship (WRC) series and absolutely dominated. With drivers Bernard Darniche, Jean-Pierre Nicolas, and Jean-Luc Therier behind the wheel, Alpine quickly rose up the ranks. The A110 won 6 out of 13 events, leading to the A110 becoming the very first WRC champion, solidifying its rank in history.
However, all good stories must come to an end at some point. With the A110 being almost 13 years old, it was only a matter of time before the car became obsolete. With the 1974 season on the horizon, Alpine were looking for new ways to upgrade and improve the A110. Alpine fitted the car with fuel injection, but found no performance increase. They then tried fitting a DOHC 16 valve head to the engine but this only made the car unreliable. Alpine attempted to better the chassis by using the A310’s double wishbone rear suspension, but once again this failed to better performance. Unfortunately for Renault and Alpine, the A110 had simply reached its ending phase and simply could not keep up with the times.
The 1974 WRC season saw the birth of the Lancia Stratos which proved to be the nail in the coffin for the A110. The Stratos, being a purpose built rally car, was simply unbeatable. It was new, improved, and all round a better car than the A110 and simply dominated the 1974 WRC season. The Stratos made the A110 history.
In modern society, the A110 holds up as a collectors item. With an average price of $150,000 in Concours condition according to Hagerty, the A110 is clearly considered with high regard. I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to see a few of these beasts and even sit in one. Sadly, at 6 foot 2 inches it depresses me to say I will never be buying one unless it sits in a garage as an art piece… but that’s not how this car deserves to die.