Alconi Renault models R8 and R10

 Alconi Renault R8 & R10 Story, History, Development and Production.

Renault Alconi

The "Renault Alconi'' was a special performance model of the Renault 8 & 10 (1108cc engine) vehicles, marketed by the Renault ( Africa) division of Regie Renault (France) between the years 1965 and about 1968. 
The R8 and R10 Renault vehicle was a fairly small, 4 door, rather close in the rear (hardly possible to accommodate say 4 rugby forwards though front seats were renowned for their comfort) 4 seater with rear engine that replaced the Dauphine model. As competition for the VW beetle, it offered considerably more power, and far superior fuel economy, but proved to be less  reliable with a water cooled engine that required more attention.
In Alconi form, approximately 400 - 500 new vehicles were sold by dealerships, and many hundred conversions and conversion kits supplied.

Development Work
"Scamp" and brother "Phil" Porter, auto racing and rally drivers and enthusiasts, were employed by Renault Africa at the time. Phil  was an Accountant and Scamp an auto mechanic and their school instructor. They were instrumental in encouraging their Company's racing stance.
This culminated with the arrival in 1963 of the (956cc) engined R8 model, and one was entered in the November "9 hour International Endurance Race at Kyalami" race track, in highly modified form, prepared by Scamp Porter. The car achieved a 4th place finish overall, including 1st saloon car to finish (driven by Phil Porter and Colin Burford), behind three out and out sports racing cars, (a Ferrari GTO, Shelby Cobra & Lola Climax) ahead of many other well respected racers, and bested all larger  engined saloon cars ( like Volvos, Alfas, Cortinas Coopers  etc).
This was a story book result. Soon after, to take advantage of the result, the Renault Africa management and two of Scamp Porter's friends, (fellow racers who had helped in this R8's engine upgrades), John Conchie and Eric "Puddles" Adler, talked together to capitalise on the competition successes and discuss marketing a high performance version of the Renault R8 to the enthusiastic 'car mad' South African public.

Experimental Versions and Test Mules
A larger engined 1108cc version of the R8 was released early in 1964, and this version was utilised for the performance mules, which already had inherited the name "Alconi" by combining the last names of the two developers. Modifications were made to the motor, upping power to 68bhp (net), which cut acceleration time 0-60 mph by about 40% and increased top speed by about 20%.  The only other alteration was the inclusion of a tachometer and distinctive Alconi badges.

One demonstration Alconi charged around South Africa in the hands of factory representatives, who quickly became completely enthusiastic about the new project, introducing the concept to their Renault dealers and at the same time testing the vehicle under duress, and a few other kits went to Renault staff members and owner enthusiasts for feedback.

At about this time, Adler and Conchie incorporated, launching themselves as Alconi Developments.  They were motor racing enthusiasts, and between them had already established a performance development reputation by competing in events quite successfully, with saloon cars like Fiat 1100, Simca Etoile and Fiat 1500.  They started procuring parts and manufacturing components for the Alconi kits they were installing and selling, as well as for assembly into the first batch of vehicles due shortly from the assembly line.  A newly introduced "Sun" electrically controlled rolling road "Dynamometer" and a Camshaft grinder was also ordered to assist their tuning business.

While this was in progress, the Porter brothers continued racing and rallying and,  in the gruelling 1964 July "Total LM Rally"   (Johannesburg-Lourenco Marques, Mozambique), using another test Alconi engined R8, managed to secure an overall win!
For the 1964 November "9 Hour" a number of Renault R8s, nearly all with Alconi parts, modifications and engines competed, resulting in another 4th overall, 1st saloon car finish (Scamp Porter, A Chatz, drivers) ahead of a high powered sports car and saloon car field similar to the previous year.

Vehicle Production
Scheduled assembly and production of the first of a number of batches of 50 Alconi R8 vehicles started towards the end of 1964 and beginning 1965, and a "French Racing Blue" colour was chosen. Somehow, the assembly plant erred with the mix and a bluish purple hue resulted.  This became known as "Alconi blue" and all future R8 Alconis were made in this colour. Purchase price was approximately 10% above the standard car. 

Regie Renault (France) developed  and offered the Renault R8 Gordini 1108cc in 1965, and a 1255cc version sometime in 1966, and these vehicles were also immediately available in South Africa. It came only in french racing blue, so the two performance  R8 vehicles could easily be identified. Performance of the standard 1100 Gordini  was hardly superior to the Alconi, and the price was about 20% higher.

From late 1966 onward, with the arrival of the Renault R10, production of the Alconi in batches of 50  R10s was initiated. Standard R10s were marketed with the Renault 1108cc Caravelle engine, with slightly better performance from a twin-choke weber carburator. The production Alconis used their same upgrade kit on the newer R10 1108cc engine, but retained the production carburator, and the vehicle was slightly lower (1 inch) than its standard brother.  Colour choices were initiated: Alconi blue with white flashes down the sides, Red with white flashes and white with red flashes.  Production continued through 1967 and 1968 and possibly 1969.
As well, many conversion kits were sold through the dealership and aftermarket.  Owners were for the most part very enthusiastic,  and it was especially sought after by the young "road racer" genre. Road handling with the rear engine was quite good, but could be tricky at times, which is why the lower vehicle profile was utilised. However, suspect roadholding was never the case with the track prepared race cars,  and they continued to establish the standard for saloon race car handling.
Without doubt, competition success helped all Renault vehicle sales and sales penetration in South Africa during this period substantially.

