Alpine A210 (Group 6 racing) 1966-1967

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Alpine A210 (Group 6 racing) 1966-1967


1966 Alpine A210

Country of Origin: France

Design Info: A small, mid-engined sports racer with a tube-frame chassis and fiberglass body, weighing less than 1500 lbs. The A210’s body was loosely based off the A110 road car, and features dramatic vertical stabilizing fins, a somewhat common element in French racing prototypes (see the Peugeot 9x8, and Rondeau M379B for example).

Engine Info: The A210s were fitted with Gordini-tuned Renault engines ranging in size from 1 to 1.5 liters. Gordini would be commissioned to create a 3.0 liter V8 for use in the chassis as well, though the necessary modifications to the car needed for that engine to fit were extensive, resulting in a technically separate model, the A211. The Gordini 1.0 produced 93 hp, the 1.3 118 hp, and the 1.5 140 hp.

Type: A small displacement mid-60s prototype race car, the A210 raced at Le Mans (and other endurance races) against cars like the Ford GT40, Ferrari 330, and Porsche 906. However, it was not directly competitive with these vehicles, instead racing in classes against other small displacement cars like the Mini Marcos, Austin Healey Sprite, and Lotus 47.

History: Jean Rédélé was the youngest Renault dealer in France when he began rally racing in the Renault 4 CV. His very first race was a success, but his biggest wins would happen in the Coupes de Alpes, also called the Alpine Rally. In 1955, Rédélé founded his own manufacturing business, and in honor of his rallying victories, named his company Alpine.
Alpine started with fiberglass-bodied coupes based on the Renault 4 CV called the Alpine A106. Over time, this car evolved to the A108, and was achieving greater success in rallying, in part thanks to Gordini-tuned engines. Rédélé was interested in competing in other venues, however.
Coinciding with the development of the new A110 road car, Alpine secured the support of Gordini in building engines for an endurance sports car aimed primarily at Le Mans competition. Not seeking outright victory, Rédélé hoped to win the Index of Performance, a prize based on efficiency and reliability at the race, derived from the original purpose of Le Mans as an endurance competition rather than an outright race. Rédélé approached Colin Chapman of Lotus to design the race car based on the Lotus 23, but Chapman refused. Instead, British engineer Len Terry was hired to oversee the project.
Terry had previously worked on Aston Martin’s DB 2/4 and had built his own race car, called the Terrier, before being hired by Lotus in 1958. In a short year, Len had made improvements to virtually the entire Lotus lineup, primarily in their steering geometry. In 1959, however, he was fired by Chapman after embarrassing Lotus on the track with his own Terrier Mk2 (driven by Hart Racing Engines founder Brian Hart), winning 18 events in one season, as well as the Chapman Trophy. Working freelance at this point, Terry agreed to design the Alpine, but had to do so from a hospital bed, as he had been injured in a crash in one of his own cars, a Terrier Mk5, permanently derailing his own racing career.
The first Alpine prototype racer, the M63, won a class victory at the 1963 Nurburgring 1000km, but none of the entered models at Le Mans managed to finish the race. The next year, however, a 1.1 liter Alpine M64 managed to achieve both the class victory and Index of Performance at that year’s Le Mans. The subsequent M65 once again failed to complete the 24 hour race, although it did manage class successes at both Nurburgring and the 12 Hours of Reims.
The result of the 1965 Le Mans convinced Alpine to completely overhaul the prototype design, and the new A210 was ready for the 1966 race. While overshadowed by the dramatic Ford/Ferrari rivalry, culminating in Ford’s first win at Le Mans, the A210s finished 1-2-3 in both the 1.3 prototype class and the Index of Performance, and showed greater reliability than either Ford or Ferrari, with 4 of 6 cars completing the race (as compared to 3 of 13 fords and 2 of 14 Ferraris). With this success, Rédélé successfully campaigned Renault to provide him with a new Gordini designed V8 to challenge for overall victory at the race. As this V8 powered car would not be ready for 1967, Alpine returned with the A210s once again, and once again managed a 1-2-3 class victory in the 1.3 prototype class, as well as winning the 1.6 prototype class with a larger-engined version.
The A210 would also earn class victories in 1968 and 1969, variously in 1.15, 1.3, and 1.6 liter classes. Unfortunately, its successor car would be less successful. The early A211 and succeeding A220 would not achieve significant victories at any events, and Alpine would pull out of sports car racing in 1970. While Alpine would return by the mid 70s (and win Le Mans outright in 1978), takeover by Renault in 1974 (in large part caused by the 1973 Oil Crisis) meant that Alpine was no longer an independent company.

Why it’s cool/unique/significant: Alpine is well-respected these days in both rally and endurance racing, and for the endurance side the A210 might have been the most important car in Alpine’s history. While there were mild successes before the A210, and overall victories would come later, the A210 was the car that proved Alpine could compete with consistency and reliability in the most challenging endurance race in the world.