(Corrected: we’ve been reminded by two readers that this is a Willys Interlaghos. Same body for the most part as an Alpine 108, but built in Brazil. We humbly stand corrected… and thank you to those two readers.)
One thing we really like about this hobby is discovering something new and unknown, be it small manufacturers with unique products, sports and performance cars, or creative and unusual engineering. For a time, the French seemed to be able to combine all these attributes at once and the results ranged from fascinating to weird – sometimes all in the same car! Hence our fascination with Renault Alpines (and their Willys Interlaghos cousin). We’ve encountered Alpines several times in the past 20 years, but seem the be spotting them more and more recently. Our favorite car museum, the Lane Museum in Nashville, is one good place to see two representative examples (and over 350 great examples of other rare and interesting cars). But we were especially surprised, pleasantly so, to find some examples right here in Austin Texas at our own Cars and Coffee show.
In the June 2011 show, it was a Willys Interlaghos . Incredible – what are the odds of running into one of these? Certainly almost nil. The owner had brought it out to show for the first time, and it was to be sold the following week. It certainly pays to never miss a show! We have a High res (1000-pixel) gallery here, with regular resolution images and comments after the jump. See all of our Renault Alpine posts here.
The Renault A108 was produced from 1958 to 1963. A cabriolet model was produced from 1960-1962. In 1961 a very brief production run of 2+2 models (with a more upright coupe-like roof line) were produced. The A108 uses a backbone design (a feature of all successive Alpines), with a cradle to support the body and another for the engine. Production is believed to be about 100 (some suggest it at as many as 236 – the higher number may reflect all of the open, coupe, and 2+2 variations that were built). The fiberglass body allowed several small styling changes over the years of manufacture.
The Willys Interlaghos is a rear-engine rear wheel drive sports car. It’s French cousin from Renault has sometimes been called “the French Porsche 356″ – which in 1958 wouldn’t be far off the mark. Except it was created later, and the styling is decidedly French and most definitely not German.
Those are trunk hinges. Lettering is missing from above the license plate.
The body design is recognized for it’s aerodynamics. The missing front letters above the license plate would read “Interlagos”, which you’d only know if you had otherwise identified this car.
Some models used plain hubcaps, others used a fancy cap with a spinner sticking fairly far out (not pedestrian friendly!)
Air inlets for the rear engine.
Unusual aerodynamic reverse scoop behind the rear wheels.
The rear of the car is a fastback design, following in the mold of it’s predecessor. Air intake and cooling vents predominate.
The mesh on either side of the license plate open directly to the engine compartment. The long wide slit on the leading edge of the trunk lid may have been missing lettering. The owner challenged us to guess what this car was – and we lost.
Dual air intakes (cooling and engine intake) at the base of the rear window.
It’s the radiator cap… not the gas cap.
The rear window wraps around. You can see that provision is made inside on the left for the radiator tubing.
The interior is very sporty, with no pretenses made. The seating position looks to be ideal for this size of car.
Steering wheel and badge detail. We didn’t see any script identifying the brand name. It was all missing on this example.
A large speedometer and tachometer are provided, with small gauges at the bottom for gas and temperature. Intriguingly, the instruments are lettered in Portuguese.
Rear package shelf.
The production engine was either a .845 liter (37 HP), a .904 liter (53 HP), or a .998 liter (60 HP, 1 Weber twin carb) engine, depending on year of manufacture. This is an iron block and head non-crossflow overhead valve engine.
Further reading: we have the following book in our library and it’s an excellent reference for all of the Alpines, from the A106 thru the GTA.
A beautifully restored Renault Alpine A108 (probably a Willys Interlaghos) reviewed on MotorDay TV in Brazil:
After seeing a Renault Alpine for the first time in >20 years at a local Cars and Coffee event, we became intrigued by the history of this unique car and of Alpine as a manufacturer. And then we found two more Alpines at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee USA. As we’ve said before, this museum has our vote for the best car museum in North America, and it’s certainly the most approachable museum. You’ll note in the pictures we’ve taken here and here that none of the cars are blocked off or otherwise separated from visitors. While you can’t touch them, you can look all around them, examine details, look underneath, etc.
The museum has over 330 cars, but with room to display only about 100 of them at any given moment. So we were very fortunate to have found both of their Renault Alpines on display for this visit. Note that the museum also has two Renault Dauphines, a Renault 5 Turbo 2, and some other Renaults.
This bright red 1986 Renault Alpine GTA Turbo is again powered by a 2.5 liter (2458 cc) 200 HP V-6 engine, this time with 200 horsepower. It’s one of only 21 Alpines said to be in the United States, out of approximately 8000 Alpines produced by Renault in the years 1971 to 1992.