Racing Achievements
Because the public in South Africa were "performance car" mad, successful  competition achievements formed an integral part of the marketing plan for "Alconi" and "Gordini" sales.
This R8 Gordini ( which had many different parts, and could not be fitted as a kit) in 1255cc form had a 5 speed gearbox, and could accelerate about 2 - 5% faster than the Alconi, with top speed about 10% higher, and cost about 25% more than it. For racing purposes, with Alconi developed parts its power potential was superior, and racing participants opted for Gordini 1300cc powerplants with Alconi performance components in nearly all events thereafter. 
An R8 Alconi (1108cc) did win the inaugural 1966 Kyalami Onyx production car championship, with an overall win in the season's final race (ahead of a Sunbeam Tiger V8).  "Onyx" was  a Kyalami (race track near Johannesburg) annual racing series with a number of sprint events for locally made cars, classes based on retail price. 
(Sunday express, November 1966)

Alconi vehicles also offered superior fuel economy to the standard Renault 8, which was already a class leader, so they accumulated overall wins practically every year in the annual "Mobil Fuel Economy Run".  On many sections, more than 60 mpg was recorded.
Renault Gordinis, (usually with the optional Alconi manufactured racing parts) were dominant in their class in modified saloon sprint racing for the next few seasons, and the Renault 8 accumulated an unmatched endurance record, which no  doubt helped vehicle sales. 

The annual 9 hour endurance events produced:

No other vehicle, South African or overseas professional, achieved such endurance racing success as the R8, proving the vehicle's reliability and  startling performance potential, as well as its unmatched wet weather handling, that gave it the ability to pass every out and out Sports Racer during downpours. Much of the endurance  race competition came from imported sports racing cars (Ferraris, Lolas, Jaguars, Cobras, Racing Porsches etc.) as well as saloon cars with much larger engines, including  many with a tried and trusted European racing heritage and  pedigree (like Auto Delta Alfa Sprint GTAs, Lotus and Cosworth engined Escorts and Cortinas,  Cooper S, Volvo 2000cc, Galaxie 7000cc, Mustangs)

Renault Africa's motor sport program also included participation in all Rally events, where Alconi equipped R8 were particularly popular because of inexpensive preparation and so much useful information being put out by Alconi developments and their local Factory Competition Department. Also, active help was always offered to these privateers during an event by the mobile factory support team.

The most important Rally, with international accreditation was the Total(fuel) LM (Lourenco Marques) Rally.
1962 event  1st overall    Renault Dauphine Gordini.                    Phil Porter/Scamp Porter
1964 event        -"-           R8 (with early 1108cc Alconi engine)                     -"-
1969 event        -"-           R8 Gordini  1300cc                               Swanepoel/Craus
Only 1st places are recorded here - there were miriad class wins and overall 2nds, 3rds etc.

After 1969, production of newer and heavier R12 models of Renault, with front engines, started to come off the assembly lines, and the R8/10 model became obsolescent, so factory racing support for these vehicles dried up. But privateers still continued to race for many many seasons, and still enjoy competing in the Historic events.

An overall Saloon car  lap record was shared at Kyalami (the only events in which the car competed) at one stage during 1968/9 by a 1300cc supercharged Alconi R8 (the engine was a highly modified Gordini 1255cc). These events included a 7000cc Ford Galaxie and Ford Mustangs that could never match its times.

       Supporting race - 1968 S.A. Grand Prix at Kyalami. Supercharged 1296cc R8 (Gordini engined) leads the Modified Saloon Race ahead of a 2000cc Auto Delta Alfa GTA. (Jean Pierre Beltoise really really wanted it after the race!)

Supercharged 1296cc Gordini engined R10 competes for overall victory at Kyalami  
This car is a re panelled version of the earlier R8 bodied vehicle

Interesting to note, Jody Scheckter, South Africa's only World Formula 1 racing champion, started his blossoming career in sprint races with a 1300cc Renault R8 with Gordini and Alconi modifications.

The Alconi factory later supplied the equipment for the supercharged 1404cc engine with which Scheckter was able to compete and periodically take overall wins (in 1969/70) against a 2000cc class BDA engined Escort 2000cc, a GTA Autodelta Alfa Romeo Sprint, Group 5 Ford Mustangs and 7000cc Ford Galaxy.

Jody 'Sideways' Scheckter on Hesketh Circuit (Pietermaritzburg), 1969  Note tiremarks on doors (motorprint)

Towards the close of the decade, it is possible that 1300cc R10s (engine from the R12) might also have been offered from the assembly line.  By then, inevitably, newer and more modern concepts were in the pipeline to cater to the public's changing tastes.

Looking back at the results, these accomplishments look less than astonishing today.
However, it must be born in mind that Karl Benz, Daimler, Rudolf Diesel, Chevrolet, Peugeot, Louis Renault, Enzo Ferrari, Colin Chapman, even Galileo and the Wright Brothers were all enthusiastic pioneers, using only the really coarse tools at their disposal to make the admirable breakthroughs of their day.

As Carl Sagan expressed so eloquently, all the talented and energetic geniuses of today were able to stand on the shoulders of the originators and developers to see further.

The Renault R8 and R10 Alconi was only marketed off the showroom floor as new vehicles in South Africa.  Renault Africa also supplied conversion kits through their parts department.
It has become quite sought after as a collector car in that market.

Classic & Performance Car Africa Magazine remembers!


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