In the Rearview Mirror: 1987 Renault Alliance GTA

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The death rattle of American Motors Corp. came in the early 1980s, with the “alliance” between the tubercular American automaker and French automaker Renault. Renault, a big player in Europe, hoped to gain access to AMC’s U.S. dealer network; AMC for its part simply needed cash — fast. There was no money on hand to invest in new models, and without them, AMC was doomed. This marriage based on need rather than love produced the expected dysfunctional offspring — one of which was the “high-performance” GTA.

It’s a measure of just how desperate times were for performance-car enthusiasts in the early1980s that a loathsome little shitbox equipped with a 2-liter, 95-horsepower four-cylinder engine could be marketed as “high-performance” and not incur a massive fine for false advertising or even criminal prosecution for fraud. But then again, by the skid-row low standards of the period, the GTA was in some respects better-than-average. The dulled masses were actually impressed by its Prius-like 0 to 60 in 10 seconds —and its lazy 17.5-second quarter miles. Today, such a car would be considered on the borderline of dangerously slow.

Lance Armstrong could outpedal it. 

To be fair, the 1987 GTA actually handled well, generating skid pad numbers about as good as the Chevy Corvette that year. The problem was getting the car moving quickly enough to notice it could, in fact, corner decently. After all, even a Ferrari is not much fun if you disconnect 10 of its 12 cylinders and force it to putter and wheeze through a 35-miles-per-hour decreasing radius turn at 30 miles per hour.

At a fast walk, even a shopping cart “handles” pretty well, too, even with one of those wobbly wheels.

As fortune would have it, the GTA was one of the last vehicles to be produced under the weird AMC-Renault partnership before The End mercifully came in 1987. As if to call attention to the impending divorce, in its final year the GTA was stripped of all AMC badges and sold simply as the “Renault GTA.”

After Renault abandoned ship, Chrysler Corp. took over what was left of AMC — mainly to acquire rights to the still-viable Jeep nameplate, which continues on to this day. AMC, on the other hand, has long since left the scene. Occasionally you’ll see a rotting GTA sitting in the back row of a seedy used car lot — or serving as a makeshift chicken coop outside a trailer park. Appallingly poor quality control and susceptibility to rust have ensured that the few remaining operable GTAs won’t be around much longer.

Five Fast Facts

Usually, front-wheel-drive cars do better in winter conditions, but Consumer Reports described the GTA as “one of the worst cars they’d ever driven” in the snow. It handled just slightly better than one of those plastic flying saucers that propel kids backwards into trees.

All GTAs were factory-equipped with Ronal 15×6 alloy rims and Michelin XGT tires.

The 1987 GTA’s base price was $9,000.

A few 1988 models may have been built, even though the AMC/Renault partnership had ended by then. (AMC often forgot to pick up the cars when it had weekend custody.)

The car’s name, “GTA,” is derived from Renault’s factory-sponsored racing cars. (Extensive investigations have not determined who they thought they were fooling.)

Excerpted from “Automotive Atrocities” (MBI, 2004)


  1. Came across this old thread while talking to my son about my GTA convertible. Still own the car 10 years later and it still has under 27k miles.

  2. Hello Mr. Peters,

    I remember your byline from the Washington Times, but don’t recall you wrote about automobiles for that esteemed rag. Now I catch you as a link from Excellent stuff.

    A couple points. I have two (yes two) GTAs, bought used. They have enough power to more than keep up on the Route 50/97 “speedway” between Washington and Balmer, and are compact enough to fit into parking spots near Dupont Circle. I much prefer them to the rental cars I drive on bidness trips, FWIW.

    Second, your reviews of the 370Z have me convinced. I’m considering a 2011 touring roadster with 42,000 miles. What you think — yea, nay, not enough info? Thanks.

  3. That was one of the worst cars ever made with the plastic radiator and the 1.4 L 4 cyl that could barely climb a freeway entrance ramp. I would take an overweight Civic or something like that versus that any day.

    • I can’t speak to the 1.4L, but the 2.0L in the GTA did not lack for power as others have mentioned. If you weren’t scared to let it rev, the GTA could chirp the tires in the first 3 gears, and the tires were wide. I suspect that in typical Renault fashion, the 1.4L needed a downshift to get accelerating and likely could go anywhere if you didn’t have to go too fast.

      • Hi Rick,

        That car was really light – especially relative to today’s porkers!

