• Alpine A610 - Thirty Years of Rear-engined French Goodness

The Alpine A610 was a missed opportunity to create what could have been the only lineup of cars to rival the reign of the 911

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The Alpine A610 was as odd as they came. It was the quirky French performance automaker’s last hurrah before the brand was resurrected after 22 years of absence with the outgoing A110. This arguably iconic piece of French motoring from Renault’s relatively unknown performance brand recently celebrated its 30th birthday and reminded us how quirky French automobiles are much loved and celebrated by the automotive community.

Renault Played the Porsche card for its flagship Sportscar

Alpine A610 - Thirty Years of Rear-engined French Goodness
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The rear-engined layout in the A610 was a Porsche trick, although not as well executed on paper since the use of a conventional V-6 instead of a low slug flat-six meant that Alpine had a higher center of gravity than the Porsches. It was a well-known fact that the A610 borrowed a bored-out, turbocharged version of the PRV V-6 displacing 3.0 liters in this application. It was also used by its predecessor, the Renault GTA V6 where it displaced 2.7 liters. Both cars also shared the unconventional longitudinal layout which left next to nothing in terms of a trunk or usable storage space in the back. The A610’s final figures stood at 247 horsepower and a healthy 258 lb-ft of torque, thanks to the large single-scroll turbo.

This was a wise move for a manufacturer which was clearly on life support and plagued with poor sales. This left little to no money for cutting-edge engine development or a brand new platform, but what they did extract out of the existing Renault GTA platform was commendable.

Alpine A610 - Thirty Years of Rear-engined French Goodness
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The Alpine’s extensive use of fiberglass and plastic composites (yet another space-age material for the time) meant despite the bulky-looking body, the A610 was light with a curb weight of just 3,131 lbs and that made it quite the handler at street-legal speeds and pretty quick for the era, with the car capable of hitting 60 mph in about 5.7 seconds and it had a top speed of 165 mph. It too suffered from the snappy on-limit handling that plagued the Porsches, but that can partly be attributed to the under-developed tire technology of the time. Meanwhile, the similarly priced Carrera 2 had similar power figures but a lower top speed of 161 mph, although it did launch better which gave it a slightly lower 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds.

Alpine A610 specifications
Engine 3.0-liter V-6
Power 247 HP
Torque 258 LB-FT
Weight 3,131 lbs
0 to 60 mph 5.7 seconds
Top Speed 165 mph

“The Alpine A610 had a four-year production run between 1991 and 1995 during which 818 units were built, 67 of which were right-hand-drive. ”

How French is too French?

Alpine A610 - Thirty Years of Rear-engined French Goodness
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The Alpine A610 also came with a typical French interior, riddled with quirkiness such as its funny instrumentation and parts that were lifted straight out of other Renault econoboxes. But the seats were supremely comfortable and it was one of the roomiest sportscar cabins in its segment which made it ideal for Grand Touring duties.

“At the time of launch, the Alpine A610 came with a nearly $50,000 price tag, which was significantly higher than the competition and attributed as one of the major reasons for its disastrous sales.”

Alpine A610 - Thirty Years of Rear-engined French Goodness
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The Venturi, which was yet another quirky mid-engined French sportscar of the time, helped highlight not just the benefits but the lack of any major drawbacks with the A610’s rear-engined layout. You see, both cars used very similar polycarbonate/fiberglass construction and very similar Renault sourced engines, but the only major difference was the engine placement. The Venturi used a more conventional mid-engined layout which engineers will tell you is the best bet for absolute control and poise. However, the rear-engined Alpine with its 247 horsepower felt just as grippy but a little more playful and managed to offer more in terms of the driver engagement than the Venturi.

In addition, it was a better performer, which proves that a good rear-engined car with under 300 horsepower is a sweet spot for driver involvement; ask anybody who has driven both, a 911 Carrera 2 and 911 Turbo of the time, and they’ll tell you that while the 911 Carrera is a perfectly enjoyable little sportscar and a brilliant backroad carver, the overpowered Turbo would try to kill on similar roads.

The A610 was misjudged


Jeremy Clarkson famously test drove one of these alongside a Venturi and he picked this little French car apart like nobody’s business before crashing it into a K-rail. However, eagle-eyed enthusiasts were keen to point out that before the new spin-off, he test drove the same car a few years prior and had nothing but good things to say about it. What he also failed to mention is how the Alpine was much more stable than the equally powerful Porsche Carrera of the time in many use cases, which goes on to show how the short wheelbase and long overhangs somehow helped tame the drawbacks typically associated with a rear-engined layout. This car is also a fine example of one of the many instances where Mr. Clarkson misjudged a car for entertainment value, and now it’s a sought-after piece of French auto culture and the prices for a well-maintained example are on the rise. Similarly, the community behind old Alpine is also pretty strong and parts can still be sourced or even made to order in some cases.

“Well-maintained Alpine A610s can fetch anywhere between $35,000 for a high-mileage example and up to $60,000 for a low-mileage RHD example.”

Alpine A610 - Thirty Years of Rear-engined French Goodness
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The Alpine then was a fluke of brilliance or a happy accident because the brand that made it never seemed so sure about it, as a result, it got an estimated promotional budget of a dollar fifty and nobody knew anything about the launch or existence of this machine. This led to appalling sales and the subsequent closure of the brand.

Bhavik Sreenath
Bhavik Sreenath
A keen automotive enthusiast with a love for anything with engines. He loves discovering the world of cars and technology to explore new boundaries in the field of modern-day journalism.  Read full bio
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