This Car Is Good Because You Cannot Get It


We are, maybe, right before the beginning of the next Malaise Era. At the very least, we’re nearing the peak of high performance cars powered by internal combustion engines. It’s the summer of ’69 all over again so bye-bye Audi R8 with a V10, you’ll be an EV soon. Since it’s 1969 it means that there are so many good cars you can buy right now (or at least order, no promises on delivery). That means it’s good that there are cars you cannot have. You should not be able to have every car. Take the Alpine A110R for example or, if you’re in America, don’t. You can’t.


This wasn’t intended to be a rant but David’s still wrapping up his Australian adventure and the lunatics are running the asylum, so a rant it may yet become. There are so many good cars. So many. Toyota is selling a three-cylinder rally car, basically, in the Toyota GR Corolla, and no one here even watches rally in America. We’ve got the Maverick and a million good trucks.

Wanting something you cannot have is good. It makes you care. It makes you hurt, but it makes you care. When you go to another country it makes it special to see a car that anyone else would just ignore (just ask anyone who has been with me to another country).

A110 R Tokyo Profile

“Oh damn, it’s a Skoda Fabia!” you exclaim to your partner, who then squints and tries to understand why you’re so excited about what appears to be the European equivalent of a Chevy Sonic.

The Alpine A110 is one of those cars. If you live in Europe you’ve maybe seen them. A Renault spinoff, Alpine was a small car company that earned a reputation for building successful and gorgeous rally cars. Their only car right now is the A110 and it’s a mid-engined, Cayman-like coupe that’s absolutely delightful.


I got a chance to drive one when we used it on a television episode I was producing and absolutely fell in love with it. Philosophically, the Germans approach performance car handling  like gravitational forces are the enemy. They use strategic springs and damper tuning as weapons in the battle against physics. It means sports cars like the Porsche Cayman are extremely neutral up to the limit and fairly predictable beyond it. It works well.

The Alpine is philosophically quite different. Rather than fighting gravity, the A110 works with it. Rather than try to force the wheel into the ground with the suspension the relatively softly sprung A110 bends its lithe body in such a way that the whole car helps keeps itself planted. This works because the car is extremely light (under 2,500 pounds) and not that powerful (249 hp in regular guise, 288 hp in S form).

I love it.

Now there’s a new Alpine, the Alpine A110R. The R, maybe, stands for “Radical.”

Alpine R Motor

Alpine spent a bunch of time making this thing an even more track-focused offering. They’ve dropped about 75 pounds, upped power to 300 horses from the little 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-four behind the driver. There’s carbon fiber everywhere, including the wheels and the rear window (which is to say that it no longer has a rear window).

It’s lower, too, and has stiffer springs front and rear, and adjustable hydraulic shock absorbers out back that offer 20 clicks of adjustment. With more power comes bigger brakes from Brembo and more tire from Michelin in the form of Pilot Sport Cup 2s.

Inside it’s all business with a single-shell carbon fiber seat from Sabelt, a racing harness instead of seatbelts, and straps instead of door handles.


Does all this make the car a better performer on track? Almost certainly. Is it as simple and joyous as the regular Alpine? Does it matter? In Europe and Japan and to a small group of drivers and collectors it might.

To an American it just means that, in 20 years or so when someone imports one and you see it, you can ask “Ah, but why not the Alpine A110R?” and the owner can throw back their head and laugh and say “Well, I’m no radical!” Then you can let out a chuckle as well, enjoying your little shibboleth.


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20 Responses

  1. “why not the A110R?” Maybe because I don’t have $150,000 to spend on a car, and maybe because if I did I’d have a gently used 911 Turbo, or a less-gently used Huracan

  2. The Alpine would still be a good car even if they sold them at your local Nissan dealer. That you can’t get it adds to the mystique, but it’s not otherwise a boring car only made engaging by it being forbidden.

    And we are not heading into a malaise era. New cars may be more boring once they all good hybrid and EV, but they will still be VERY good cars for your average driver. The malaise era was distinguished by horribly built cars that were also highly compromised due to emissions and mileage issues. Cars by every objective metric were bad. EVs will be good cars by every objective metric. They’ll just be kind of boring. (Fast as hell, but boring.)

    1. “We are, maybe, right before the beginning of the next Malaise Era.ᶜᶦᵗᵃᵗᶦᵒⁿ ⁿᵉᵉᵈᵉᵈ”

    2. I think we’ve already been in the next Malaise Era for about a decade. The vast majority of available vehicles are overpriced, overweight, feature-laden, over-sized wannabe luxo barges, that while objectively they are faster in a straight line than more fun cars of the past, they also have the driving dynamics of stuck pigs wrapped in plastic packing bubbles and are going to be impossibly expensive to repair towards the end of their lives and thus destined to become landfill fodder.

      If anything, EV technology could offer the promise of a new golden age of affordable performance. But it all depends on what kind of platforms automakers actually build to put that technology into. Batteries are not cheap to produce, but they are much more flexible with regard to placement within a chassis than a gasoline ICE and its ancillaries are. We need lighter, more aerodynamically streamlined vehicle platforms for that affordable performance to be a possibility.

      1. Really? Because consider the real last Malaise Era; the “economy” cars were poorly made, heavy, barely saved on gas, were only slightly less expensive than the giant predecessors. The reason we will not see a Malaise Era is two fold IMO; 1. The EV change is neither sneaking up on car manufacturers nor are they burying their heads in the sand. The Leaf is 10 years old, the Bolt was 5 years ago, the Volt 12 years, there isn’t going to be a “hurry up and make something!” mad dash. Even the Big 3 are planning ahead. 2. Unlike the last Malaise, styling is on the table, plastics are faster and cheaper to tool, just look at the Kia EV6..
        The new Era of cars, even if they are not gigawatt Teslas, will look and perform much much better than the 70’s Malaise abominations, heck even the Leaf you seem to be dissing can out sprint a 1969 Mustang with the 351.. As “truly bad an affordable EV can be” it’s miles and miles ahead of what happened in the 70’s. 80’s, heck part of the 90’s. A future of Nissan Leaves is better than a future of Pintos, Omnis or Early Hyundais.

  3. “We’ve got the Maverick…”

    Not really. Can you say we’ve “got” a vehicle that is available for sale for 2 weeks out of every 52?

    I’m pretty angry at Ford for hyping the Maverick for 3 years before it came out, and then limiting production so hard that you’ve got to stand in line with cash in hand if you want to buy one, but only for 2 weeks a year.

    1. There was barely a rumor about the Maverick before Ford announced it last June, and there’s no reason to believe that they’re consciously limiting production beyond what they can actually make right now.

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