The GTAs loudly proclaim their powerplant, which is typical for the 80s but also justified because of the collaboration between Alpine and Renault which produced the turbocharged Formula 1 engines which smashed all the previous records.
The dark red Alpine we examined at the Cars and Coffee event had non-standard wheels and tires. These are the correct wheels, although the tires are modern radials.
The interior is well laid-out in a modular fashion. Note the floor-hinged pedals below.
Being a GT-type car, the seat bolsters are generous (especially in the hip area) but not confining. We notice details like that as we walk past the cars in the Lane Motor Museum and dream of driving some like them one day.
We really like the rear design, with wrap around taillights and especially the integrated spoiler (like the original Lotus Esprit).
The lettering is molded right into the hatch.
Parked next to the red Alpine is an earlier model 1985 Renault Alpine 310. We were very lucky to see this car at the Lane Motor Museum – we had never seen an earlier Alpine in person. This Alpine is also powered by a 6 cylinder, in this case a naturally aspirated 2.7 liter 2664cc) V-6. This Alpine uses a mid-engine layout, with a monocoque and a fiberglass body. Weight is approximately 1800 pounds. It was built by hand in Dieppe, France and sold thru Renault dealers.
The styling of the front end is similar to the red car. Note the Renault badge is used here instead of an Alpine badge.
The side profile will remind some of the later Pantera, and offers a light open cockpit with excellent forward and side visibility.
The rear design is a bit puzzling… perhaps remind viewers of the functionality of the Lotus Europa. The purpose of the high sides and scoops immediately following the rear side windows is to get cooling air into the engine radiators and coolers. Integration of the fenders with the roof is… odd.
We were surprised to find the Alpine was originally equipped with Michelin TRX (“Tension Reparte X”) tires, with their special 390MM wheels. Very few cars used these in production, the Mustang GT and some BMW 3, 5, 6, and 7 series amongst them. If the tire and unique rim design was indeed a better idea by Michelin, it was a poor idea for enthusiasts as replacement tires of this type were only produced by Michelin and Avon.
The interior is a straightforward driver-centric design with a thick steering wheel and well-placed shifter. Being designed as a 2+2 GT, creature comforts abound including cloth door panels and dash covers and a stereo system. Très sophistiqué!
We’re going to keep our eyes open for further examples of the Renault Alpine. There are more models to be seen, such as the earlier A1xx series from the 1970s and perhaps even a rally car. Perhaps somebody has catalogued the 20+ cars (and their location) that are said to be in the United States…?
- Renault Alpine Owners Club: http://www.renaultalpineownersclub.com
- Rumors of a new 350Z-based Renault Alpine: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-blog/?p=1233
While enjoying a walk around the local Cars and Coffee recently, much to our surprise we were presented with a Renault Alpine GTA Turbo. In North America, this is an extremely rare car…. while AMC imported a few during their brief fling with Renault, the bulk were private importations. Which isn’t easy – hence our surprise at finding this example. The last one of these we’d seen in person was 20 years ago! And we would have liked to have talked to the owner, but unfortunately he or she was not to be found…
This 1986 model sports a 2.5 liter V-6 with single turbo, yielding from 197 to 210 HP depending on model year. The chassis is a steel-backbone with fiberglass and polyester (!) panels. Curb weight was about 3000 pounds. Period specs show a 0-60 time of around 7 seconds, with a 160 MPH top end.
These are not be original wheels, most of all of these cars had aluminum disks with a large flat center section surrounded with airvane-like spokes.
Note the headlamp covers by Cibie – making this a European or a European-ized car, rather than an AMC car with the Federally-mandated pop-ups and yellow turning lights.
With the engine in the back, the front boot has plenty of room for cleaning supplies, which this owner used industriously. The car was simply immaculate. It’s probably the prize of a local owner’s French car collection.
We really like the back of this car, especially the large integrated spoiler. Note the functional grill between the taillights.
And the molded-in lettering. Subtle, beautiful.
The interior is also very handsome, and very very French. One concession to the ’80s is the graphic equalizer ahead of the 5-speed manual on the center console. You don’t see that anymore! Fortunately, unlike some of the most eclectic French cars, the steering wheel has three spokes instead of one big offset spoke…
Stepping around the back, we find a rear-mounted V-6. Same bad location as a 911… and as we remember from road tests of the age, same tail-happy handling characteristics.
With an intercooled fuel-injected turbo (found under the chromed box at the top), providing fairly good acceleration times.
The two large tubes lead to/from the intercooler, located in the grill between the taillights.
- Renault Alpine Owners Club: http://www.renaultalpineownersclub.com/
Austin resident Jonathan Burnette will begin a drive Tuesday from Austin Texas to Fairbanks Alaska in his classic Dauphine. Is he crazy? No, he’s a long-time Renault mechanic, and it’s the challenge of driving a $200 car all the way to Alaska that appeals to him.
