Today we are in the company of a Dutchman who’s keen on driving a particular French coupe in a historic Italian road race. After acquiring it from a loving owner who’d taken care of the car for the last twenty years, Mark Geessink became the proud owner of this rare piece of automotive history. The A106 was the first car to wear the Alpine badge, and only a few years after founder Jean Rédelé created the polyester-bodied car based on Renault running gear, it found success in Italy when it won its class in the 1956 Mille Miglia. The model’s history is kept alive and well thanks to current caretakers like Mark, who’s competed in the modern-day version of the race since 2014, always completing the full route in the small but stalwart Alpine.
There are more exotic sports cars to be found on the entry list of the modern day version of the famed thousand-mile race across civilian streets, but it’s doubtful that Mark would want to swap seats with any of those drivers for the Mille Miglia. Besides having a reliable car that’s plenty of fun to drive despite that fact—isn’t it typical that we can choose one or the other? A fun car that will break or a plodding boring one that won’t?—Mark enjoys driving his A106 in the race because of the support and love the punchy little car receives from the spectators. Watching a blur of hands frantically waving while the faces above them light up (the French ones especially so) as he drives past can be just as satisfying as beating last year’s finishing position.
It must be, otherwise Mark wouldn’t have entered the race with the same car every year since he acquired it. He’d been looking for an A106 for a while with no luck—only a few hundred of these cars were produced in period after all—so after turning to some of his friends in France for advice, he put out some wanted ads in a few French newspapers. Just two weeks after placing the ad, Mark was called by an older gentleman who did not have any computers but did have an Alpine A106. This meant communication was a bit slower than usual, and only after taking four trips to the owner’s home along with a promise to use the car in the Mille Miglia did Mark convince the man to let the car go after nearly two decades of ownership in which he mostly looked at the car instead of driving it.
He would start it periodically and let it warm up and move its fluids around though, so combined with its lack of use outside of rolling back and forth in the garage the Alpine that came to Mark was nearly perfect, and he hasn’t had to do much of anything to keep it running as it should. And that’s the way the car is supposed to behave—before Alpine became synonymous with the A110 rally cars, Jean Rédelé’s goal was to build a small sports and racing-focused car based on components from standard production cars. He found some people with experience in plastics to build the body of the A106 on top of the Renault 4CV chassis. Powered by Renault’s tiny sub-750cc inline-four, the car would achieve early success when, just a year after the first three completed cars were shown in the blue, white, and red of the French flag, an A106 would win its class at the Mille Miglia.
A special “Mille Miles” edition of the A106 was produced after the event, and these models received 43hp variants of the Renault motor (which is not a lot in absolute terms, but compared to the 20 or 20hp A106s this was a significant boost), along with a four-shock suspension system for the rear of the car and reduced weight. The car would eventually get replaced by the A108 that was built alongside it in the late 1950s, which in turn would birth the A110 that defined the marque’s legacy, but among all the rally wins and the time spent at Le Mans in prototype sports cars it was this rather humble Michelotti-designed coupe that turned the story of a French car dealer and motorsport enthusiast into the story of Alpine. As for this example, the story is ongoing—Mark’s already got the A106 booked for the 2019 Mille Miglia.