By on February 4, 2018

Top Gear presenters Chris Harris and Eddie Jordan narrowly evaded injury when a pre-production Alpine A110 caught fire while the duo participated in last week’s Monte Carlo Rally. Apparently the two had been blasting down stage SS17 when the engine warning light came on. Sometime later, flames were seen beneath the vehicle and the two were advised to pull over immediately.

Fire crews were unable to control the blaze and the car ended up completely obliterated. Alpine and Renault have said they are conducting a full investigation to see what went wrong but are currently attributing the mishap to a “technical incident.” They are also suspending all testing of pre-production models until they can determine the true cause of the fire. 

alpine a110 top gear fire

“I first realized I needed to get out when I opened the door and the flames went up my arm,” Harris explained in the BBC’s brief summary of the incident. “Sadly the car was lost and it always makes me sad to see a beautiful car destroyed.”

Both presenters said they were pleased with how the car had been performing during the test and were dismayed that it could not be saved. “Doing a stage of the Monte Carlo Rally was a dream come true for me. The car was stunning — so light on its toes. It was dancing around the mountain and Chris was driving it beautifully,” Jordan said. “It’s such a shame we didn’t finish the test, but these things happen.”

While safety crews attempted to contain the fire with handheld extinguishers, they barely impeded its swift progress. Reports cite that the A110 had burned up within four minutes. By the time the fire department arrived, roughly an hour later, there was nothing left of the car.

[Images: Renault; BBC]

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31 Comments on “Pre-Production Alpine A110 Bursts Into Flames During Top Gear Shoot...”


  • avatar
    IBx1

    Probably wouldn’t have caught fire if it were manual instead of automatic.

  • avatar
    JustPassinThru

    Renault quality. Past, present and forever more.

    This was always their thing: Good looking, good-driving cars, with all the structural and operational duability of a Christmas-tree glass ornament.

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      Christmas-tree glass ornaments tend to hold up for decades when used the way they’re supposed to be. Bad example.

      • 0 avatar
        JustPassinThru

        And Renaults, in their native land, apparently do okay, too. Seldom used and owned for…I don’t know, because the Yanks own personal cars, and we want to be like them?

        Push a Renault product by actually USING it, and watch it expire before the car note.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    Because other makes’ pre-production vehicles never go wrong in any way.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      But Renault seems to have a fifty-year track record, this way.

      • 0 avatar
        Ermel

        Care to name a few entries out of that track record then? Or is it all hearsay?

        • 0 avatar
          JustPassinThru

          What, are you kidding?

          The Dauphine. Hit the American market on the coattails of the Beetle. Beetle buyers were satisfied. Dauphine buyers were foul-tempered pedestrians – swearing like a Tourette’s patient.

          The R10. Renault even ran Mea Culpa ads, saying that while Dauphine buyers were swearing off Renault, Renault was taking some oaths, too. Didn’t matter – all the pledges, all the oaths, they still had the same sorry engineers designing the same sorry sort of product.

          The R16, which didn’t sell enough to leave much of a memory. The R10 experience was still fresh…but I wonder with all the magazine ads of the time, what the cost-per-sale to Renault was.

          Probably in the high-hundreds or more.

          The R5, renamed Le Car. Even giving it to the AMC dealer network didn’t help – because it was so shoddy that even while it was still new on the market, buyers heard the word: STAY CLEAR.

          The Renault Alliance. This did prove that fragility was not the result of French factories. A Renault-engineered car, made in the same plant that made Eagles, was no better.

          Where are the Alliances and Encores today? They sold a huge amount, the first three years.

          NONE of them lasted. You can find first-generation Gremlins, easier than any Renault product.

          • 0 avatar
            Ermel

            Ancient history, all of it. My dad used to have an R 16 in the 1970s, and it was a wonderful car (my mom still bemoans its early demise in a rear-ender, because the Audi that replaced it was so uncomfortable by comparison). Renault R 5 (our Le Car), R 9 (our Alliance), and R 11 (our Encore) are not quite as many decades ago — but come on, they stopped making them in the Eighties!

