In among all the V8 muscle cars and V12 supercars, there was space at Vee-Power Sunday Breakfast Club for some more subtle, but equally interesting V-engined cars.
Tucked away at the far end of the grid, in between a Toyota Century and a 1932 Ford Model A pick-up truck, was a delightful example of classic French design. An Alpine A310, in its later 2.7-litre V6 form. Fewer than 10,000 were ever built, which makes it a pretty rare thing, especially in the UK – most of A310s were, perhaps predictably, sold in France. At best guess there might be fewer than ten currently running on British roads. So it was something of a treat to see this pop up on the entry list for Vee-Power Sunday.
As it was, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get in touch with the owner, and talk to him about what it’s like to own such a distinct and eye-catching car. This exact model was built at the very end of the A310s life in 1984, powered by that 150PS (110kW) PRV V6, an engine that Ian believes makes the car far more capable than the 1.6-litre four-cylinder-engined version that predated it. Sales numbers would seem to corroborate his claim, as the 1.6 lasted for just five years between 1971-’76 before giving way to the V6, which stayed in production until 1984.
While the power figure itself might not be huge, the owner (Ian) speaks of its capability: “It’s so long-legged. Motorways, autoroutes, we’ve had a few French holidays with it, it’s just so relaxing to drive because the engine’s not working – it’s not having to work very hard at all.”
So what is the story behind Alpine A310? Well, it was introduced as the successor the legendary A110, which won the World Rally Championship in 1973, a four-seater sportscar with an updated look to match the new trends of the 1970s. The body was formed from fibreglass, which covered a tubular steel chassis, and altogether weighed 980kg. It followed the same ideology of its esteemed predecessor, but never quite hit the same heights in the world of motorsport. It raced as a Group 4 car in French competitions, and enjoyed a successful campaign in the 1977 French Rally Championship.
In the years following its production run, it hasn’t quite garnered the same appreciation that we have seen for the A110 – there’s no A310 reimagining in the pipeline for the time being – but there are plenty of enthusiasts out there looking after these rare and charming cars.
We asked Ian what drew him to buy his A310 in the first place. “I started with a GTA which became a complete love/hate relationship because they’re very badly built,” Ian begins. “And the one I bought had problems. It cost us quite a lot of money.
“But I just love the whole concept of Alpines. The glass fibre, no rust on the body, and I knew about their ride qualities. So when I spotted this in a classic car magazine we pretty much had to have it.
“I had an A610, which was like a supercar to drive but there wasn’t the engagement. I’ve got an A110, which is very raw, you have to grab it round the throat, which if you’re in the mood and doing the right sort of journey is very exciting. But this is just so laid back and immensely capable. The joy is just knowing that you’ve got all that power under you, you’ve got the speed, but also the speed to get out of trouble. It’s just a really comfortable cruising car.”
What is most interesting about this particular A310, though, is just how original it is. Considering it’s been out in the world for almost 40 years, Ian told us the car has had very little work done on it besides residual upkeep. “For all of my classics, I keep them as original as I can. I think that’s really important, but I think it’s also the way of maintaining the investment value of them.
“If somebody’s going to do something to them then I guess they could, but if you’ve gone down a particular route of tuning or whatever then they’ve got to probably undo, if they don’t agree with what you’ve done then they’ve got to undo that before they can do anything else.”
It was good to know that the car we were looking at was the real deal. A genuine Alpine A310, as it would have been the day it was built. But Ian pointed out that keeping such a rare car in original condition is more difficult than you might think. He said: “Renault garages know nothing about them. They don’t understand them at all.
“That was one of the problems with the GTA, there were some jobs which I thought were beyond me at the time, I wish I had done them now, but I took the car to Renault garages and they just didn’t understand what they were doing. Most of the components are Renault parts shelf components, but there was just something about the way everything was put together that they didn’t really understand.”
But owning a car like this does of course have its perks. Not only is it a hugely enjoyable car to drive, but it’s also a pretty special car to own, particularly when you take it back to its home country. Ian recalls: “My favourite moment was in France, at traffic lights, at a crossroads. A French guy walks along, came round the corner, spotted the car and just went *thumbs up*. That was just a magic moment, he was completely understated but he was wanting to show his appreciation and his approval.”
There you have it. What better seal of approval can you hope to get of a French car? We appreciated it, too!