Historic Alpine Le Mans prototype preserved in French shed Page 3

Alpine A210 Le Mans prototype in French shed

Alpine A210 Le Mans prototype in French shed

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One of the few exceptions was this Alpine A210.

It had been rolled into the shed and sheltered from the elements. The backlight (the rear plexiglass or Lexan that doubled as an engine cover) had been broken, perhaps when a formula car that had been hanging above the Alpine was moved out in preparation for the auction preview. Otherwise, the bodywork looked immaculate. It appeared to us that it could simply be washed and rolled onto the field proudly sporting 47 years of patina.

Once restored mechanically, this A210 would be about as close as one can get to a guaranteed entry to the Le Mans Classic vintage race. It would likely be an easy car to maintain, too. Its design is straightforward and easy to understand. Light in weight and powered by a 4-cylinder engine, it would be easy on brakes and tires. Gears for Hewland gearboxes are readily available, making it easy to set up for different racetracks.

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The emotional aspect is part of the attraction of Alpine. Roll this car out anywhere in France (or anywhere, really) and you will soon be talking to a Frenchman shedding tears of joy, recalling when he (and 350,000 of his closest friends) saw the "Alpeen" race at Le Mans. Automotive emotion doesn't get any stronger than what the French have for Alpine. Not even the Italian lust for Ferrari can match it.

These cars have been rarely seen in America, other than at the 12 Hours of Sebring a long time ago. Today, this car would likely be placed in races with Lola T70s or perhaps with Lotus 23s and Elva Mark VIIs. It would be an interesting car to own, show, and race.

And now here it was, for sale to the highest bidder.

Alpine A210 Le Mans prototype in French shed

Alpine A210 Le Mans prototype in French shed

Enlarge Photo

The auction

Graham is an engineer who runs a shop in Clifton, New Jersey, specializing in vintage race cars and other vintage vehicles. He and I examined the car as well as possible, and we decided it was in amazingly good condition. We saw no rust issues or any other signs of serious concern. Of course, it would need to be completely dismantled, the chassis checked, wear items replaced, but everything was there and it appeared to be a wonderful race car. We decided it was a buy, so we left the shed, toured the garden, and drove to Fayence for lunch.

Any thoughts of sneaking in and buying a dusty old car no one wanted for a song were dashed, however. Vintage car enthusiasts showed up in droves. A traffic jam formed along the rural road that wound by Gombert's garden, and police had to install a portable traffic signal to manage the chaos.

The auction itself, conducted by Paris auctioneer Osenat, was held in a small auditorium in Fayence, an old mountaintop French village with outstanding food, excellent espresso, and breathtaking views of the valley below. Throngs appeared for the auction, jamming the entrance to the auditorium. Few auction attendees spoke English, but most spoke Alpine fluently and fully understood the significance of the A210.

Alpine chassis 1725 sold for 872,800 euros, which at the time translated to $915,000 with the hefty buyer's premium included. This far exceeded our expectations and budget. At least two buyers saw this car as being worth that amount and the winner got a fantastic car. Its amazing history, its rarity, its capability as a Le Mans Classic entry, its excellent condition, and the barn-find aura and romance add up to a valuable collectible. We suspect this car will not be relegated to a museum.

We fully expect to see it at the next Le Mans Classic, which is set for July 6-9, 2018.  We look forward to seeing it return to the circuit where it saw so much success so long ago.

Thankfully, the trip wasn't for naught: I went home with an old Alpine Le Mans poster.

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