Alpine-Renault GTA was slated for U.S. sale but was cancelled by Chrysler Corporation’s buyout of Renault’s equity in American Motors.
Renault allowed the Alpine-Renault A310 V-6 to run more than eight years before fielding a stunning replacement intended to carry the marque into the 1990s. Although the new Alpine-Renault GTA is similar in many ways, it has a lot that’s completely new. It’s certainly the most professional A-R yet.
Where the A310 had been created on the cheap by Jean Redele’s company, the Alpine-Renault GTA was designed by Renault itself, using every computer-assisted technique available. Moreover, the A310 was intended strictly for local consumption, while the Alpine-Renault GTA was planned for export appeal, particularly in the lucrative U.S. market.
First, though, the similarities. The A310 used a steel backbone frame, with the engine slung out behind and driving the rear wheels. Its fiberglass body afforded 2 + 2 (or, more charitably, close-coupled four-seat) accommodation. The Alpine-Renault GTA keeps this design faith in a more modern idiom. In addition, it’s larger and roomier: three inches longer in wheelbase, four inches wider, two inches taller.
Structurally, the Alpine-Renault GTA is altogether more integrated than the A310, as it should be, coming from Renault. For example, its backbone frame uses much thinner metal, while the A310’s entirely separate body has been axed in favor of fiberglass panels bonded to the chassis, resulting in a steel/fiberglass monocoque. As if to dispel the fiction that fiberglass body cars are necessarily light, the Alpine-Renault GTA weighs in at 2540 pounds, with the bodyshell accounting for 575 pounds of it, about 20 percent.
Compared with the A310, the Alpine-Renault GTA’s styling was very carefully considered to optimize aerodynamics. Still, headlamps continue with sloping glass covers, and a low front “chin” spoiler and smartly integrated rear spoiler are also retained. But shape makes all the difference, and the Alpine-Renault GTA boosts a coefficient of drag (Cd) of only 0.28.
Interestingly, Renault claims that the more significant CdA air-resistance figure (Cd × frontal area) is 5.1 square feet for the GTA, the lowest of any production car in the world. It is in such details that the Alpine-Renault GTA is so obviously a product of Renault rather than Alpine-Renault, and it made an immediate impression.
Mechanically, the Alpine-Renault GTA marked a further evolution of the A310. Power is still provided by the PRV V-6, but there are now two versions. The basic Alpine-Renault GTA carries a normally aspirated 2849-cc unit with Renault’s own unique combination of single and twin-choke carburetors, good for 160 bhp at 5750 rpm. But the big news was availability of the 200-bhp 2458-cc turbocharged engine from the big Renault 25 sedan, which gives the Alpine-Renault GTA 150 mph flat out.
As in the A310, both engines mount longitudinally and drive forward to an all-indirect Renault 5-speed gearbox. Automatic is again conspicuous by its absence, which brings us back to more similarities: all-independent suspension by coil springs and double wishbones, all-disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering (albeit with standard power assist). To trim the tail-heavy handling (front/rear weight distribution is 39/63 percent), Renault specifies larger tires for the rear than the front, also as before except that both are bigger here: 195/50VR-15 fore, massive 255/45VR-15 rubber aft.
Although the Alpine-Renault GTA feels like a much better car than the A310, its handling still occasionally betrays that heavy rearward weight bias. Closing the throttle in tight corners can result in a spin, as it does on many Porsche 911s, though it’s hardly hurt the sales of those cars.
And make no mistake: the Alpine-Renault GTA is as fast as it looks, especially the Turbo. Yet because of the rear-engine position, it’s surprisingly quiet when driven briskly. There’s also no doubt that it has more interior space than its obvious rivals. Renault believe they’ve produced a better car than the 911, though only time will tell.
Sad to say, the Alpine-Renault GTA won’t be sold in North America after all, even though designed for U.S. standards and intended to be the new flagship of Renault’s American-market fleet. The reason, of course, is the 1987 Chrysler Corporation buyout of Renault’s 46-percent stake in American Motors and, more to point, the close similarities in price and target audience between the Alpine-Renault GTA and Chrysler’s long-delayed Maserati-built TC.
Understandably, Chrysler doesn’t need two $30,000 sports cars (it’ll have trouble enough with one). And, corporate pride being what it is, any automaker will prefer its own product over one from an erstwhile rival, even one picked up as part of an acquisition.
So the Alpine-Renault GTA has been locked out of the U.S. market (just as Renault itself will be eventually), and it’s too bad. It’s cars like this that make life more interesting for enthusiasts, and American buffs will be that much poorer for lack of the Alpine-Renault GTA.