Throwback Thursday: 1966 Alpine A110 first drive

It is very rare that the Coach gives a five-star rating on a car. But our praise for the new Alpine A110 after our first experience with it was nothing short of gushing.

This small two-door sports coupe of the time, beat a host of rivals, the most important of them a Porsche. Almost everything about this car; its design is nice, rather than aggressive; and he politely refuses to play the ridiculous game of power and acceleration of the figure-upmanship, rather than focusing on weight reduction, with a performance suited to everyday driving and the handling sublime-suited for the roads of his creator shares a name with. The only downside among the lovers of his refusal of a manual transmission, although it offers at least a silver lining.

These principles reflect those of the original Alpine of the company. Its founder, Renault dealer and racing driver Jean Rédélé, had a simple design philosophy, innovative sports cars which have been mechanically simple and yet competitive, with a lightweight liner, a beautifully sculpted style, and for a reasonable price.

Its first model, which launched the brand in 1955, was the A106, based on and using the same 21bhp 0.7-litre engine from the Renault 4CV budget hatchback. It has been replaced by A108, developed from the Renault Dauphine, and with the help of the 37bhp Gordini version of this car is a 0.8 litre engine.

The next car was the berlinetta A110. It has evolved from the A108, but they used components of the new Renault 8 family hatchback, while the power is coming from a 51bhp 0.9-litre version of Renault’s ubiquitous right-four Cléon-Fonte of the unit.

This model has been Alpine with great success, both commercially and in terms of racing, especially in rallying, in which he ran away the first of the World rally championship in 1973, but also in endurance racing, hillclimbing, ice racing and rallycross.

A variety of engines were used, and style changes over the course of the A110 is the life, and our first drive of it came on the 17th of June 1966, at 1300 spec.

This version is also used as a Cléon-Fonte, but tuned by Gordini, with a 1.3 litre capacity. “This engine is a scholar of the conversion of the 8,” we explained, “angled stems work opposed valves in hemispherical combustion chambers and a novel kind of double ignition with one spark plug per cylinder power twin passage, such as a gas pilot light.” Even in our fiery tests, it returned an “outstanding” 28.3 mpg.

Our test car was something a bit special, however. A production version of the 1300 was introduced in 1966, with the outputs of 102bhp and 86lb ft, but ours probably had slightly different specifications, because we drove a Sports 1300 racing prototype, built three years before (that is why it does not have the A110 famous of the four headlights). In fact, apparently unknown to the Coach of the tester, this car, 93-PF-75, participated in the 1963 Tour de Corse rally in Corsica in the hands of Pierre Orsini, who had won the race in 1962, driving a Dauphine.

This A110, standing 3 feet 8 inches high, weighed in at a mere 685kg; a 0-60mph time of 9.1 sec is therefore feasible, while the top speed is set at 125mph.

The Coach is Geoffrey Howard wrote: “I climbed behind the wheel, turned the key and jiggled the throttle. A deep crackle back to life behind my right shoulder and settled down to a steady pace to 1400 rpm. A syrupy aroma slowly become strong immediately spelt ” race track, and I knew that this car was practically a runner.

“For a start, it fitted me like a glove, and even if I was lying on the back at about 35deg, the vision was perfect. Then it sent the ” right “direction for the “right” of the nerves in my psyche, its rather “nervous” of the management response to the urgent beat of the exhaust, which crescendoed to its peak (and beyond) with a crispness only found in racing engines.

“Below 3000 rpm, there is little torque, but the engine resumes from only 2000 rev / min. At about 4500rpm, the punch really comes with a vengeance and from there, the needle enough flies round the tachometer scale in any gear, but at the top, and even in the top there is no limit, but the driver. On the dial, there is an amber alert 5500rpm to 6200rpm, while the peak is at 6900rpm, and the red solid from there to 8000rpm.

“The way the engine is running and the speed is quite incredible. As a test, my passenger once or twice put his fist on the tachometer, and asked me to guess the reading. Every time I was from 1000 to 15000rpm low because there’s so little of restlessness and an extreme softness. To balance throttle openings, the engine hunts a bit, and it seems a lot more happy with the pedal hard against the floor. This means that it must either be in the process of changing down and braking or accelerating hard, and it is the only way to get the best of the A110.

“We measured the acceleration figures on a quiet stretch of flat land. Getting the car was easy. Two or three jolts to ensure that it was clear, and then up to 4500rpm, foot on the clutch and the accelerator to the bottom, and the small rocket ship takes off without wheel spin, directly to 7500rpm in a flash. Pluck the second and there is not even the time of the wind out of the window before the needle is spinning at 7500rpm. Third and last seem to draw nearly as well.

“In terms of the fight against the twists, the turns, the climbs, it is difficult to find comparisons for a car as individual as the A110. It brings back memories of the Porsche 356B Carrera 1600, but this is not quite like that. In terms of handling, it feels more like the Lotus Elan.

“The steering is light and positive, and it does not manage or understeer, or oversteer – it just goes round corners a clean and tidy condition at an incredible speed. Finally, the back will jump on the ride of a fraction, but there is a lot of grip before this point, it is rarely achieved.

“We found a beautiful climb winding, and really began to feel the true caliber of the A110. This is a car for the mountains, all the right and slides to the right in his element if one keeps the revs in a band of 4000rpm to 7500rpm, switching gears all the time, lying on the back in the seat and almost looking through the woodrim wheel in the bottom of the slope of the muzzle as the horizon of shortcuts and loops ahead of time as a Cinerama projection.”

In re-reading our comments from the 1966 highlights how remarkably similar to the new A110 is his predecessor spiritual. But, as with the new model, there were complaints of being – in this case, four.

“First of all, the pedal arrangement, which prevented me from lodging and feet, which means the brake still had to be done much earlier before the turns.

“In the Second place, the brake pedal itself felt very dead, unless enough standing on it. I would have preferred the option servo to be mounted.

“Thirdly, in spite of the fantastic cornering power, which totally disguised the rear weight bias, in crosswinds, the car is frankly unstable. On a very windy day, I found it difficult to control on the narrow main roads at speeds in excess of 100 mph, all the time, I had to work to keep it straight, it seemed to fight against me. But even this I could forgive, if exhilarating was the rest of his character.

“Fourth? Price, £1790 in France!”. For comparison, the MG B was priced at £1100 at the time. Adjusted for inflation, £1790 to £34,500, and the modern A110 is at least£ 50,000, so the price is a slight sticking point.

The Coach of the man concluded by saying: “One could write at much greater length on this car as the Alpine A110 1300, and still regret parting with it. For me, I don’t know look with a new respect when I see the mark of the competition in all cases, and in a sense, a part of me will be there with the driver.”

Read more – A brief history of the Alpine

Read the rest – 2018 Alpine A110 review

Read more – Top 10 Throwback Thursday of 2017