As I’ve lamented before, French automakers have never really found much success in the United States. Lackluster dealer networks, questionable corporate acquisitions, and ultimately the assassination of Renault’s CEO Georges Besse (!) kept some truly interesting vehicles out of the hands of American consumers; this Renault Alpine GTA is one such example. The awful timing of Renault’s American operations collapsing just as these went to production leaves one wondering if the Alpine GTA could have been the product that turned it all around. While we will never know, now it’s at least possible to get a taste of what we missed out on. In this case, anyone with $9500 burning a hole in their pocket can grab this scruffy Alpine GTA on Craigslist in Seattle and finally experience the joy of a rear-engined, turbocharged V6 French sport coupe leaving them stranded on the side of the road.
While Renault’s brand perception on this side of the Atlantic ended up synonymous with “garbage,” in Europe they have been a successful mainstream auto manufacturer for decades. In the mid-80’s, bolstered by their success in Formula 1 racing, leadership decided that they needed a true sports car that could compete with their German and Japanese rivals, and the unique Alpine GTA resulted. Initially designed with the American market in mind, Besse’s assassination saw Renault walk away from their unsuccessful U.S. operations less than a year later, with less than 20 pre-production Alpine GTAs ever reaching our shores. Since all but the newest of these cars are 25 years old now, they are now perfectly legal for import from other countries, and this is one of a handful I’ve seen pop up for sale after migrating here. At $9500, it’s also by far the cheapest I’ve found, and it sounds like there are a few reasons for that.
The seller notes that it starts right up and runs “okay,” which is a scary statement given the hyperbole that Craigslist usually produces. Apparently tune-up parts are inbound to attempt solving the problem, but ignition components are probably just the tip of the iceberg given this GTA’s complex 1980’s-era turbocharger system. Other stuff is broken or questionable too; the speedometer comes and goes, power locks have a mind of their own, the glovebox rattles and there are numerous visual paint and bodywork flaws. All that being said, just look at it! Who else would have made a car so visually striking? Then, consider that even the cheapest and roughest Porsche 911 is upwards of $20,000 while this Renault is less than half that price, and the Renault’s performance (when it runs!) is likely closer to the more expensive turbo Porsche variants. They’re both European, rear-engined, have six cylinders and distinctive styling; I’ll even grant the Renault bonus points for its breathtaking green-accented interior! Is it just me, or do all signs point to this Renault being the better car for the money?
In reality, this car has rather limited appeal (largely to Francophiles such as myself) and that explains its price. Even when new, the Alpine GTA probably would not have done much to turn Renault’s fortunes around in America; I highly doubt people would have come out in droves to buy an expensive French sports car given the increasingly-sophisticated Japanese options like the Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7 also available at the time. It’s hard to put a price on being different though, and this Alpine GTA would be a hell of a way to separate oneself from the pack. Given its current running issues, the difficulty of sourcing parts and general Renault crappiness of the era, it’s probably a bad idea…but it’s one of the few bad ideas I wholeheartedly approve of.
1990 Renault Alpine GT-Turbo. Solid car recently imported from Japan. Overall presentable inside and out. Starts right up and runs okay but parts inbound for basic tune-up (Magnecor wires / plugs / cap / rotor).Drives well – shifting; steering and brakes are great. Handling is quite good with rear engine – turbocharged PRV V-6 with some upgrades for track-use such as adjustable suspension. Tires are worn & aged and should be replaced.
Somewhat lighter than a Porsche 944 – and very light steering like a Porsche 911. Would make an interesting track-day car and still has creature comforts to use on the street.
Needs: speedometer is intermittent; glovebox is loose; crack on front spoiler lip near tow-hook; paint on rear-fenders is deteriorated; electronic door-releases are intermittent (manual door release works fine).
I think this is a fair price for an interesting piece of automotive history.
If you’d like to drive on the public roads, easily registered with included documentation:
1) Japanese de-registration (like title) with English translation;
3) EPA 3520-1;
4) Customs formal entry 7501 – signed & stamped;
5) original invoice.
If this posting is still up, it’s still available. Able to show week days after 2:00PM or over the weekend.