I’ve probably never been so fond of any new old car, as when I drove this 1978 Alpine Renault A310 V6 home from Braunschweig.
Let it be said right away: I think the Alpine is not only the coolest car I have ever owned, it may also be the best. But let’s start with the beginning.
Or some of it. After the disappointment in England in June (see The One That Got Away (episode 47): AC 3000 ME, when a dream car slipped from between my hands) I went back to the drawing board to do more research. Firstly, maybe fate just meant I was not supposed to have the AC 3000 ME? Maybe I was not supposed to have a project car at all? That is, a project car in addition to those already lurking in the shadows of the garage – this would at least make some sense. But what then? Surely I could not just let this experience pass by and be forgotten – and somehow I was still high on adrenaline from being so close to acquiring an old dream car of mine. After the AC-disappointment there were a lot of considerations to be had during the summer holidays – and so I did.
But as recurring readers know, one can not imagine, research or solely think which car is the best – one must first see, try and then think again. This is especially true if you are about to pull the trigger on acquiring one of your old dream cars. Admitted, I have hundreds of these dream cars. At least the list is not unprioritized, though. I have repeatedly proclaimed the Porsche 911 as the world’s best all-rounder, and often thought that if I ever got one, my car swinging would stop.
However that was until about two years ago, when I tried an Alpine Renault A310 V6. I wrote a report on our Danish ViaRETRO site about that test drive and concluded the following:
I was very pleasantly surprised, and since the A310 is also cheaper to buy (ED: Than a 911) and, most likely, also cheaper to own, the blue dream pushed the world’s best all-rounder down the pedestal in my dream garage: I’d rather have the Frenchman.
Before carrying on about the A310, let me just confess that during this summer I actually did consider a 911 as well. They are simply brilliant cars, no doubt about it. But those considerations quickly went away again, as I simply think they have become too expensive (most importantly) and too numerous (most annoyingly). But all that a 911 is, still pretty much sums up everything I want a classic car to be – and that’s how I eventually ended up with the A310, which I knew could match the 911.
Decision made then – it would have to be an A310…
Now I just had to find one.
Which was easier said than done, as Murphy’s Law immediately came into effect: When I last looked, there were plenty for sale, but just as I gathered momentum, there were hardly any. And those few which were for sale, were also either too expensive or too tired. I was about to plan a trip (i.e. a redirection of the holiday …) to a dealer in Switzerland who had several for sale, when a lucky draw came up with three candidates near our holiday destinations of Amsterdam and Antwerp.
The first one was merely a slight detour en-route to Amsterdam, so the first day of my holiday I was going to test drive a classic car – perfect, isn’t it?
The funny thing is that the ad was very short and told me nearly nothing about the car – and the photos were just as bad. The text said something along the lines of “many new parts”, which in most ads really means “new oil filter and distributor cap”. But in a blurred and underexposed image of the engine compartment, I spotted some bolts in places where there would normally never be new bolts – this seemed so promising that I simply had to see the rest of the car.
I am usually very skeptical when I look at old cars, but immediately upon arrival at the meeting point my skepticism was proven wrong. The car was already up on a lift, waiting for me, so the seller obviously had nothing to hide. And “many new parts” simply turned out to be the understatement of the year. Stood below the A310, I could admire lots of new bushes, hoses, cuffs, pipes, buckles and nuts, as well as determining that both the engine and the gearbox were dry and clean, and quite clearly had been out only a few kilometers ago.
And quite right: It turned out that the car had indeed been completely restored through 2014 and 2015. Not only that, but all the work was done by a well-known Alpine A310 specialist, and the work done was even documented with receipts: Now the car featured a rebuilt engine, gearbox, driveshafts, radiator, carburettors and much more. After the rebuild, the engine was fitted with a new stainless steel sports exhaust with delicious “banana” manifolds too – and all was then finished off with (refurbished, of course) Gotti split alloys and new tires. During the restoration the car was repainted to a fairly good standard. Add of course to that the little things that the seller had done since putting it back on the road in 2015.
Now if he had mentioned all of that in the ad! Or in fact that the car had in May 2016 been professionally rated by Classic Data which classified it as being condition 2+. As he delivered that piece of information, I honestly struggled to contain myself, as 2+ is actually rather good. At the time of the rating in May 2016, the Alpine had covered 86,602 kilometers, and when I saw it a year later it indicated only 2500 kilometers more on the counter. Still convincingly delicious in its orange-red paint, as well as everything suggesting that the mechanicals underneath were in equally fine fettle. It had even just a few weeks earlier passed its technical control (TÜV, equivalent to an English MOT), as well as having just been fully serviced.
In short: This Alpine was almost the exact opposite of the AC 3000 ME which had escaped me in June. So much better was the Alpine, that I almost praised myself for not getting the AC! The AC required repairs to its glassfibre body as well as a respray, and God knows how many other surprises would turn up in a car stood for many years. This Alpine, on the other hand – well, it was in fact precisely the right car for a man with (too) many projects already.
If it drove as well as it looked… Naturally I’d need a test drive.
As we (the seller and I) ventured out on to the small German roads, I suddenly recalled everything from the 2015 drive of the Blue Dream: Here was another A310 V6 which drove very well – so well, in fact, that it did not give anything away to a Porsche 911 of the same vintage. Firm and alert with razor-sharp steering – but amazingly, also comfortable and harmonious with its torquey engine and a precision to the gear change which an early 911 could only dream of. And the engine, the little 2.7-liter V6 with only 150 horsepower – well, it was willing, rorty and brawny and pushed the 1000 kilos along quite nicely. The sports exhaust was a different type than on the Danish car from 2015, and quite pleasingly low-pitched: Very acceptable during regular relaxed driving – but sharp when the engine was stretched a bit.
