1981 Alpine A310 V6 Group 4 Rally-Spec
Classic motor sport enthusiast Jamie Buchanan loves an oddball, and they don’t come stranger than his dream rear-engined 1981 Alpine A310. We throw him the keys for an unconventional blast.
‘So much fun on the right roads; it oozes sheer charisma’
A reader with a taste for leftfield classics tries out a rally-spec A310 V6
Words EMMA WOODCOCK
Photos IAN SKELTON
Your Dream Drive made real
The List Reader Jamie Buchanan lives his rally dream in a Group 4-spec Alpine A310 V6
The 1981 Alpine A310 lunges into view, its space-age styling and classic competition decals searing in the morning sun. Its low cabin twitches to each tug of the front wheels but the sonorous exhaust blare never wavers as it bursts through the gorse bushes, then dips out of sight. Jamie Buchanan is awestruck. ‘What a beast!’ Standing in an adjoining car park, he savours every second as the rare French sports car accelerates back up the hill and crunches to a halt on the gravel. ‘This is just such a knock-out car to see in person.’ Today we’ve arranged for him to discover whether the drive can match up to its alien Alpine looks.
A one tonne wedge of retro glassfibre should be a stark contrast to Jamie’s usual road car tastes. Leaning against his current W204 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupé, he fleshes out his criteria for the perfect daily driver. ‘I find myself choosing cars with big, lazy engines, often with an automatic transmission to match. It all started with a Peugeot 605, which gave way to an American-built Honda Accord Coupe, a Volkswagen Golf MkIV R32 and a dire Alfa Romeo 159. The closest model I’ve owned to the Alpine was my 993-generation Porsche 911 Carrera 4. I requested a V6 A310 instead of the basic four-cylinder because it competes that much more directly with a 911.’
‘This is just such a knock-out car to see in person’
Not that the classic motor sport enthusiast is entirely unversed in the rear-engined ways of the manufacturer hailing from Dieppe, France. ‘I drove a friend’s race-prepared A110 in the Nineties and enjoyed a very memorable passenger ride in his partner’s A110 road car. They were sensational little things – little being the operative word – but I can’t wait to experience the less common A310. Walking around it now, the newer car seems so much more grown up and its non-standard swollen wheelarches impart fabulous proportions.’
On that topic owner Georgi Galabov explains, ‘The bodykit comes from the Alpine factory. It’s an original Group 5 prototype rally package that a previous owner had fitted in France. It’s my favourite part of the car and a real eye-catcher. Other modifications include the period-correct Pioneer sound system I’ve installed, the rollcage and the upgraded PRV 3.0 engine. The original would have been a 2.7-litre unit from the same range.’ A devoted Renault fan with three 25s, two 21 Turbos, an Alpine GTA and an Alpine A610, Georgi bought the A310 in 2020. ‘I wanted a real classic. I love the look and the cabin alike.’
Jamie is just about to get himself acquainted with the acres of velvet-soft fabric and red pinstriping, if only he can fold himself through the short, low door aperture. ‘What an experience,’ he says with a chuckle. ‘Getting my right leg threaded between the rollcage and the steering wheel is going to take practise. It’s verging on the hilarious.’ As he finally slots into the seat, the pedal box reveals the same cramped conditions. ‘I wore the narrowest shoes I own in anticipation but I still feel tightly stacked. The clutch is especially challenging to engage.’
‘The rim is constantly darting, pulling the car towards cambers’
‘That said, I’m comfortable. There’s nothing I’d change about the fundamental driving position. I must be just the right shape! My knees aren’t protesting and the tiny steering wheel takes me back a few decades, to when I fitted a 12-inch Moto-Lita to my Triumph TR6.’ The plush surfacing adds to his positive first impression. ‘It’s a lot more sophisticated than the A110. The upholstery and carpets are of their era but they add luxury – a pleasant change from the modern drive for leather everywhere.’
The starter whinnies for several seconds, Jamie heeding Georgi’s advice to keep away from the throttle until the engine finally fires to its 1000rpm idle. ‘It ticks over as comfortably as you like,’ he remarks as we pull away. ‘The engine already feels phenomenally well mannered, with so much torque from almost no revs at all.’ It’s the sole comfort for a stressful first few miles, Jamie visibly tensing as he guides the hip-high, left-hand-drive machine into a nearby village.
‘I’ll admit I’m nervous. Initial experiences with valuable, unusual cars are moments of great trepidation for me. I’m not sure why I should feel that; I’ve got quite the driving history behind me, including the day in 1994 when Classic Cars invited me to drive a pair of genuine Ford GT40s. But I’m experiencing the same sensation now, nonetheless. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a car that demands so much involvement.’
Early challenges centre around the five-speed manual transmission. ‘That was meant to be a downshift to second but I think I’ve actually got fourth,’ he says with a sigh. ‘I’m finding it very difficult to get used to the gate, and every shift requires me to ram the clutch pedal all the way to the carpet.’ The situation doesn’t improve quickly, each shift punctuating the exhaust roar with long periods of silence. ‘I’m looking forward to shift becoming second nature, so I can focus on the rest of the drive. Let’s see if I can get it right this time… No, that’s fourth again!’ Feedback floods through the other controls, so Jamie can’t rest as the Alpine noses onto an undulating B-road. ‘It’s quite the stiff little thing and the rim is constantly darting, pulling the car towards cambers. The steering is very direct. A corner appears and the nose points as soon as I can turn the wheel. It reminds me of a race-prepared Caterham 7 or a Lotus Exige. Inputs instantly turn into reactions. I’m being jiggled about all over the place, the cabin is full of all kinds of squeaks, rattles, engine sounds and intake roar and it’s just tremendously exciting.’
