Simraceway’s Hidden Gems #1: 1970 Renault Alpine A110
An easily recognizable shape, the Alpine A110 earned its glorious reputation through rally success. In the early seventies, it slayed everything it could find at various rallies, winning the International Championship in 1971 and the very first World Rally Championship in 1973.
This impressive resume wasn’t built upon massive power, or revolutionary technology. Instead, the Alpine put its money on very light weight (around 700kgs) and its main party trick: a small Renault engine lying behind the rear wheels. This gave the Berlinette a devilish dart-like response through tight corners, and its small size helped when going way too fast around narrow rally stages.
And this is indeed the first thing I noticed when driving it for the first time, around the tight hairpins at Longstone. This thing is an incredible joy to throw around, because it weighs practically nothing, but also because it isn’t overly grippy: it will slide around quite happily if you’ve got what it takes to keep it on the road. It isn’t too stiff either, meaning you get a better feeling of the weight transfer, which is, as we’ll see in a second, crucial. Once you get it pointing the exit, floor it and it will squat down its back and launch itself at an impressive speed considering it only makes 138bhp.
It’s also incredibly pretty, in a way you know won’t ever age. The two little air intakes that feed the engine add just enough menace, while the rest of the body is only made of the most gorgeous curves. I’m quite in love with the way the rear window blends itself into the swooping back.
And it’s in the back that all the fun happens. Again, the Renault l4 isn’t exactly spectacular in itself, though it does sound great, oozing with personality at every part of the rev-range. But what makes this car so special is the fact that it is in the back.
That’s what gives the Alpine its good traction; though the small four-pot wasn’t exactly going to light the rear wheels anyway. More importantly, it delivers thrills like no other. It allows the front end to be as pointy as a scalpel, and it also turns the Alpine into a very dangerous place to be if you’re new to the “backpack effect”. When in a fast corner, don’t even lift. Lift and you’re dead. While experienced hands will turn this into majestic slides and even better lap times, if you go past a certain angle you won’t be coming back. Under that limit, it’s all fun and games. Past it, there is nothing you can do to correct the slide and put the back behind the car. In slow corner, this is an amazing bonus to agility. In very high-speed curves, like at Watkins Glen, it’s a lot of sweat. But that’s what makes it so rewarding.
Because soon, you learn to use this, to play with it to dance with the car around apexes. And then you will not stop smiling. The Alpine is the only car that will deliver that sort of fun in Simraceway, and this, plus being a very cool thing to start with, makes it a must have car when meeting with your friends at Longstone for a few laps and many laughs.
I get why not many people consider it: it’s relatively expensive, and it’s pretty slow. But now, you know why you should have it in your garage