The Mysterious Case of the Seemingly Abandoned Renault Alpine GTA
Of all the things you might stumble upon when you’re out walking your trusted canine pal (think discarded faecal matter, used contraceptives, underpass graffiti, upturned supermarket trolleys and corpses), one of the last things you would expect to observe is a 1989 Renault Alpine GTA in fair-to-middling condition. Not least because there’s not many of them left knocking around the highways, byways and ditches of Blighty. Blighty being a Brexiteer-friendly way of describing the motherland, of course. Less than 50 models, possibly, according to sources online which determine approximately how many types of cars remain on UK roads. A website aimed specifically at those whose internet search histories could easily become a subject of a Channel 5 documentary. And who walk amongst us, let’s cautiously remind ourselves.
Yet that’s precisely what I came across a few weeks ago (a seemingly discarded/unloved Renault Alpine GTA) when locating a new walk for my aging dog; parked up (and potentially for quite some time, judging by the bricks wedged beneath the tyres) in the car park of a very rural cricket club. Attracting me to its presence like a Kit-Kat wrapper caught in the full glare of the sun would a vigilant magpie, I couldn’t believe what I was gazing out upon at first glance. Could it really be one of the coolest cars of the late 1980s/early 90s staring back at me; one of Renault’s few and far between (and as always, daring) forays into the supercar market? Or was it merely a Sahara-like mirage, triggered by not consuming enough liquids that particular day in question.
Qu'est-ce que vous avez dit?? (Come Again)
Well, to prove it wasn’t the latter, I secured photographic evidence (Fig 1, hereabouts), and continued on my journey avec chien. I know, in homage to the heritage of said Alpine GTA, I have drawn on my extensive conversational GCSE French skills, last frequented in public some 25 years ago. In a school language lab. “Bonjour. Mon nom est christopher et I’m 45 ans et j'habite dans une petite ville sur le Wirral avec ma copine et chien. J'adore les voitures et Eva Green.” Which goes some way to explaining why I went on to become a freelance writer, as opposed to a French teacher or translator for the secret service.
Anyway, back to la voiture, and it was an absolute étourdissement. Similar to Eva Green as it happened, in as much as it was incredibly pleasing on the eye, in great nick for its age and had the most perfect derrière. It also had an amazing dashboard. As luck would have it a local caught me steaming up the windows of the Renault and was about to perform a citizen’s arrest when I said, “Alright mate, cool car. Is it yours?” Only in a quasi-French accent to ingratiate myself with my would-be captur/diffuse the potential situation, rather than rub him up the wrong way. Turns out it wasn’t his Alpine GTA, and he himself had absolutely no idea of the identity of its registered owner; going on to volunteer that it had been parked up in situ for a good 6 months or more. After physically releasing myself from the robust half-Nelson the local/my assailant had quickly put me in and taking a few shots on my smartphone, I bid my farewell to both the mysterious Renault and the local (the latter for fear of succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome) and planned my exit strategy. Which in the event amounted to leaving the scene in my car, avec chien.
On returning to my homestead, I then set-about researching Alpine GTA’s on that there internet, and made it my business that very evening to determine just how much they were worth. A useful amount, I quickly discovered, at least when presented in fairly decent fettle, which this red example was. I also re-familiarised myself with the car’s history, which might also serve as a brief educational aside for those of you not au fait with the French automobile member of royalty. So here, courtesy of Wikipedia, are the facts and figures for those wishing to learn more. The Renault Alpine GTA (and the succeeding A610) was a sports coupe produced by the Renault-owned French manufacturer, Alpine between late 1984 and 1995. Although it underwent a substantive redesign in 1991, which is also when the new model was afforded the much less catchy moniker, A610; making it sound more like an Airbus product than a serious sports car. Or an arterial route through mid-Wales, if you were journeying by car.
Essentially revising the aesthetical design of its predecessor, the Alpine A310, the GTA/A610 represented the first car launched by Alpine under Renault ownership, and updated that previous model's silhouette courtesy of more modern design features; such as a body-integrated bumper and a triangular C pillar with large rear windscreen. It also made extensive use of Polyester plastics and fibreglass for the body panels, effectively making it considerably lighter (and quicker) than rivals at the time, including the Porsche 944. Power-to-weight ratio aided and abetted by the harbouring of a rear-engined PRV V6 unit. What’s more, it was regarded as among the most aerodynamic cars during this period too, with the naturally-aspirated version achieved a world record 0.28 drag co-efficient in its class. Oh, and with reference to the GTA moniker, and this stands for ‘Grand Tourisme Alpine’.
In 1991 the Alpine GTA was replaced by the aforementioned A610, itself produced by the Renault-owned French manufacturer Alpine, and continued until 1995. Although the more eagle-eyed would be hard-pressed to observe any differences between the two models, despite Renault insisting that it was a ‘completely different car’, which shared only the windows in common with the outgoing GTA apparently. Tragically, the A610 did not result in an improvement in sales over the equally commercially disappointing GTA, which saw the plug pulled on the model after just four years of production and became the last car to brandish the Alpine name. Still, while not a hit with the sports car-buying public across Europe, both the GTA and A610 received critical acclaim from various other acknowledged quarters, for example the motoring press and British TV’s flagship motoring programme, ‘Top Gear’; as a certain Clarkson ably demonstrates in the video beneath.
Admittedly, Jeremy discovers that looks can be deceptive, in as much as the A610 version is slower than it looks. And that the steering lock comes on at the most inopportune moments (eg, when you’re driving) and all the power – or rather what power there is (roughly 250bhp) – is hanging over the rear wheels; making control somewhat adventurous, as Clarkson finds out the hard way in the vid. But for all that, there’s something rather cool about the Alpine, in an altogether old skool way. Something almost mythical that I can’t put my finger on. It’s just very different (although not from each other, as I’ve already established). Pretty much doomed to failure from the get-go, overly ambitious and an abject lesson to everyone about style over substance not always being the better part of automotive valour. But I don’t give a rat’s ring about that, as I love this Renault. Complete with its angles which are at permanent odds with itself.
What’s that, you want more interesting Alpine GTA facts, not just personal opinion based on the voice in my head?? OK, how about these;
The Le Mans special edition featured a wider body than the standard GTA, came complete with a kit, sported BBS split rims and a host of other mods. Yet somewhat bizarrely for all its motorsport-aping guise, stance and graphics was actually slower than the standard model, courtesy of a weighty catalytic converter adding to the mechanicals. Which pretty much sums up the faint ridiculousness of the Renault Alpine GTA in the hearts and minds of its detractors. Well, minds, as they clearly don’t possess hearts.
: I still haven’t the foggiest idea who owns this rude boy V6 Turbo version of the Alpine GTA, but it puts a little smile on my face every time I pull up next to it to walk my dog.