Three-dimensional modelling tools are used with structural and palaeomagnetic analysis to constrain the tectonic history of part of the Dauphiné zone (external Western Alps). Four compressive events are identified, three of them being older than the latest Oligocene. Deformation D1 consists of W–SW directed folds in the Mesozoic cover of the study area. This event, better recorded in the central and southern Pelvoux massif, could be of Eocene age or older. Deformation D2 induced N-NW-oriented basement thrusting and affected the whole southern Dauphiné basement massifs south of the study area. The main compressional event in the study area (D3) was WNW oriented and occurred before 24 Ma under a thick tectonic load probably of Penninic nappes. The D2-D3 shift corresponds to a rapid transition from northward propagation of the Alpine collision directly driven by Africa-Europe convergence, to the onset of westward escape into the Western Alpine arc. This Oligocene change in the collisional regime is recorded in the whole Alpine realm, and led to the activation of the Insubric line. The last event (D4) is late Miocene in age and coeval with the final uplift of the Grandes Rousses and Belledonne external massifs. It produced strike-slip faulting and local rotations that significantly deformed earlier Alpine folds and thrusts, Tethyan fault blocks and Hercynian structures. 3D modelling of an initially horizontal surface, the interface between basement and Mesozoic cover, highlights large-scale basement involved asymmetric folding that is also detected using structural analysis. Both, Jurassic block faulting and basement fold-and-thrust shortening were strongly dependent on the orientation of Tethyan extension and Alpine shortening relative to the late Hercynian fabric. The latter’s reactivation in response to oblique Jurassic extension produced an en-échelon syn-rift fault pattern, best developed in the western, strongly foliated basement units. Its Alpine reactivation occurred with maximum efficiency during the early stages of lateral escape, with tectonic transport in the overlying units being sub-perpendicular to it.