Read the full article in the Statesman-American here: http://www.statesman.com/life/in-59-dauphine-trip-may-literally-be-alaska-783433.html
We encountered Jonathan’s Dauphine at the recent Cars and Coffee show here in Austin, but didn’t know about the trip at the time. If we had, we would have wished him the best. How many people get a chance to take a trip like this? How many have the confidence in themselves to take a 50 year old car?
As you can see in the accompanying video, the interior is very small. Hopefully a radio will be installed before the trip…?
The hood badge is worn, but you can see how elaborate it is.
See the video introduction here:
Follow ”Dauphine Destiny” and “Alaska Renault Trip” on Facebook for progress reports over the next month. This Dauphine is a tough survivor, and Jonathan is clearly the best man for the job.
Good luck Jonathan!
As first discussed in my blog posting of November 2005, Renault has been considering reviving the Alpine brand for the past several years. Discussion in the press on this possibility has recently picked up with the suggestion that 2010 could be the year the car debuts.
References on web:
Plans have apparently taken a step forward, coinciding with the major updates that were made to the Nissan FM platform and architecture. Given the strategic alliance with Nissan, and the lack of a suitable chassis from Renault itself, what better platform to use than the updated FM architecture? The FM platform is the basis for the current G37 coupe and G35/G37 sedan, and older variants are found under the M35/45 and 350Z. When the 350Z is updated to the 370Z this coming winter, it will ride on the updated FM platform and will be both lighter and shorter than the current 350Z.
The original Alpine concept of a few years ago is shown below. With the 370Z taking several steps to cut weight significantly from 350Z levels, the revised FM platform with a turbo 4 or Nissan V-6 would seem to be ideal for the purpose. This could also significant a revival of “sporting” spirit at Renault, whose products have been mainly stuck in the French market and which – with a few exceptions – have been decidedly dull as far as enthusiasts are concerned.
Without Renault selling cars in North America, we’ve missed out on all these great shows. Eventually, Renault will be back. Will the creativity shown in these ads also come here?
Renault Grand Scenic – Sex on the beach. So good you’ll eventually fill up the 7-seat minivan? Note the post-coital cig.
Renault Scenic – this time from Australia.
Renault Clio MTV
Renault hands-free open and start. Handy when it’s cold out.
Renault Clio – “makes you look good”
Renault Scenic Alize
And, finally, while this next one isn’t a television commercial – it should have been. Yes, that’s a Renault F1 playing “God Save The Queen” with it’s V-10 engine.
Very worthwhile article in this morning’s The Car Connection. Now that GM has pulled out of the talks, is Ford next?
Several major issues with a potential deal. In my opinion, all of them can be addressed except the one thing that has hurt Ford more than anything else in the past few years: the Ford family itself. They won’t cede control, and there is no way to be rid of them. They may have learned a lesson when they put the very inexperienced Billy Ford in charge… but they still have their voting control shares so they still call all the shots. And there are several more Ford family members making the rounds inside Ford – waiting their own turn at the top.
So until the Ford family agrees to let go of it’s special shares, any kind of a deal with Renault-Nissan is highly improbable.
Keep in mind that merger talks between two companies can also be a major distraction… Ford clearly has to keep focus on this issues and not let up on it’s drive for new products – and especially higher quality.
The Hollywood Extra has the scoop on a possible 350Z-based Renault (parent company of Nissan) Alpine revival. The concept is shown here.
One thing to keep in mind is that the 350Z as we know it is coming to the end of it’s product cycle…. the FM platform is being updated and when and where the 350Z will go is not known by the general public body of enthusiasts.
“What” is the first question. There will of course be a next-gen 350Z (Nissan has said so) and it will be even more of an enthusiast car next time out: Nissan has done some talking in the press about taking on the Porsche Cayman. We don’t see any difficulty there – Nissan already has the far better engine (more HP and torque) and a great platform, so it wouldn’t be the over-priced under-performer the Porsche is. Then there is the rumor of a “450Z”, although I’d be concerned about maintaining a nicely balanced chassis if it ended up with a heavy V-8 up front.
“When” is the next question… if Nissan is making general directional statements then that means they have some general direction and that engineering goals are accepted or at least laid out. The next iteration of the FM platform will be shown in concept form at the 2006 NAIAS show, so the underlying chassis is moving ahead as well. It’s generally thought (scanning the press discussion) that a new G35 sedan/coupe is in the late 2007-2008 timeframe (Japanese enthusiast magazines have been running photochops of the “V37″ for a year), with a 350Z following in 2009.
The Alpines in their day were fast, fragile, and “odd”. The new one looks like it could be carrying on some of the family traditions… except this time out it would be based on the excellent and state-of-the-art Nissan FM platform.