THERE’S a handful of Renault Gordinis in Australia, but an Alconi?

While well known and greatly respected in South Africa in the 1960s, none was thought to have ever arrived in Australia.

But such a car exists in Perth, and occasionally arrives at one of the monthly Cars and Coffee meetings at one the University of Western Australia’s car parks, flanked by the Swan River.

The Alconis were developed by accomplished Johannesburg racing drivers John Conchie and Eric ‘Puddles’ Adler, who had earlier gained attention for campaigning very quick Fiats at Kyalami.

Then Renault produced their R8s and 10s and provided Conchie and Adler with something else they could turn their magic on.

They traded as Alconi Developments and pretty soon did a deal with Renault Africa, which built the coiled snake-badged high performance versions of the 1108cc ‘8’  and ’10’ at its East London assembly plant.

The Alconi’s performance was stunning, capable of running lineball with an R8 Gordini 1100.

You could walk into any Renault dealership in South Africa and drive out in a new Alconi. Yes, complete with a Renault factory warranty — and the cost?

Bargain: They were only about 10 per cent more than a standard R8 or R10.

About 500 cars were sold through dealerships.

Alternatively, if you already had a standard 8 or 10, you could buy Alconi kits separately and do the conversion in your own garage.

The outcome was remarkable: you got a rocketship for a budget price.

Main components of the kit included an advanced cylinder head, camshaft and manifolds.

As a result, Renault sales soared among the motorsport-oriented South African public and many an Alconi ended up at Kyalami, Roy Hesketh or other national racing circuits.

From 1964 to 1969 when the R8 model was sold, they dominated saloon car races, particularly when in the hands of brothers Scamp or Phil Porter.

Alconis were the first saloon car in seven of the annual Kyalami International 9 hour Endurance Races (3 x 4th overall, 1 x 5th overall, 3 x 9th overall).

The competition included many international sports cars, such as Ferraris, Jaguars, Porsches and Cobras — along with their star drivers.

In the wet, the pedigreed sports cars, driven by Europe’s finest, couldn’t come within cooee of the flying Alconis.

Alconis also boasted three overall wins in the annual International Total Lourenco Marques Rallies.

Jody Scheckter, who went on to take the World F1 Championship, started his racing career in an Alconi

They later supplied a supercharged 1404cc engine with which Scheckter took overall wins (in 1969/70) against a 2000cc class BDA-engined 2.0-litre Escort, a GTA Autodelta Alfa Romeo Sprint, Group 5 Ford Mustangs and a 7.0-litre Ford Galaxie.

The car in Perth has been with owner Harry for many a year.

He bought a standard R10 while living in South Africa, later fitted the Alconi bits, some years later fitted a genuine Gordini motor, moved to New Zealand, then to Perth.

People pass by at the Cars and Coffee display, some murmuring nothings, like ‘mmm, haven’t seen a Renault 10 in a while’ — and saunter on.

If only they knew.

That innocuous-looking yellow boxy saloon with the angry snake on its badge is capable of embarrassing most of the exotica on show.

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Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.
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