Curbside Classic: 1987 Renault GTA – An Alliance Of A Different Stripe

The nationality of vehicles can be hard to discern these days, what with manufacturer collaboration, world cars, overseas production and remote design studios. However, the blurring of automotive identities is not a recent phenomenon, as we will see in this look at the Renault GTA. The GTA was the high performance version of the North American-market Renault Alliance, itself a derivative of the Renault 9 and 11, that was built and sold by AMC. While some consider the Alliance a French car, it wasn’t built for the French market. On the other hand, I can’t imagine a die hard bow-tie,  Mopar or blue oval man embracing it as American. In any case, all Alliances were officially classified as domestics whose contents were at least 70% locally-produced.

Ask a European what a Renault GTA is, and they’d probably point you toward an Alpine GTA like the one above.

Before we dig into the GTA story, here’s a bit of background: The (perhaps unimaginatively named) Alliance was the product of an alliance between AMC and Renault. At the time, AMC’s model lineup was, to put it kindly, rather dated and conservative. Yes, Jeep was doing well, and AMC did offer a couple of 4WD passenger cars, but they had nothing really fuel-efficient. AMC desperately needed a contemporary small car to sell. At the same time, Renault was looking to expand its presence in what they considered the largely untapped American market. The few LeCars being sold weren’t cutting it, and the Fuego was a pleasant but expensive coupe relegated to a niche role. The current USD-to-Franc exchange rate made importing French-built cars a losing proposition. And thus it was that from Kenosha, Wisconsin emerged the AMC-built Renault Alliance.

 

Aimed at the MPG-conscious lower end of the market, the Alliance was a minor hit. On the strength of mostly favorable reviews and a $5,995 base price, AMC moved 142,000 copies in 1983. What’s more, the new Alliance made the Car & Driver 10-Best list and was also named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. Buyers were attracted to its small-on-the- outside, big-and-comfortable-on-the-inside design. If today we wonder why anyone would have bought an Alliance, well, just consider its competition. The Chevette was no-frills basic and crude. The Omni couldn’t match its fuel economy, The Corolla was solid, but stuck with an outdated rear-drive layout. The Civic was highly rated and priced to match. Besides, none could approach the Alliance’s passenger comfort.

The 1983 AMC-Renault lineup must have been among the most varied ever sold beneath a single banner.

The 1984 Alliance lineup included new convertible and three- and five-door Encore hatchback models. Total sales topped  208,000 that year, but things quickly went downhill as competitors raised their game and stabilizing fuel prices softened the small car market. A mere 35,000 Alliances were sold in 1987.

Today, it’s quite rare to run across a survivor. In fact, the only Alliance I’ve seen recently is this one, which I found in a local junkyard. It seemed basically solid and complete, but looked dirty and unloved. I imagine it had been scrapped due to the combination of a minor mechanical issue and the owner’s lack of desire to track down the needed parts. By the way, you can tell this is Southern Alberta–in this case, the PGA vanity plate refers to an association for professional potato growers, not professional golfers.

As you can see, AMC converted some Alliance four-doors into limousines as a publicity stunt.

The Renault GTA, introduced in 1987, offered performance that matched the brand’s renowned interior comfort.

Regular Alliances offered a choice of 1.4-liter, 64-hp OHV and 1.7-liter, 77-hp OHC four-cylinder engines; however, the GTA was blessed with a beefier 2.0-liter, 90-hp OHC power plant whose long-stroke design produced plenty of useable torque. Mated to the mandatory close-ratio five-speed transmission, it got the GTA from 0-60 in a respectable-for the-time 10.2-seconds.

In this promotional video, Renault claimed better performance than the Corolla GTS, Honda CRX and Volkswagen GTi. Maybe the GTS driver left his parking brake on (or granny-shifted), since it finished faster in contemporary road tests.

In addition to a hotter engine, the GTA received upgrades to its suspension and brakes, body cladding and Michelin performance tires mounted on 15-inch alloy rims. Of course, no late-80s car with a performance package was complete without a small, trunk-mounted wing, so the GTA got one. The GTA was available only as a two-door sedan or convertible painted Sebring Red, Olympic White, Classic Black or Metallic Sterling. Here is a rather lovely Darth-Vader- on-a-budget black GTA with red accents–in my opinion the best color, although the convertible does look sharp in white.

Run-of-the-mill Alliances were known for having a nice interior, but the GTA kicks things up a bit with exclusive sport seats and a steering wheel from the Renault 5 Turbo.

As promising as it looked on paper, the GTA was not a sales success, and thus a rare sight nowadays. Total GTA sales comprised 5,515 coupes and only 1,029 convertibles. Certainly, a high asking price didn’t help: The base model coupe went for $9,000 before the addition of common options like A/C. Complicating matters was the buyout of AMC by Chrysler, which bounced both the Alliance and GTA after 1987.

In an era of European and Japanese hot hatches, this GTA remains a bit of an oddity, with its sedan body and fuzzy national identity. This particular example, in outstanding condition, looks like it just rolled right out the 80s. So to the owner, a big “Bravo” — or perhaps just a simple “Well done”.