SPECIAL OFF-ROAD PREPARATION
Unbeatable in traditional rallies, the A110s also made their mark in off-road rallies thanks to a special preparation for off-road rallies, a surface where they were at a disadvantage.
The nasty dirt roads of southern Europe, the English mud of the RAC or, even worse, the African tracks didn't seem destined to become the A110's playground. It was clear at first glance that these small cars could be efficient on good surfaces and even on ice, but as they were very low-lying, it was felt that the slightest bump would cripple them, especially as the gearboxes, and some transmission parts, were not always very reliable.
The Renault 17 (shown here on the 1974 Rallye du Maroc) was never able to replace the Alpine, even in gravel rallies. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault Communication / D.R.
Not to mention their rear engine, which would surely run out of steam due to the dust that the wheels kicked up, whereas an air intake behind the radiator grille was enough to protect cars with engines positioned in front from this kind of inconvenience. But the Alpine had more than one trick up its sleeve, and thanks to flawless preparation and assistance, the Berlinette was able to excel on both gravel and asphalt.
The A110 and Jean-Luc Thérier on the 1971 Acropolis Rally, in Greece where gravel roads were still very common. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault Communication / D.R.
WINNING ON ALL TERRAINS
Both in the French Rally Championship and internationally (Italian Championship), but also in Great Britain on often wet forest roads (Royal Automobile Club Rally), in Austria and in Africa (Morocco, East African Safari in Kenya, etc.). It was important for Alpine to win on all types of terrain. After a rise in power in France in the early 1960s, Alpine cars had become the cars to beat by the end of the decade. By the early 1970s, with the A110 1600 S reaching maturity, Jean Rédélé felt ready to enter gravel events.
However, a great deal of specific preparation was needed to strengthen the chassis and protect the car's vital parts. To do this, it was inevitable that the Berlinette would have to be made heavier, at the risk of losing one of its major assets: agility. Some components were intrinsically fragile, such as the gearboxes, transmission shafts and hub carriers, while others, even if reinforced, required frequent replacement during the rally event itself. A team of experienced mechanics, working quickly in precarious conditions, was essential.
Spray of water raised by Thérier's A110 in Morocco in 1973: when dust gets replaced by water! © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault Communication / D.R.
To get things right, Jean Rédélé launched an intensive test programme on difficult terrain in 1970. These tests were carried out mainly on British military grounds: they simply consisted of driving at full speed until a part broke or a weakness appeared. The part was then reinforced or protected, and the test was repeated... until the next recognised weakness. The same process was repeated throughout a long period of testing.
Nothing can replace racing experience, however, and in addition to these tests, the first events serve as benchmarks for both the cars and the team's skills. Each rally on gravel had its own specific characteristics: dust that made it very slippery, mud that stuck to the bodywork and settled into the grooves of the tyres, ruts that required specially adapted suspension, stones that squirted out and required extensive armouring... In just a few months, Alpine learned how to prepare cars for each configuration. For the Rallye du Maroc, for example, with its poorly surfaced tracks, the armour was particularly thickened under the car to counter projections. Rally expert Marcel Callewaert, often Jean-Luc Thérier's team-mate, gradually took charge of organising the team on site. It was he who decided which parts needed to be checked and which ones needed changing.
Darniche/Mahé in Portugal in 1973, which was another rally famous for its gravel roads. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault Communication / D.R.
For the general preparation specific to gravel rallies, the problem of air filtration is crucial, and it is difficult to route an air duct between the front and rear of the car. A different method was chosen: a filter in the rear wing and an air intake inside the passenger compartment. That's where the air is the least dusty; on the other hand, the whistling noise is an additional nuisance for the driver and passenger! As for the general architecture of the A110, it remained unchanged: the central chassis beam was retained. However, larger diameter tubes were used to form the rear cradle that supported the engine. The front end was reinforced. Different types of armouring - most often in polyester covered with aluminium sheet, and sometimes in metal only - were used.
For example, the aluminium bodywork used on the Monte Carlo Rally proved inadequate in Greece, where stones ripped it apart. Meanwhile, the drivetrain was protected by several solid iron lower fairings. Other specific parts were reinforced: hub carriers, suspension wishbones, steering and engine support struts, etc. The evolution of the 'dirt' preparation continued until the 1973 world title. It continued even afterwards. At the same time, the team intensified its efforts to replace vulnerable parts in record time. Some parts were even replaced before they broke, as a precaution.
The official Alpines, but also private teams, were prepared to take part in the various gravel events on the calendar between 1971 and 1975. At the RAC, the Olympia Rally in Germany, Ireland, Morocco, Portugal, Greece and even Egypt, the Alpines excelled, against the advice of many specialists who, based on their 'natural' shortcomings, had thought they were a poor bet. The many victories it scored showed that the Berlinette could be just as effective on gravel as in a traditional rally. The most striking success was certainly the double win on the Rallye du Maroc (in 1973 with Darniche and in 1974 with Nicolas). On the East African Safari, known as the "toughest rally in the world", the results were somewhat more disappointing, with Bob Neyret's A110 achieving only a place of honour in 1975.
