The Alpine A110 is a true enthusiast’s car, and one that has been coming very much into a the focus of more classic buyers. To look at, you’d never guess that it’s based around humble family car underpinnings – but it’s a hugely competent and exciting machine, whether on road, track or rally stage. With the Alpine name back in the limelight recently, people are starting to really take notice of how much fun the original A110 can be, offering the perfect alternative to a classic 911.
Jean Rédélé founded Alpine and began his motor racing career building heavily modified and lightened Renaults. The A106 was his first bespoke offering, with rugged Renault 4CV running gear in a lightweight glassfibre body. An upgrade to Dauphine-power produced the A108, with Alpine starting to pick up awards in important competition events.
The A110 stuck with the same formula, initially using Renault 8 running gear to make for a buzzy, agile and thrilling car to drive – and famously taking 1-2-3 finishes on the Monte Carlo rally in 1971 and ’73.
Alpine stopped building cars in the late 1990s after the A610 went off sale. While the Dieppe factory was put to good use for various RenaultSport models, but the company has just launched an all-new A110 model at the 2017 Geneva motor show.
Squaring off against the Alfa Romeo 4C and Porsche Cayman, the new mid-engined A110 is a small lightweight sportscar – very much in the spirit of the original. It’s been in development for some time, and the production version of the 1080kg 1.8 turbo coupe will put out 248bhp – even being built in the same factory as the original.
Which Alpine A110 to buy?
Of the 7500 built, over half were the Renault 12-engined V85. It was the entry level car for a number of years, and offers great value today. The one everybody lusts after is the early swing-axle 1600S, which makes them the most expensive (see prices below).
A lot of people assume that bigger engines are best, but as a driver’s car the 1440cc 8 Gordini engine is sublime. The combination of about 140bhp with a much more free-revving nature makes it extremely sweet to drive, and if you can find one with the desirable (but rare) five-speed gearboxes, all the better.
While the Dieppe-built cars are the most sought after, you can save some cash by buying a Spanish example. Alpines were also built under licence in Bulgaria, Brazil, Mexico and South America, but it is difficult to locate these in the UK and few people import them.
If you’re looking for a rally car, then this is often easier than finding an original road car in untouched condition. Just like in period, the Alpine is great fun on the historic motorsport circuit, with most historic rallies and events accepting this French pocket rocket.
Today, the A110 is increasingly difficult to buy due to a very limited supply. Specialist Chris Rabbets, our expert for this guide, explains: ‘France and Germany are still the best places to find Alpines, but I’ve got customers who’ve been waiting up to four years for the right car, and they have the money ready.’
Performance and specs
Alpine A110 1600S
Engine 1565cc 8-valve, in-line four-cylinder, OHV
Power 138bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 107lb ft @ 5000rpm
Top speed 134mph
Fuel consumption 22mpg
Gearbox Four/five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 635kg
• Although glassfibre bodywork has two huge advantages – it’s lightweight and impervious to corrosion – it can be the cause of further complications. As with TVRs, electrical problems are common and often difficult to trace.
• Dieppe-built cars have a particularly interesting all-brown wiring loom, with coloured sheaths at each end. If these fall off – which they do all too easily - it can be extremely difficult to trace the wires.
• Glassfibre is generally rugged on road cars and, although panel fit is average at best, you’ll rarely find stress fractures or major quality problems. On the other hand, genuine rally cars were often built using much thinner panels, making them easier to damage and more difficult to fix. Older repairs might not be up to scratch.
• The body consists of two major mouldings (top and bottom), which are bonded together to form an extremely strong and light bodyshell. If a car has been fully restored, these two sections should have been separated, repaired and then re-bonded correctly.
• Repair sections and body panels are relatively cheap and readily available for most areas.
Restoration can be more expensive than people initially think, with £8000-9000 being the starting point for a comprehensive job.
• Because glassfibre cars generally get respray after respray, over the years all that paint builds up and actually spoils the delicate lines of the car. The only way to do the car justice is to strip off all the old paint, repair the glassfibre and start from a clean base.
