The return of Alpine
Alpine have returned to the motoring world, and is keen to hark back through bleu-tinted spectacles
If you said Alpine to most people on the street they would say “Sorry, do you mean the muesli brand?”, but when you say it to a car enthusiast they would say “….the car audio people or the rally cars?”
Alpine is one of the great names in post-war French motorsport and was the brainchild of a young Dieppe-based Renault dealer, Jean Rédélé, who began in the early 1950s by developing his own competition version of the popular little Renault 4CV. Rédélé’s first major victory came in the 1954 Coupe des Alpes, which inspired his choice of name for the automotive brand to follow.
In 1954, Rédélé founded the Société Anonyme des Automobiles Alpine. A year later, he worked with the Chappe brothers to be amongst the pioneers of auto glass-fibre construction and produced a small coupé, with a very stiff chassis based on a central tubular backbone, called the Alpine A106.
Styling for the A106 had been contracted to the Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti, now famous for designing early 1950s Ferraris and most of the Triumph car range – TR4, Spitfire, Stag etc. This Michelotti design DNA would continue throughout the range until the early 1970s when the A310 took over; a car that from the front looks very much like the Ford Falcon “Pursuit Special” from the 1979 Mad Max film.
Between 1958 and 1963 the A108 was built, and in 1963 Alpine launched the iconic and beautiful A110 Berlinette; which became the mainstay of both road and rally production for the next decade. As a road car, the hand-built Alpine A110 would be very exclusive and could be bought with a rally pack of roll-cage and large capacity fuel tank. Its rearward weight bias gave the car some outstanding cornering characteristics for rallying and success arrived over the following years.
By 1968, Alpine had been allocated the whole Renault competition budget. The result was that in 1969 A110s finished 1-2-3 in the Coupes des Alpes and in 1971 Alpine achieved a 1-2-3 finish in the Monte Carlo rally, plus to rub it in another win in the Coupes des Alpes. The icing on the cake was a repeat of another 1-2-3 in the 1973 Monte Carlo (current President of the FIA Jean Todt drove in the second-placed car in 1973). The legend around the Alpine name was truly born.
That year Alpine went on to be the first winner of the World Rally Championship (est. 1973) as we know it today. However, the pinnacle of their motorsport talent was in 1978, when the sports prototype Renault Alpine A442B won outright at Le Mans, driven by Jean-Pierre Jaussand and Didier Pironi. The Alpine name is back now in motorsport, with the Signatech-Alpine team winning the LMP2 title in the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship.
Alpine road car production sadly ended in 1995, but this year, 2017, Renault will bring the iconic name back to the car-buying public.
Judging by the Vision Concept that was previewed at the Geneva Motor Show in February 2016, the new Alpine will take its looks from the original Michelotti-inspired A110. The 2017 Vision is rumoured to have a four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine mounted in the middle of the car. It will also have the magic formula of a low kerb weight, a chassis that will be tuned by Renault Sport and rear wheel drive.
Whether this re-emerging brand replicates the success of the original will be down to the amount of French spirit they manage to get into their new breed of blue sportsters – and winning a few trophies might help, too.
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