            All of their contemporary competition that’s still on the road today is therefore either a daily driver with a very lucky last owner and a competent mechanic behind them (and good luck finding one for an imported car), or a classic that’s being kept and repaired for other than monetary reasons. And of course, that means more Gremlins in your country and more VW Bugs in mine than we see those types of Renault.

            My daily driver here in Germany is a Citroën BX, i.e. equally French, similarly old, and similarly shady in reputation as the Alliance/Encore. They made and sold millions of them, 1982-94. There are maybe 200 left on German roads, orders of magnitude less than Golfs of that age. But are they bad cars? No. Rust-prone? Unreliable? Not more so than other cars the same age (and I’ve had quite a few). Cheap? Disrespected? Laughed at? Hell yes.

            Domestic cars last longest. Gremlins and Pintos in the US, Golfs and Mercedeses in Germany, Morrises and Rovers in Britain, and Citroëns and Renaults in France. Go to Czechia and prepare to be amazed at the number of rear-engined Skodas still around. But all of that is nothing to do with the cars’ quality.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    This is why manufactures have preproduction test cars.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    A “technical incident”? Well thanks for ruling out random bolts of lightning and air to ground missiles. Clears this right up.

    • 0 avatar
      Scorpion

      Eddie’s hideous polyester shirt caused it.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Reminds me of the “reasons” MotoGP teams give for engine failures. You see the block explode from something mechanical like a seized bearing, they call it an “electrical failure”. I suppose technically if a free con rod punches a hole through the rectifier your charging system is dead, but that doesn’t explain what sent that rod into orbit in the first place

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Wow, that baby really went up. Like a Ford Pinto after being struck by a stray shopping cart.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      The Pinto’s flammability statistics were similar to other cars its size, and LESS than that standard to be measured against, the VW Type 1.

      Renaults, on the other hand, actually DID and DO fall apart, very quickly. When was the last time you saw a Renault, any Renault, on the street?

      Just in my little town of 25,000 people, there are two Ford Pintos about. They’re rough but they run.

      • 0 avatar
        Ermel

        There are millions of Renaults, all over Europe, and they’re being driven every day. I used to have one, and I know several people who still do. Sure, they fail every now and then, like all cars do. Maybe they even have a slightly worse track record than do other makes (although I’d still wager that e.g. Fiats do worse).

        It’s actually pretty hard to tell, because most makers have their own breakdown services, thus skewing the statistics of the independent ones — BMW drivers call BMW, Renault drivers call ADAC, so ADAC’s statistics look bad for Renault (and BMW of course don’t publish theirs).

        The age that a car eventually reaches before being sent to the crusher depends on many more aspects than just quality of construction and build. To name a few: number of owner changes, annual mileage travelled, long vs. short distances, availability and price of spare parts, level of know-how in make-independant local workshops, and — by no means least — image. Volkswagens tend to be thrown away less readily than Opels in Germany. Probably the same effect — only stronger — applies to Fords over Renaults in America.

        Of course, the graph for “throw-away-readiness” over prosaicness goes down on both ends. Hardly anyone throws away an old Golf that can be repaired, because parts are common and dirt cheap. Hardly anyone throws away a Maserati, or one of the last couple dozen Talbot Tagoras, either, because these are rare. It’s the cars inbetween, the Fiat Tipos and Opel Vectras and, yes, Renault Lagunas that get scrapped at the slightest provocation once their age reaches the double digits. And when they’re all but gone, people say, “that must have been a terrible car, they were all over the place five years ago but I haven’t seen one of those in ages.”

        When did Renault stop exporting cars to where you live? So there.