I have to admit that I was thoroughly impressed with this car. Of course I tried my best not to show it, and calmly told the seller that I was going to see a Dutch car two days later (which was true), and therefore could not commit on the spot.
A few selected mentors of mine knew about my task en-route on holidays, and I briefly reported back home that the Dutch car would have to be pretty exceptional to better this one – especially as it was advertised at a higher price. It turned out, as expected, to be significantly inferior, so after a few more days of tactical waiting, I called with an offer on the German car which the seller accepted.
After sealing the deal, of course doubt set in: This is after all the most expensive car I’ve ever acquired – was this a wise move? Such a question can no doubt be discussed endlessly – especially since the A310 has already doubled in price over the last five years. All doubts were pushed aside. My very short conclusion was this: An Alpine Renault A310 V6 is an ultradesirable sports car which I’ve dreamt about since my teenage years.
If it was going to be an A310, then it should probably be this one.
These were of course just general considerations, but added to that there was a rather practical side to consider as well: Could I just drive this nearly 40 year old car home without any problems or worries?
On the one side, I recalled a wonderful trip as a friend and I collected his newly acquired 911 of the same vintage from approximately the same latitude in Germany. On the other hand, I also remember our old colleague from the early days of the Danish ViaRETRO site, Niels Birkemose, attempting to drive a Lotus Eclat home from England with rather catastrophic results.
I did consider shooting a video from my drive back home, but luckily it turned out that it would have been rather uneventful: The Alpine and I took all 600 kilometers in our stride, and not at any point did the car put a foot wrong.
Despite continuous rainfall during the first 300 kilometers, my new Alpine soldiered on exactly as well as it had done during the test drive on a beautiful summers day. I really enjoyed those kilometers too, as it turned out that the V6 is actually very well suited for that kind of touring – just as I had hoped for: I was perfectly comfortable in the stylish seats, and with the engine drumming away at 3000 rpm in fourth gear, it gave us 118 real kilometers per hour. During the rain I drove slower, but with the arrival of dry weather, faster.
A slight imbalance in the front wheels kept me south of 140 km/h. This pace was no sweat at all – the A310 took it in its stride. Of course by modern norms the A310 V6 is not a really fast car, but 223 km/h and 0-100 km/h in about 8 seconds is quite sufficient for me, thank you.
For me, outright performance is secondary. This car is about something completely different – namely, emotions. On that scale the A310 scores top marks. I’m in love with the way it drives: Turn-in is brilliant, the grip at the rear likewise – and the sound that accompanies it all, is a comfortable hum at constant speed, yet becomes more aggressive with increasing right pedal pressure. And then there is the wrapping of it all, in the absolutely gorgeous design which I always been so fascinated by. The A310 is, in my humble opinion, one of those cars which look even better in reality than on any image. It is small, tight, muscular and compact, and with mere 115 centimeter height it oozes real sports car.
Once seated in the cabin (and yes, it’s a bit far down, but that’s part of the experience), I was perfectly comfortable and instantly a fabulous sense of drama and car adventure sets in. Just as the whole Alpine story itself is one of drama and adventure, you as an Alpine driver automatically become part of all that.
As a result, you don’t have to drive aggressively to enjoy the A310 V6. In fact this is something that I think is quite essential for my enthusiasm for the car: It’s actually not an extreme car, rather the opposite. But the design is nevertheless very, very far from anything else you see on the roads. And it’s beautiful. Simple as that.
As regular readers already know, I prefer my cars to be original, and on this one I will have to change the wheels: I find that the three-lug design works much better with the original boldly simple rims, and luckily they can be found out there secondhand. Other projects? Hmm, I really need to think hard to come up with any: There is no door stop on the passenger door, the door locks are different on the right and the left side, and the cabin light does not work. Minor inconveniences which reflect that condition 2+ is – as already mentioned – really very good indeed. It’s not condition 1, however, and of course the car is not like a brand new car: The seats are the original ones, and their sides are slightly bleached from the sun, and there’s even a couple of small holes in the fabric. The same applies to the cloth trim on the sides of the cabin by the rear seats. But overall, the A310 is really good, without being so good that I would worry about using it.
So I am one very happy man.
And my wife is happy too: After my homecoming Friday evening, we packed the Alpine and headed straight for Funen on the Saturday morning, for a good road trip down in “the Garden of Denmark” over the weekend. Here we added to the mileage another 600 kilometers plus change – after which the Alpine had still not used a drop of water nor oil, and the latter still looked deliciously fresh and golden right on the maximum mark. Due to even more wet weather over the weekend, the Alpine had become rather dirty. On Sunday evening I treated it to its first proper two-bucket-method wash, and felt a sense of elevated and spiritual calm during the process.
Calm is also the immediate future for the Alpine. On the following Monday morning I drove it to MY GARAGE in Vejle, where I parked it up in Gentleman’s Garage – the delicious glass boxes where cars can be stored under ideal conditions while the owner sees to other important matters.
Such as determining when he’s going to cough up approximately 45,000 Danish Kroner (ED: about 6,000 Euro), in order to get the Alpine properly road taxed and registered in Denmark. As well as finding a set of original alloys and tires. Planning a track day, and naturally, a roadtrip to Le Mans Classic in 2018? And maybe, probably, hopefully looking at some of his other car projects, in order to continue reporting on actually living with classic cars here on ViaRETRO.
Meanwhile, I’m just extremely happy that I have clearly found myself a really good Alpine, which throughout the first thousand kilometers and counting, has certainly lived up to my expectations – and more.
You will hear more about this – you have been warned!