(Jacob Rumans) #1

74


‘It’sliveda colourfullife,’saysartistWolf
SulhanofhisAlpineA310GT,‘andhasbeen
shippedallovertheworldby previous
owners, fromParisto HongKong.It hasan
unusualhistorytoo,becauseit appears it
wasoriginallybuiltin 1978 asa standardV6,
andre -shelledandmodifiedby Alpinea
fewyearslaterwhentheGT Packbecame
available.Theinterioroptions– the
plumbed-infireextinguisher,rallymeter
andst opwatches– suggestit wasusedfor
privateerrallyinginFrancetoo.I’mcurrently
tryingto traceitscompetitionhistory.
‘I love itsaesthetics,andalsothe
practicalityandruggednessof itsdesign.
Glassfibre doesn’trust,soit happilylives
outsideundera carcover.It is proneto
runninghot though,not helpedby thelack
ofductingandventsintheenginebay– a
surprisingdesignflaw,really– soI’vehadto
adda manually-switchablecoolingfan.’

OWNING THE ALPINE A310GT


The A310’s Trevor Fiore-penned lines promoted with
jet-setting brochure imagery make it out to be a sophisticated
Maserati Merak-type all-rounder, exotic styling combined with
two-plus-two practicality and a dash of luxury in the leather
embrace of its seats. But the raw materials speak of a different
purpose. Short wheelbase, lightweight glassfibre construction
and rear-biased weight distribution usually results in something
that flips through 180 degrees with ease in the middle of a hairpin
bend, and can be flicked sideways telepathically – provided the
steering’s nervous enough – on gravel. All the hallmarks of a
pre-Audi-Quattro Group 4 rally machine. Something to succeed
the once-peerless little A110 in a more brutish, power-crazed era.
A counter to the mighty Lancia Stratos and Porsche 911.
With those cars in mind, sliding aboard definitely puts me more
in mind of the Stratos. It feels incredibly compact, even more so
once the flimsy plastic door is shut, the window’s edge mere
inches from my shoulder. My knees have
to negotiate a low-set wheel, and once
ensconced, although I’m comfortably
reclined, there’s a noticeable skew in both
pedals and steering column towards the
centre of the car, as though it started out
as a single-seater and was massaged into
practicality as an afterthought. Speaking
of practicality, that leather-clad cubbyhole
of a rear seating bench is as useless as
an MG BGT’s, even so far as children
are concerned, but given that there’s no
boot – and that a full-size spare wheel
occupies the front storage compartment – it
functions as the A310’s de facto boot space.
The unassisted steering is a full three
and a half turns lock-to-lock, which doesn’t
sounds particularly sporty, but it is. There’s
very little weight over the nose, and the
turning circle is very tight for a sports car
with 205-section tyres up front. It also
doesn’t take long to realise quite how alert,
direct and free of slack the steering is.
On full lock it’ll negotiate a cramped car
park or climb an ultra-tight mountain
hairpin bend with ease, but the vast
majority of bends can be taken with your
hands fixed at quarter-to-three as the finest
race-bred machines should.

And all the while, it manages to balance a sense of fine
communication with smoothness, eddies in the tarmac translating
into little twitches of the wheel rather than brutal wrenches. I’m
having a hard time thinking of another contemporary sports car
with steering so pure. A Lotus Esprit has the feedback but not the
lock; A Porsche 911 marries its wieldiness with tiring information
overload. This level of control and tactility is a defining Alpine
trait, cropping up as it does in the earlier A110 and later GTA too.
Other elements of the drive carry this sense of compliance.
The gearchange is long-throw but moves as silkily as a warm
knife through chocolate cake. The ride is also impressive, the
combination of wishbones and transverse links on each corner,
long-travel dampers and high-sidewall tyres absorbing ruts like an
executive saloon while tightly maintaining body control. The alert
steering keeps me informed of road-surface imperfections, but the
suspension ensures the car won’t be thrown off-course.
The engine, too, suggests sophistication.
Although the big wheelarches, side-skirts
and spoilers – and the fact the Group 4 A310
V6 blitzed the French Rally Championship
straight out of development in 1977 – suggest
something violently quick and unashamedly
unrefined, the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 –
devised to propel leather-clad luxobarges as
well as Le Mans prototypes – is as urbane as
the rest of the car.
There’s a slight crackle on ignition, then
it settles to a whisper at idle. Accelerate
hard, and there are no sudden jolts of
power, just an escalating wave of torque.
Exhaust sibilance turns to snarl at around
3000rpm, but even then it’s muted from
the perspective of the cabin; one of the
advantages of a rear-mounted engine
means all the noise is left behind you.
I’m mindful of that 37/63 rear-biased
weight distribution as I attack a sequence
of Chiltern forest bends, preparing for the
car to wander under braking and threaten
tail-happiness if corners are taken with too
much speed. A vicious downhill hairpin,
tighter than it first looked, throws up a
challenge to the A310GT’s dynamics, but its
attitude through the corner is more like a
mid- than a rear-engined car.

[Alpine A310GT]

Among the best
steering in the
business, says Sam