Launched in 1961, the rear-engined, air-cooled, rear-wheel drive Alpine A110 shared many similarities with the iconic Porsche 911, which would be unveiled two years later. However, the A110 is by no means “just a French 911”, as this sexy little coupe would go on to become a legend in its own right.
The A110 was basically a revision of its predecessor, the A108, and had been adapted to fit the 1.1 litre Gordini R8 inline four-cylinder engine. To accommodate the new, larger power plant, the A110 had been given two badass ram air scoops on its rear wheel-arches, which added to the more masculine and aggressive aesthetic of the new car. The A110 also gained wider, more flared wheel arches and an extra set of lights, giving the car it’s iconic quad-headlight look and hinting at its rallying intentions. Like the old car, the A110 had a steel chassis and fibreglass body, which allowed for a kerb weight of just 706 kilos, while that new engine delivered a healthy 95 hp, which meant a more than adequate power-to-weight ratio of 135 hp per tonne; pretty meaty when compared to the 911’s 120 hp per tonne.
The late 60s saw the A110 dipping its toes into French rallying, where it saw a lot of success with the Gordini Engines, but the early 70s was when the A110 really earned its spot in the rallying hall of fame. Before it was unleashed on the world stage, Alpine decided to upgrade the A110 with the more powerful 1.6-litre i4 engine from the Renault 16 TS. The new A110 1600s now had 125 ponies to play with and was ready to race.
1971 saw Swedish driver, Ova Anderson, take home gold at the Monte Carlo rally in an A110, and that was just the beginning. Things really started to heat up following the completion of the Renault buy-out of Alpine and the introduction of the World Rally Championship in 1973. Renault’s works team decided to compete with their new toy and featured Bernard Darniche, Jean-Pierre Nicolas, and Jean-Luc Thérier as permanent drivers, and “guest stars” like Jean-Claude Anduret. Bernie and the three Jeans did very well indeed, with a team spirit and energy that you would expect of a team with at least four Jeans, bagging them a slew of victories. In 1973 alone they won the Monte Carlo Rally, the Rallye de Portugal, the Rallye du Maroc, the Acropolis Rally, the Rallye Sanremo, and the French Tour de Corse. All those W’s under their belt bagged Renault one more win, becoming the first ever World Rally Champion.
Unfortunately for the A110, its time on the podium wasn’t one to last. 1974 saw the introduction of the Lancia Stratos, the first car specifically designed for rally racing. The Stratos proved to be an absolute weapon, rendering all other rally cars of the era obsolete and winning every World Rally Championship for Manufacturers from 1974 to 1976, as well as the Driver’s Championship in 1977. However, the A110 had already cemented itself as both a design and rally icon. In 2012, to mark the 50th anniversary of the A110, Renault released a concept car called the A110-50, and as of this year, the first production cars featuring one of the most beautiful throwback designs ever have started hitting the roads. Now the A110 is not only the OG WRC Champion, but it is also one of the most enduring designs of all time, outlasting even the Porsche 911; a title few cars can claim.