Confidence starts to grow as he has the chance to open the car up. ‘I’m letting the steering move around in my hands now, giving the car a chance to do its own thing, which is part of the rear-engined driving experience I expected. There are hints of my 993 and I know there’s no need to fight it. The wide front tyres tramline too but that isn’t any kind of problem.’ Pressing the car harder requires more interaction with the brakes. ‘I couldn’t tell from feel alone that the discs are servo-assisted. The response is fine enough and they don’t need a huge shove.
‘The A310 has such a Seventies shape but I think we can now look back on that decade with some fondness,’ Jamie grins as we clamber out at a rest stop. ‘I do enjoy the way it bridges the visual gap between the A110 and the Eighties GTA, which civilises the A310 styling cues and enlarges them in every dimension.’ Though a committed sports car racing fan, he nods at the rally-inspired sticker package. ‘It’s part of the fun, though I’d do the same as Georgi plans and push the wheels out to match the swollen arches.’
Talk of looks doesn’t last long. Not when the sun is shining and the gorselined twists of Cobham Common are calling. Jamie powers away with fresh confidence. ‘My driver’s instinct is growing, now I’ve discovered that the neutral plane sits very high up. So long as I avoid lightning fast movements and accommodate the spongy, slightly vague shift action, the gearchanges are starting to come good. I can finally enjoy the rest of the car unimpeded – and I want it on the record that I found reverse before Emma did!’
‘Third and fourth provide a lot of flexibility,’ he continues. ‘I’m staying in that plane and enjoying the grunt, which feels every bit a match for the 190bhp 2.9-litre GT Boulogne cars the factory built towards the end of production. Such high power-to-weight is creating beautiful responsiveness that doesn’t come at the cost of low-down torque. I can navigate sharp turns at barely 1000 revs and the engine will still pull the ratio without grumbling.’
The civility extends to soundtrack, much to Jamie’s surprise. ‘I arrived with expectations of a gruffer, edgier engine that was better suited to a competition car – something that mimicked the deep, guttural sounds of an A110. Instead, I’m reminded of my old Peugeot 605 – which shares the same engine – and can’t help thinking it sounds better from outside. I can hear plenty of intake noise in here but the exhaust note is only an undertone.’ Power delivery is similarly relaxed. ‘The 3.0-litre is a leisurely old thing. It has the performance I expected but the revs don’t reach for the stars. ‘I could potter to the supermarket if I wanted, it’s that kind of engine, and the turning circle would make parking up a breeze. The unassisted rack is fairly heavy at low speeds, but it can turn the car on a sixpence. It’s reminding me of the Mercedes-Benz CL500 C215 (W220) I used to own, which could pull off the same trick.’ Yet it’s the boisterous VW Golf R32 that comes to mind when the road starts to twist. ‘Now there was a busy, rock hard car. I drove the wheels off it – the Alpine inspires the same approach!’
‘There’s no escaping the stiff ride, not that I think that matters. The Alpine is a tautly sprung car, which translates into zero roll and the ability to carry so much speed, just like its predecessor. It’s a lovely, lively thing that wriggles across the road, yet remains so flat and secure through corners. I’m absolutely loving it. If only I could keep it for longer and drive it down roads I knew better, so I could really discover the depth of its abilities. It’s a fabulous machine and one that hasn’t disappointed at all.’
‘I regard myself as immensely fortunate for having the opportunity to drive such a vanishingly rare sports car,’ he adds. ‘Being such a small, low, lightweight machine, it feels every inch the junior supercar, and viscerally alive with it. I’d take it over an A110 or even a 911. Though I’ve not driven a Porsche from the same era, I can’t help but be seduced by the rarity and oddity of the Alpine. I think it’d be the more interesting car to own.’
Faced with the chance to keep the A310 in his top ten, Jamie pauses. ‘It’s not a car for every occasion, so it would have to be part of a larger stable, but I’d love to take one home, just for the fun it can provide on the right day and right roads.
‘That said, there’s a real appeal in the idea of continuing to work my way forwards through the Alpine family, all the way up to modern A110. A road-registered Ferrari 206S also appeals, for its divine looks. My list is constantly changing and my gut says the A310 wouldn’t remain now that I’ve been lucky enough to try one. That takes nothing away from today, though. I can’t thank Georgi enough – he owns a fantastically charismatic machine.’
Group 5 rally looks add to the fun – but will it keep its place in Jamie’s top ten?
TECHNICAL DATA 1981 Alpine A310 V6 Rally-Spec
- Engine 2664cc V6, sohc-per-bank, Solex 35CEEI twin-choke carburettor (standard A310 V6)
- Power and torque 150bhp @ 6000rpm; 150lb ft @ 3500rpm (standard A310 V6)
- Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel-drive
- Steering Rack and pinion
- Suspension Front and rear: independent, double wishbones with coil springs, hydraulic dampers and anti-roll bar
- Brakes Servo-assisted discs, vented at front
- Performance 0-60mph: 7.2sec.
- Top speed: 140mph
- Weight 1020kg (dry)
- Fuel consumption 24mpg
- Cost new Ff139,000 (circa £11,000)
- Classic Cars Price Guide £19k-£36.5k
Easy-view engine one of many modifications Owner Georgi plans to upgrade the humble carburettor
Jamie adores the evocative interior fabric. That gearshift dominates early discussion. Shrunk-down steering wheel is another throwback.