• Thanks to Alpine’s relationship with Renault, much of the running gear is basic and easy to service, although access on the early 1600s is tight.
• Renault engines are usually strong and easy to maintain, but the seemingly endless array of different configurations can be somewhat overwhelming. This is further complicated by the number of modified cars with more modern and powerful Renault engines fitted.
• Although the engines are pure Renault, A110 gearboxes are unique. The casings on pre-73 cars feature mounting points for the swing-arm suspension, and until recently were virtually irreplaceable.
• The parts situation is actually better now than ever before, and there are now various outlets in France and Germany. Everything is being remanufactured and, although not always cheap, parts are plentiful.
• Underpinning the A110 is a stiff backbone chassis, which remained virtually unchanged throughout the career of the car. The main section, which runs from front to back, is actually surprisingly resistant to corrosion, but the front supporting tubes tend to rot quite quickly, so should be thoroughly checked.
• Chassis replacement is possible, and new chassis sections can be bought off-the-shelf, but it really opens up a whole can of worms. The original is often repairable, even in the event of a crash, and you should carefully weigh up the cost.
• The rest of the suspension is basic Renault 8, with wishbones and coil springs at the front and swing arms at the rear. The rear suspension was subsequently changed to the newer Alpine A310’s double-wishbone set-up. Mechanical rebuilds are not expensive, as all the components are cheap and simple.
• Much of the interior is bespoke, and with different suppliers over the years it can be difficult to work out what is original or not. The seats are unique to the A110 and, although leather was an option, most will be the standard cloth or vinyl.
• The rest of the interior is trimmed in a distinctive diamond-stitched foam-backed vinyl, which covers the central tunnel, rear compartment and inner sills. It’s relatively hard-wearing but, if it needs to be replaced, can be recreated by any competent trimmer.
• Most switches, handles and lamp units were taken from the French car industry parts bin, so many spares are even cheaper than you might expect.
1962: A110 unveiled at the Paris motor show
1963: 956cc A110 launched, followed by 1108cc version
1964: Gordini engine now available, known as the 85. Five-speed gearbox optional
1965: 115bhp Gordini-engined 1300 announced
1966: FASA-Renault initiates Alpine production in Spain; 120bhp five-speed 1300 Super replaces old 1300. New 90bhp 1500 launched. Renault badge and twin lights added
1967: Major facelift with new lights, flared wheelarches and larger intakes for cooling
1969: High-compression twin-carb 125bhp 1600S launched; 138bhp in works trim
1970: Entry-level 1289cc V85 launched, then 172bhp Group 4 1600S. 1600 dropped
1971: Range tidied up with introduction of larger A310. Only V85 and 1600S available
1973: Rear swing axles replaced with A310’s double-wishbone set-up
1975: New 1600SX launched with 1647cc engine. Group 4 car upgraded to 185bhp with a 1798cc engine, going on to win the WRC for the first time
1976: Range reduced to 1600SX, featuring new ‘tape recorder’ alloy wheels
1977: Dieppe production ends
1978: FASA-Renault production ends
2017: Alpine brand launches the new A110 model at the Geneva motor show
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.roadspeedperformanceandservicing.co.uk – Alpine specialist Roadspeed Performance & Servicing
• www.clubalpinerenault.org.uk – Club Alpine Renault
• www.renaultalpineownersclub.com – Renault Alpine Owners Club
Summary and prices
The entry-level cars are the smaller engined V85 models, with usable to good condition cars ranging from £28,000-38,000. £40,000 is absolute top money for one of these – which represents surprising value compared to Porsches and other rival sports cars of this age.
The Market pays a large premium for the swing-axle 1600S models, with top original cars regularly fetching between £70,000 and 80,000. The Dieppe-built cars always command a premium as well, which means you can save money by buying one of the foreign-built versions.
Strong market values stem from great competition provenance, with genuine rally cars commanding over £120,000. The demand for well-prepared rally cars for events like Tour Auto has pushed up the cost of both French and Spanish-built road cars too.