Welcome to What If, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. We’ll be taking you back in time—and possibly forward into the future—to meet alternative-universe automobiles. Even better, our time machine is working well enough to bring “short take” reviews along with the photographs and advertisements. Buckle up and enjoy the ride! — Jack Baruth
(Originally published in the “Letter From Europa” section of Track & Road, March 1981 edition)
STRASBOURG, FRANCE — Having long suffered the slings and arrows of Claybrook, Nader, and many other grey functionaries, the American automotive enthusiast will no doubt not be all that surprised to learn that even the star-crossed DeLorean sports car is available in finer form for overseas consumption. In this case, we have Renault to thank. While seeking a French distributor, representatives of the DeLorean Motor Company happened to take a meeting with Jean Niquetamere, the owner of a large Renault dealer group. Jean wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the prospect of the car as it came from the factory, but he pointed out the similarities to the existing Renault-Alpine A310 and suggested that perhaps the DMC-12, as it was then known, could be adjusted to French tastes by Alpine’s facility in Dieppe.
Alpine, meanwhile, was working on a turbocharger package for the ubiquitous PRV V-6, found in both the DMC and the Alpine. No doubt much Champagne was spilled over the discussions, but in the end a satisfactory arrangement was worked out like so: Rolling chassis are shipped from Northern Ireland to Dieppe, where a dedicated but very makeshift line installs a 200-horsepower turbocharged PRV powerplant, mated to the five-speed manual transmission that comes as standard with the normally aspirated car. There are no automatic-transmission variants of what is called the “Alpine DMC.”
Along the way, Alpine also fits lightweight fixed-back seats, removes most interior insulation and carpeting, then installs Lexan in place of all glass except the windshield. These modifications, in conjunction with the removal of the U.S.-mandatory 5-mph bumper shock assemblies, bring the Alpine DMC’s weight down to about 2550 pounds. As a consequence, this revitalized DeLorean boasts a power-to-weight ratio similar to that of the 911 Super Carrera in European trim.
One might argue that it is no great feat to match the antiquated 911, which is soon to be discontinued in favor of its highly-advanced 928 successor. Yet it is plain that the fifteen-year-old Porsche continues to enjoy some credibility with enthusiasts and will likely do so all the way to its final model year of 1983. In consideration of this, we drove a press-loaner 911SC to eastern France to meet the Alpine DMC for a short test drive.
Strasbourg, famous for its goats, seemed the perfect place to aggressively test this Pan-European coupe. Our test example sported a light metallic-blue clearcoat laid over the advanced stainless-steel body, since French buyers prefer a bit of color in their cars. Compared to the 911, this new sporting vehicle might as well be from a different planet; its gull-wing doors and Star Wars interior styling offer a clear glimpse of the inevitable future.
Alas, the Alpine DMC may be headed towards the future at light-speed, but in daily use it lags behind the 911, quite literally as turbo pressure is almost dangerously late to respond to a summons from the right pedal. That being said, it easily outhandles the Porsche on B-roads, no doubt due to a certain common inheritance of platform from the superb Lotus Esprit. Sadly, our test drive was terminated early when a wayward hay wagon forced an impromptu exit from the road, followed by an unfortunate traverse of a farmer’s field in which perhaps 600 goats, all of nearly identical size, were placidly enjoying the morning sun. We shot through this group, the Alpine-DMC’s nose expanding on impact quite a bit more than one would expect, until we came to an unharmed but blood-soaked halt.
Plans to sell some variant of the Alpine DMC in the United States are on indefinite hold as DeLorean struggles to meet demand for the standard vehicle. In the meantime, drivers in search of a truly unique experience might want to add this coupe to their overseas shopping lists.