John Law is a man who brings real craftsmanship to the art of preserving Alpine cars. In the heart of London, we met up at his garage, JL Engineering, to talk French Turbos and experience his Alpine GTA.
HOW DO YOU BECOME THE GUY THAT WORKS WITH ALPINES?
The first car I did was a GTA like this. We put the 3L engine in it with twin turbos. People talked about it. People said, ‘Oh, you can’t do that!’ or ‘That’ll be too hard!’ or whatever. So we did it. It was about 320 horsepower straight out, so one of the quicker ones around. After that, people saw it and said “Oh that’s pretty good” and I got quite a few jobs from that.
IS YOUR WORK ABOUT MAKING THE CAR AS FAST AS IT CAN BE OR JUST KEEPING IT ORIGINAL - WHAT’S THE BALANCE?
What I enjoy doing is taking a car, and though there are cost constraints, work on it in a way that is high quality and in-keeping with the car. I try and build things in a sympathetic way, considering what they were but making them better. I mean, the original ECUs are so antiquated now that I usually put new ECUs in them, new wiring looms too. You get rid of a load of problems like that.
HOW EASY IS IT TO FIND A GOOD EXAMPLE OF SOMETHING LIKE A GTA/A610/A310?
In France these cars are around 50k, over here you can get one for 10k, so they’re taking their time to catch up. I think they will do though, especially when the new model is released next year. I think the problem with these cars is unlike Porsches, where people have always loved them and spent a lot of money on them, they sort of became un-loved and people sort of just left them - most went into disrepair. Now they’re becoming a little bit more sought after and people are willing to spend a bit more money on them.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
There’s no power steering, you can feel everything, you’re involved. So with something like this car, 350 brake is really fun you know? But we’re developing them more and more. The next one I’ll build will be about 600 brake and we’ll go from there.
THAT’S QUITE A LOT OF POWER!
Because the engines are really strong and the cars were really detuned when out the factory, it means you can do so much to them. I like them, but they were quite an acquired taste I think.
Look at the 911 930 turbo Porsches back in the 80s, they had about 200 hp, so a similar kind of thing really.
HOW DO YOU USE THIS CAR?
We built this one just as a road car, but we’ve also started to do a little bit of motorsport to see how we get on. It hasn’t been built to be very competitive in a specific class, but we’ve done OK - 2nds and 3rds overall. We mostly use it as a road car. The one we’re building at the moment will be a bit more track orientated.
DO YOU THINK THE FRENCH TURBO CARS ARE A BIT UNDERRATED?
I think people in the UK just don’t really know what they are. I mean, everyone kind of knows their Renault 5 GT turbos which I guess is why people love them, they can relate to them. They did have a one-make race series that supported F1 back in the day, around the early 90s, so there’s a load of race cars that are floating around. A few people remember that.