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).
“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 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.