Travel: Meeting Your (Car's) Makers, Staying Up All Night, And Alpine Road-Tripping In An Alpine A110

Meeting Your (Car’s) Makers, Staying Up All Night, And Alpine Road-Tripping In An Alpine A110

By Romuald Clariond
November 4, 2021
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Photography by Romuald Clariond

During the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, Antony Villain, Head of Design at Alpine, made one of his childhood dreams come true by attending the Grand Prix de Monaco inside the Alpine team garage, watching a livery he designed racing around some of the most hallowed ground in motorsport. And on this occasion, Sunday just after the race, he signed my own Alpine A110 Première Édition, which we had been talking about for a while. He told me some people had asked him to do so with their cars at Alpine Studio in Boulogne, but as he’s pretty humble and low-profile, he had sneaked out of the situation. He also knows I consider this car a masterpiece, and being the good friend that he is, he put marker to aluminum and made my already beloved car even more special.

I took a photo of the moment, posted it on Instagram, and one of the people that commented was David Twohig, the Chief Engineer of the A110 (or “Chief Geek,” as he says). We’d kept in touch after he left Alpine for an adventure in the US, but seeing as David had just moved back to Europe, it felt like a good excuse to catch up with him at his new home in the Alps, where he also works as a freelance engineer and writer. My plan was to take the car into the mountains on a road trip up to his place, where he would add his signature next to Antony’s—engineer and designer, function and form, joined in writing on a piece of bodywork.

I knew I was going to go to Crans-Montana in Switzerland to see the DJ Nusha playing at a music festival called Caprices in September, so I figured I could fold two visits into one alpine road trip. I told David I would visit him the day after her set, which would actually be the same day, as she was closing the festivities and playing until five in the morning—it’s nice to be caught up on sleep, but the mark of a good time is rarely the amount of hours one has slept in.

I left Monaco on a Saturday to reach Crans-Montana in the afternoon after a pretty boring drive along the motorways. And because many of the Italian routes are being restored and upgraded after the drama of the Morandi bridge back in 2018, there was seemingly constant construction delays and slow single-file driving. But at the Swiss border, as I waited for my documents to be handed back, I saw a sign of better things to come: a bus with “l’Oiseau Bleu” scrawled on the side, which means “Blue Bird,” an accurate descriptor of the days to come.

Arriving later in Crans-Montana after some switchbacks and hill climbing, I caught up with the highlight of the night at Caprices, who was just coming back from a tour in India. Nusha and I went out for dinner at La Désalpe before heading to the gondola that would bring us to the Signal stage of Caprices, on the mountain. A DJ duo called the Yellow Heads were playing as we arrived in the area behind the DJ booth, where we had a drink and relaxed before Nusha closed the festival a few hours later when late night became early morning.

After her set there was a little more time left in the night an some improvised champagne toast in the back of an X5 before I went to bed and eked out a few hours of sleep. Getting yourself out into the world when you’re half asleep is easier when it’s in the service of something you actually want to do, so I hopped out of bed and into the Alpine again to drive over to Annecy, France, where I’d meet up with David. Before I left home, David sent me a GPS link to a beautiful road he knows in Thorens-Glières, which also aided greatly in waking me up.

We met up a bit later, and seeing as the café in the village was closed, decided to drive to David’s place where his wife Cooleen was baking madeleines. On the way, we stopped in Nâves-Parmelan where David signed the inside of the trunk. We left his Porsche for a while so I could enjoy riding shotgun in my own car with its lead engineer in the driver’s seat, and since he’d told me a few months earlier that he would love to drive an A110 again some day, I was pretty sure he was enjoying the arrangement too. We talked about what it was like to put Alpine back on the map with this project, which I feel so lucky to have been a small part of; I can only imagine how it must feel for David, Antony, and Bernard Ollivier, the man in charge of the whole project.

If you get the chance to drive the modern A110, you will realize how good the car is at being a car, but you will also realize what a miracle its existence is in the first place. A small group of people who were absolutely devoted to the legacy of Jean Rédélé, actually did it justice. The car is modern but connected to its past in a way that defies the modern corporate systems that have sucked the souls out of so many, often stillborn, rebirth projects. I am completely in love with the car and its story, and I have a space picked out on the rear trunk—currently occupied by a Cannonball sticker—for Bernard to sign it and complete the trifecta when the opportunity shows up. If it does under the shape of another road trip, it will be hard to beat this one.

After taking some time to unwind with David and Cooleen in their beautiful garden with some coffee and cookies, speaking about the past few years and the off-road experience they had done in the morning with the new Defender, it was time to head back home. It was a very short, but very full weekend of driving. The kind that leaves you exhausted but eager to plan another.

The GPS estimated a 10:31PM ETA in Monaco taking the motorways in a wide loop through Valence and Aix-en-Provence, but I’d had enough of dull driving from the first leg of the trip and was keen to keep weaving my way through the mountain roads instead. I could still make it home before midnight if I plotted a route through Grenoble, Col Bayard, Gap, Digne-les-Bains, Entrevaux… Around 11 that night, I was back to familiar turf, cuddling with my cat on the sofa.

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Daser Papae

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