        • 0 avatar
          Tele Vision

          Coming from a lumbering 5.7L Suburban our Renault 25 5-speed, rented at Schiphol and loaded with luggage and idiots, was a blast of French air. It was pretty new, of course, but hummed along at incredible ( for me ) RPMs and speeds all through The Low Countries. I loved the Continental practice of going to the shops every day as I got to drive this, to my mind, ‘Sports Sedan’ to town and back at least twice daily. It cornered; it redlined; it could be heel-and-toed; and it got spectacular mileage all the while. I would have loved to bring it home with me.

        • 0 avatar
          JustPassinThru

          They last in Europe, but not in the United States.

          American, Asian and some European cars hold up in the United States. Not Renaults.

          The only conclusion is, French buyers use them differently. I would speculate, not-very-much.

          • 0 avatar
            Ermel

            I would speculate back: not very ignorantly. Of course, the total distance cars reach in Europe before being scrapped is lower, because our countries and cities just aren’t that big. But 15 years and 200k kilometres are expected from any car, including Renaults and Fiats. And they usually make it … of course, you do need to change fluids and filters every now and then, which I can’t help but suspect Renaults in America don’t experience all that often.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            No Ermel, I am going to show you why you are the ignorant one here.

            By your estimate 200k km over 15 years is “expected” in France. Well, in the US, we drive nearly double that amount on average (15K miles or 23K km- about 390K km over that 15 year period). I personally drive about 20k miles or 32kkm/year, and my commute is typical for people at my company. To add to that, France is pretty temparate, with little of the snow and cold that batters a large chunk of US roads for most of the year, and prompts the use of road salt that eats untreated bodies up. To add to that Europeans seem to be keen to spend much more money to keep a car running, beyond what makes sense. Americans don’t stand for that.

            So it’s clear you (and probably Renault as well) have no idea what kind of conditions cars face in America. It has nothing to do with our ignorance and everything to do with yours.

          • 0 avatar
            ThomasSchiffer

            ‘To add to that Europeans seem to be keen to spend much more money to keep a car running, beyond what makes sense. Americans don’t stand for that.’

            This is only applies to special cars like sports cars which may eventually have classic value. Most of us will get rid of a car that is problematic or consumes too much money for maintenance at old age as would any person who thinks logically.

            As cars get older you have to expect that parts will wear out and can fail.

            The truth is our cars are not as unreliable as you make them seem. Until recently I had an Audi A4 2.0 TDI which managed an astonishing 650,000 km before parts started failing left and right. Throughout my ownership the maintenance costs were low with most of the running costs being distributed among fuel, tires and wear and tear parts and of course insurance/taxes. It was a fine car and I got rid of it when the time was right. It would have cost too much money to keep running, and the value of the car simply was not there anymore. Furthermore I wanted something different.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Wow, that baby really went up. Like a 1991-2001 Ford Explorer that was parked with the ignition off.

  • avatar
    Dutcowski

    Was it an amber or red engine warning light? I think they chose to ignore it as sometime later flames were seen beneath the car and they were advised to pull over…

    Anyone who’s witnessed or watched a vehicle fire on YouTube know it takes a lot of water to extinguish. As it’s all about cooling to below flashpoint. But taking the local fire department an hour to show – they probably knew it was a lost cause.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Ford managed to send out tens of thousands of 1.6 turbos in early present generation Fusions and Escapes in 2012 which tended to self-immolate. Or has everyone forgotten that snafu?

    To this day I’ve never seen anything which definitively points out what went wrong to cause the fires. Was it split gas lines as first reported, or the falling out of block freeze plugs as later opined? We all know coolant is so flammable and the first choice of arsonists everywhere. It is a mystery what really happened. Ford quickly changed the engine downwards in size to 1.5 liters, and the problem magically went away.

    In Europe in 2017 Ford recalled 230,000 1.6l turbodiesels for fire risk back this past March, citing blocked coolant passages.

    Nobody seems to have got too worked up about Ford’s drama.

    But one Alpine specialty rally car goes up in flames and the entire existence of France and Renault/Alpine gets questioned, while the greyhaired Pinto apologizers crawl out of the woodwork to excuse shoddy American design.

