1974 Renault Alpine
Year of manufacture1974
Unregistered - Competition car
- The unique Alpine A310 V6 from the 1977 and 1978 Le Mans 24 Hours
- Legendary car with known history
- In the hands of its first and only owner/driver
- Eligible for Le Mans Classic
In the history of the Alpine marque, now set to rise from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix, the participation of the " Poisson Dieppois " Alpine A310 in the 1977 Le Mans 24 Hours holds a special place, which helped to build the image of the French marque in the eyes of enthusiasts. Less well known is the fact that this car started its life as the first factory prototype A310 V6, developed with the help of the great driver Mauro Bianchi.
THE FACTORY PROTOTYPE
In 1974, the A310 appeared to be under-powered. Alpine decided to install a prototype engine, developed by a new team of young engineers from the Renault Gordini factory in Viry Châtillon. Jean Pierre Boudy (who would go on to create engines for the Turbo16 and V10 Peugeots for Le Mans) used the engine block from the V6 PRV to develop a lightweight 2.8-litre Lucas injection engine, with specific cylinder heads and a competition-type set-up that produced 300bhp, double that of the PRV !
Henri Gauchet and Richard Bouleau were in charge of the prototype design, Claude Foulon and André Renut responsible for building it. They used the lightened body of a 310 1600 as a base, but with a rounded tubular backbone, rather than square as on the V6s and the last 1600sx berlinettas. It was given the ZF 5DS25 like in the A220 Le Mans prototypes. The aerodynamics were attended to by Marcel Hubert, who had worked on the famous Alpine Le Mans prototypes (M63, M64, A210 et A220), and it was given the " bubble " wings and a large spoiler. Thus equipped, the car was handed to Mauro Bianchi, the renowned racing driver and development technician for the marque from Dieppe. During the winter of 1974/75 he tested the car extensively on the circuit at Dijon. From the start, the car proved itself to be hugely powerful and took three seconds off the lap time of the best GT cars at that time (in this case, the Porsche 911 Turbos) !
In spite of these promising results, Renault decided to halt the project due to the excessive cost of the engine. The A310 prototype was tucked away in the corner of the competition servicing department, and stayed there until it was discovered in 1975 by Bernard Decure. Decure, originally from Normandy, was working as the technical inspector following the sale of the Dieppe-based manufacturer. Known for racing a Group 5 berlinetta prototype on circuits and hillclimb events during the 1975 and 1976 seasons, he succeeded in buying the car with the help of Mauro Bianchi on 14 April 1976. However, it was without its Boudy ZGS1engine which had been returned to Viry Châtillon
THE LE MANS ADVENTURE
It was a certain Hervé Poulain who gave Bernard Decure the idea of taking part at Le Mans in this prototype, by suggesting the challenge during a meal at the Restaurant des Hunaudières at Le Mans during a race on the Bugatti circuit. The first task for the man from Normandy was to find a sponsor, and he looked no further than Dieppe, to the fishing port's Chamber of Commerce. The port's slogan " Poisson Dieppois, Poisson de Choix " (The fish from Dieppe is the fish of choice), gave the Alpine A310 its name for the 1977 Le Mans race !
Assisted by enthusiasts working at Alpine, the car was stripped down, the running gear removed, although the strong ZF gearbox remained in place. The car needed to conform to the regulations for the GTP category of the 24 Hours, with a weight restriction of 925kg. The design engineer at Alpine, Yves Legal, produced a maquette with the famous Poisson Dieppois logo, and this was carried out by André Pierre Le Guen, who produced advertising stickers. The prototype body was replaced with a " Group 5 " body kit with wide wings, already seen at the end of 1976 on Fréquelin's 310 rally car which became French Champion in 1977. A large spoiler and bumper completed the aerodynamic features. This body, aggressive and attractive, was built to accommodate very wide, centrally-fixed wheels, developed specially by Camille GOTTI for Bernard Decure. The brakes were completely overhauled and fitted with ventilated discs from the Citroën CX, and 2 and 4-piston ATE brake calipers.
The chassis and body was strengthened to enable the car to endure the tough 24-hour challenge. The suspension was stiffened and mounted on Unibal joints. A large, flexible 90-litre fuel tank was made by the company Superflexit in Courbevoie, who supplied fuel tanks homologated for aviation purposes, and had been supplying the fuel tanks for the factory berlinettas since 1968. The side windows were Makrolon polycarbonate. Finally, to make the engine completely accessible, the body was designed so that the rear windscreen/spoiler/skirt could be easily removed.