        A car that doesn’t weigh too much doesn’t need too much power to be sprightly. And you’re right about revving it. Same issue with some newer cars; for example, the Honda S2000. It’s a dog… until the engine comes on the cams at around 4,400 RPM.

  4. Say what you want but to those of us who own these cars – they are one of the greatest little things on 4 wheels. Mine does a wonderful job of out accelerating a lot of cars to this day. One thing that is nice is the torque under the hood – not many cars can slow to 30 mph in top gear going through a town and then still accelerate back up to highway speeds even climbing hills WITHOUT changing gears. As has been noted elsewhere on the internet most of the problems with these cars came from owners not maintaining them or poor dealer service. Also don’t forget at the time technology wise these cars were equipped with alot of features that many cars didn’t have. These were fuel injected since their inception in the USA also had keyless entry and systems that monitored the fluid levels under the hood. (On my 84 Alliance I never had to pull a dipstick to check fluids) The 1.4 liter engine that powered the first Alliances was almost bulletproof – if you took care of it. Granted it wasn’t the fastest thing out there but hooked to the 5 speed tranny it was respectably peppy compared to the other econo boxes out there. I have mine yet and it is great to have in the gas prices of today. 38 MPG on the highway and about 28 MPG around town. Even the Alliance and Encore handling and ride was very good for the time. With all that said – I’ll get off my soapbox now.

    • Hi Tom,

      I’ve grown softer in retrospect toward these cars – for all the reasons you mention – and because modern cars have become such overweight/overteched/overpriced absurdities on wheels.

      The other day I saw an old Datsun B210 and got a little misty eyed…

  5. Having owned a brand new GTA when they came out, I can refute almost everything you have said. Yes, cars were slower back then, but the GTA was no slouch for the time, you forgot to mention that it weighed in at under 2000 lbs. I used to blow away 5L Firebirds (not that I’m saying they were great themselves) and the VW GTI had no chance whatsoever against the GTA and cost thousands more.
    Your only source of information was the Consumer Reports review, which trashed the car. You might also notice that they tested a car that stalled for no reason and had body panels that weren’t properly fitted. ie. the car had either been thrashed before they got it or was a lemon. All of their test numbers were the worst obtained for a GTA review done that year.
    I drove my car through the worst of the Canadian winters for 6 years and it was unstoppable. My roomates new Accord couldn’t drive through snow that the GTA with it’s higher back end could handle. The Toronto salt did it’s worst and the car did not evaporate in a cloud of rust as you imply.
    away” as you say.
    You are correct about the handling, almost nothing could touch it, including the Ferrari you mention. Overall I rate the GTA as one of the most underrated cars made and mine at least got top marks for reliability. It could cruise all day at 100 mph and get over 30 mpg doing it. It’s only weak points were that it ate wheel bearings and motor mounts every year or two. I put over 192K on mine and aside from routine maintenance and brakes, I only had to replace the clutch and alternator. How’s that for reliable?

    • You must have got one of the ones built on the day the plant temporarily replaced all the French workers with a UAW crew! (A joke…. ) Yes, you’re correct about the weight – and that it was competitive with the very early third gen. F-cars (which were dogs). But, ye Gods… what a vile car!

      • I get nothing but compliments when I drive my convertible, so I guess this comes down to a matter of taste. Having not driven one you might want to tone down the criticism.
        It’s easy to sit here in the age of 600 HP cars and laugh about 95 HP, but in the ’80s this was a fast car, faster than probably 99% of the cars on the road. It handled better than them all and it looked good. It didn’t have the chrome bling of the modern cars but monochromatic was the sign of the times and this car was attractive then and has aged fairly well.
        And BTW, I can’t prove anything but I’m pretty sure mine was one of the first ones built which means it may have been or it’s engine may have been assembled by the French, not the UAW. It was way faster than the later GTAs, but with AMC being sold who knows how content changed. Mine had a spoiler that was only on the prototypes and not on the production model.

        • Agree. Hell, I like a lot of oddball stuff myself!

          Actually, I have driven one – “back in the day,” many many years ago. I remember it was quicker feeling than many other cars of the time (most of which were just awful) but that’s about all. It’s been a long time. Anyhow, enjoy your car. It’s now old enough to be a definite conversation piece and may be one of not very many still-running examples left!

        • I own a 1987 red Renault GTA convertible with 26k miles (yes 26k miles). Still runs great! I get compliments all the time and even people asking me if I want to sell it. Took my kids for their first ride last weekend and they loved it.


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