    I owned a Pinto – came standard with the cam belt off one notch so no power, and developed squashed camlobes (they all do that sir) and a driver’s door that rusted away and flapped in the wind after just 4 years (Nov ’70 to Dec’74). Cancer up to the waterline, said the bodyman, declining the repair job. Quality you could see, touch and feel. I used a king-sized bath towel in the door to block external gales from entering the cabin. Lower the window? How? What a great vehicle, yessiree Bob. The stupid location of the gas tank was just a feeebie, I guess.

    • 0 avatar
      nvinen

      If for whatever reason, the 1.6l turbo petrol engines ran low on coolant, the resulting overheating could lead to a cracked head/block and that could cause oil/coolant to leak out onto the exhaust manifold, starting a fire.

      I’m glad the Escape I bought for my wife has the 2.0l turbo engine. It seems to have a good track record. Having said that, I hope if her engine overheated, she would pull over and switch it off.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Sell this here as Mitsubishi Starion. Mitsubishi is in the family now and Renault has no presence in the states. Just sayin.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    Renault quality has actually improved. Their current products have made impressive strides in build quality, reliability and design. I would not hesitate to buy a modern Renault, and my friends who drive them are more than happy with their value-for-money, comfort (which the French do well) and quality.

    My personal Renault experience is limited to one car. I own a beater 1995 Renault Twingo with over 350,000 km. I am the second owner and I bought this cheap (570 Euros) small car because my Mercedes GL won’t fit into my work parking space. The Twingo is a useful car for the city. During my lunch break I can speed into parts of the city, find a parking spot and purchase a meal. Its small size means I will always be able to find a parking spot, or squeeze into a spot where other small cars would not fit.

    The Twingo is a throw-away, disposable car that is cheap to run, cheap to insure and above all cheap to maintain. This car comes from a time when Renault [build] quality was still rather poor and it shows. The panel gaps are massive and the cabin materials are very cheap looking. But the car won’t die. It keeps going, going and going despite the abuse it suffered at the hands of the first owner, and admittedly at my hands.

  • avatar
    285exp

    I guess we know why they called it the A110, GM has dibs on Firenza.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    “I guess we know why they called it the A110”

    Named after the awesome original Alpine A110, winner of the 1973 Monte Carlo Rally and a number of other WRC events of the era. Dry weight given as only 1375 lb, which is why it could do 130 mph with a 1.6 litre Renault engine. Might have been a tad deficient in crash protection by today’s standards, but hey…
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Renault_Alpine_A_110_(Sp).JPG
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpine_A110

  • avatar
    CrystalEyes

    My friend had an ’82 Renault Fuego Turbo. Got it used and kept it for several years. Didn’t have to do anything to it beyond routine maintainance. My sister had a Renault Caravelle. It was a cute but incredibly fragile convertible that everyone thought was one of those Aquacars. She got rid of it and got a Volvo P1800 that was only a couple of years newer than the Renault. They could hardly have been more different. The Renault was super lightweight to the point of flimsiness (the shift lever once pulled completely out in her hand), had a rear engine, and had an interior so spartan it made a VW of the same era seem sumptuous. The Volvo was heavier in every respect – it weighed more, controls required much more effort to use, doors weighed a ton, and the steering was ridiculously heavy. My MGB weighed just as much but felt like it had power steering after driving the P1800. Unlike the Renault (and to a lesser extent the MG), the Volvo was sturdy and had fewer squeaks and rattles after 20 years than many new cars of the time (mid 80s). That being said, both cars had been restored to a comparable standard and thereafter seemed to be about equally reliable; though I’m sure that would have changed had she kept the Renault, since it was nowhere near as solid. My MGB on the other hand had undergone a far more comprehensive restoration but was not as reliable as the Volvo; and it was five years newer too. So it seems to me that the Renaults weren’t any better or worse in general than its contemporaries, at least from the perspective of keeping them going decades after manufacture.

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