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Chris Harris on that Alpine A110 fire
“It began as an entire car with a bit of flame, but ended up as molten metal”
The point of this bit of the film was to get Eddie to be a bit annoying. He was doing that superbly well and we were crying with laughter. We got to the bottom of the rally stage and the director told us to go back up again, get close behind the tracking car and see what we could do. What became apparent was that the car has just the right amount of torque in second and first gear to do little slides coming out of the hairpins. I was beginning to really enjoy it, but I didn’t want to be a tit. There was nothing to be gained from me pushing it ten tenths.
This went on for a few minutes, then I came around a right-hander and as I crested quite a long section of road the power just cut a bit. I looked down and the dashboard said: ‘Electrical failure, danger’. I’ve never seen a message like it, but I thought, “That’s nothing – it’s just overreacting.” So I looked up at the next bend, looked down again and the whole dashboard had gone… and the engine cut completely. We stopped and I said to Eddie, “Oh, that’s not good.” Then I looked in the mirror and saw smoke and said, “We’re on fire – get out.”
We now know there was a fuel leak under the car, probably between Eddie’s left buttock and my right buttock. When I opened the door, the wind was blowing across the car and the fuel ignited and blew the flames in my door. There was a load of fuel that had been dumped on the ground, which is where the flames were coming from at that stage, not the car. Luckily I was wearing overalls, but I didn’t have any gloves – all it did was singe the hairs on my hand.
What was really frustrating was that we had to just sit there and watch it burn. It began as an entire car with a bit of flame on it, but ended up as molten metal. That probably took five or six minutes. Once fire takes hold it’s very quick, and there’s lots of bangs and pops and fizzes when it goes off.
I was sad to see an entire vehicle disappear. I didn’t like that at all. I felt no sense of anger towards Alpine because it was a development car and these things happen; I was just glad that we got out fine. There’s probably no project in the history of automotive manufacturing that’s not had a fire – it happens. It was a pre-production car and it’s just one of those things that you tolerate. If manufacturers are going to be brave enough to let us into stuff early, then sometimes things go wrong. And it’ll happen to me again.
We missed out on a really lovely scene involving loads of world rally cars and the director was gutted, but you know what? It’s a film that’ll be remembered for some time and it doesn’t alter the fact that the car is magnificent.