Although Bernard Decure was given numerous assurances by various senior figures at Renault that the famous 300 bhp Boudy engine would be retrieved, finally as a matter of urgency, he was forced to prepare a " house " engine with the help of the Française de Mécanique in Douvrin in the North of France, who built V6 engines for Renault, Peugeot and Volvo (the famous PRV) and equipped the A310 production model. Mahle pistons, dry sump, triple-bodied Weber 46 and Renault Sport rallye overhead cams all helped to extract 225 bhp from the Alpine V6 PRV engine used.
PARTICIPATION IN THE 1977 LE MANS 24 H :
Two drivers joined Bernard Decure to take part in the race: Jacky Cauchy, an excellent hillclimb competitor, well known for competing under the name " cochise " in an ex-factory berlinetta, and the celebrated Normandy driver, world rally champion and multiple race-winner : Jean Luc Thérier, who had just reluctantly left Alpine in 1976, following the departure of Jacques Cheinisse who was replaced by Gérard Larousse.
The Ecurie Brayonne began testing at Le Mans, in a A310 that felt comfortable straight away, efficient and glued to the tarmac, if a little underpowered at 220 bhp, compared to the 500 bhp available to certain Porsche 911s. For this reason, they could only achieve a top speed of 256 km/h along the Mulsanne Straight, which itself was quite a challenge ! With a mix of sun and rain, the A310 Poisson Dieppois still managed to qualify 51st on the starting grid ! Thérier achieved the best time of 4'31''1.
On Saturday 11 June 1977, the red and blue Alpine number 87 lined up at the start, with Bernard Decure at the wheel. At 16.00 the cars set off and after some 11 hours of racing, the Poisson Dieppois had climbed to 29th place ! Unfortunately, during the night, increasingly frequent problems with the engine overheating forced the devastated team to retire the car at 6h47. The cause of the problem was discovered when the car was dismantled : a leaking water pipe that had been taken on and off many times....Almost nothing. However the adventure raised the spirits and the beautiful A310 entered the Alpine history books for the wonderful human adventure it represented, as well as for its stunning profile and memorable livery.
PARTICIPATION IN THE 1978 LE MANS 24 H :
Bernard Decure decided to enter the Alpine for Le Mans again in 1978. The new sponsor was Behar Électricité, the livery changed to blue and white and the engine was upgraded to produce 290 bhp. The team comprised B. Decure, Guillaume de Saint Pierre, another well known Alpine driver from Normandy, creator of the " pilote de course " films that inspired a generation of Alpine enthusiasts, and " Elf " racing driver Denis Morin. Following serious problems in testing (engine fire, broken transmission), the Alpine found itself overtaken by the Lancia Stratos Turbo, long chassis, number 89 entered by the Ecurie Aseptogyl of Christine Dacremont and Mariane Hoepfner. The A310, number 73, did not make the start of this Le Mans 24 Hour Race.
THE END OF THE POISSON DIEPPOIS' CAREER
The Alpine appeared again in May 1978 in the Neufchâtel en Bray hillclimb, still wearing its Le Mans 78 livery and recorded the fastest time in Group 5. In 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1983, it participated in the European Circuit Championships and the Rallye Jeanne d'Arc in Rouen. Bernard Decure had two engines at his disposal : the injection engine and the carburettor engine that, with the help of parts supplied by Welter et Meunier of WM, now produced 260 bhp. In 1985, the Group 5 A310 was repainted Alpine Blue, for its last competitive events, and retired in 1986. A few years later, Bernard Decure restored its well-known " Poisson Dieppois, Poisson de choix " livery.
This car, an Alpine legend, was invited to join the Le Mans Heritage Club, at the 2014 Le Mans Classic. Although the car is driving, substantial work would be required to make it race-ready for historic motorsport events again. Numerous spare parts come with the car : 18 new 10-inch and 14-inch Gotti wheels with tyres, elements of both front and rear axles, and the Lucas injection engine that was rebuilt a few years ago. The " Poisson Dieppois " currently has the carburettor engine installed that was used at Le Mans in 1977, and developed and reconditioned by Marc Guerbeur (engine builder at Renault) to produce 240 bhp.
The Alpine A310 group 5 " Poisson Dieppois " offers a rare opportunity to acquire the only A310 to have participated in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race and is eligible for Le Mans Classic. In exceptionally original condition, it has continuous, known history, having never changed hands. This car represents a key part of the marque's racing history, undertaken by privateers, that for the main part came from the factory in Dieppe or from Renault. A history of gentleman drivers....the very essence of the famous Le Mans race.
I was astonished to read, in the book about the Alpine A310 Poisson Dieppois published in 2014, that I was the instigator of this