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Jean-Claude Andruet was one of the key drivers in the official Alpine rally team.
In the early 1970s, the Alpine was the car to beat in rallying, and the team was so united that its official drivers were nicknamed the Musketeers: Thérier, Nicolas, Vinatier, Todt, Darniche and Jean-Claude Andruet. In the paddocks, these drivers were envied for their team spirit and the quality of their cars and because they form a family. Androuet was a very gifted driver, whose legendary sensitivity was going to cause him a few problems.
But all that changed before he was 25. A series of chance encounters led him to enrol in a circuit driving school, an experience he enjoyed. The problem was that competition was expensive! Fortunately, a helping hand paved the way for him: one of his customers lent him his brand new R8 Gordini - it was 1964 and the Renault had just been launched - for a local hill-climb race, where Andruet performed better than his regional rivals. So he bought a 'Gorde' on credit and, by the end of the season, he was the Champion of France for young drivers.
At the 1970 Rallye du Nord, Andruet chatting with Thérier while waiting for a time check.© IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault Communication / D.R.
R8 Gordini Cup at Reims in 1966: Andruet in the lead ahead of Bernard Ficot. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault Communication / D.R.
One of Jean-Claude Andruet's finest moments was his performance on the 1973 Monte Carlo Rally: at the wheel of the new 1800-engined Berlinette, he was well in the lead when a puncture cost him three minutes, a disadvantage insurmountable at this level of competition. Then came the last special stage, by night, on the Col du Turini. Andersson and his team-mate Jean Todt, in another official Alpine, were in the lead and could not be rejoined. Andruet would have to set a time that was virtually impossible to achieve, even during the day, in order to catch them! But this puncture has left Jean-Claude Andruet furious. Nothing is impossible! He managed to close the gap to Andersson by more than a minute on this stage alone, and finished the rally with a lead of more than 30 seconds!
© IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault Communication / D.R.
FROM RENAULT TO ALPINE
A sponsor spotted him and lent him an R8 Gordini for the 1966 Gordini Cup season, a must for young drivers. This young driver, who came from nowhere, regularly found himself at the front of the field. He often beat out the already famous drivers, to the point where he was accused of cheating and driving with a pumped-up engine. His heightened sensitivity didn't help him in this situation, and he felt the impact. He was on the point of giving up, but his friends supported him and he finished the season with excellent results, including a string of victories. International competition started in 1967, when Andruet entered the legendary Monte Carlo Rally, still driving a Gordini, rubbing shoulders with the top names in the sport, led by Makinen, before being forced to withdraw.
But he was noticed: several manufacturers were interested in him... He finally signed a contract with Alpine; coming from the Renault 8 Gordini, there was a certain logic to it after all. A succession of class wins in various rallies followed, in the practical original Berlinette, not to mention a few results on the circuit, as the driver was very versatile and almost as at ease on the circuit as in rallying. In 1968, Andruet became French Rally Champion with seven victories, including a difficult one in the Tour of Corsica. His reputation with Alpine was strengthened by another class victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, when he teamed up with Jean-Pierre Nicolas.
IN THE BIG LEAGUE
In 1972, after a few years of doubt, he refocused on rallying and all went better; Alpine still had confidence in him and he continued to win races - including the Tour de France as an 'extra' in a Ferrari Daytona. 1973 was a great year for both Andruet and Alpine, but also his last. After a sensational victory at the Monte Carlo Rally (see box), Andruet was tempted by an offer from Lancia: relations with Alpine were not always that good, and the prospect of the new Lancia Stratos was tempting! He moved to Fiat in 1977, before moving to Ferrari in 1981, where he secured a string of successes, while also taking part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His Italian period came to an end in 1985. Andruet was now 40 and thinking about retraining.
Andruet raced for all these manufacturers, it was Alpine that made the biggest impression on him. Between his start in the R8 Gordini and the bulk of his career in the A110, he was involved in the main Berlinette developments, moving from the 1100 to the 1800, experimenting with the turbo engine and participating in the development of the beautiful blue car. During the 2000s, he was once again found at the wheel of the A110 on retrospective events such as the historic Tour de Corse, an event he won three times during his active career, and to which he gladly returned at the wheel of a Berlinette, accompanied by his favourite team-mate, Michèle Petit, more commonly known by the nickname 'Biche'.
Monte-Carlo 1973! An excellent year for Andruet, pictured here negotiating a hairpin on a tricky surface. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections
IN RALLYCROSS, TOO
Unlike rallying, rallycross takes place on a closed circuit, made up of a dirt section and an asphalt section which are linked together, with dirt predominating. Although there are no large ruts or stones on the course, there are bumps that put the suspension to a severe test and which can cause the cars to take off. In addition, the problem of dust on the gravel section is the same as in traditional rallying. Originating in England in the 1960s, the genre crossed the Channel in 1976, the year the first competition was organised in France for a championship won by the Alpine A310 of Ragnotti. By the end of the previous decade, however, the A110 had already been chosen by the Brits for their rallycross events, and it built up a solid track record there, in that discipline too. The preparation of the cars was largely inspired by that of the Alpine dirt rally cars.