Alpine Cars France History
|Founded||1955 by Jean Rédélé|
Alpine is a French manufacturer of racing and sports cars that used rear-mounted Renault engines.
Jean Rédélé (1922–2007), the founder of Alpine, was originally a Dieppe garage proprietor, who began to achieve considerable competition success in one of the few French cars produced just after the Second World War. The company was bought in 1978 by Renault.
Using Renault 4CVs, Rédélé gained class wins in a number of major events, including the Mille Miglia and Coupe des Alpes. As his experience with the little 4CV built up, he incorporated many modifications, including for example, special 5-speed gear boxes replacing the original 3-speed unit. To provide a lighter car he built a number of special versions with lightweight aluminium bodies: he drove in these at Le Mans and Sebring with some success in the early 1950s.
Encouraged by the development of these cars and consequent customer demand, he founded the Société Anonyme des Automobiles Alpine in 1954. The firm was named Alpine after his Coupe des Alpes successes. He did not realise that in England the previous year, Sunbeam had introduced a sports coupe derived from the Sunbeam Talbot and called the Sunbeam Alpine. This naming problem was to cause problems for Alpine throughout its history.
In 1955, he worked with the Chappe brothers to be amongst the pioneers of auto glass fibre construction and produced a small coupe, based on 4CV mechanicals and called the Alpine A106. It used the platform chassis of the original Renault 4CV. The A106 achieved a number of successes through the 1950s and was joined by a low and stylish cabriolet. Styling for this car was contracted to the Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti. Under the glassfibre body was a very stiff chassis based on a central tubular backbone which was to be the hallmark of all Alpines built.
Alpine then took the Michelotti cabriolet design and developed a 2+2 closed coupe (or 'berlinette') body for it: this became the Alpine A108, now featuring the Dauphine Gordini 845 cc engine, which on later models was bored out to give a capacity of 904 cc or (subsequently) 998 cc. The A108 was built between 1958 and 1963.
In 1962, the A108 begun to be produced also in Brazil, by Willys-Overland. It was the Willys Interlagos (berlineta, coupé and convertible).
By now the car's mechanicals were beginning to show their age in Europe. Alpine were already working closely with Renault and when the Renault R8 saloon was introduced in 1962. Alpine redeveloped their chassis and made a number of minor body changes to allow the use of R8 mechanicals.
This new car was the A110 Berlinette Tour de France, named after a successful run with the Alpine A108 in the 1962 event. Starting with a 956 cc engine of 51 bhp (38 kW), the same chassis and body developed with relatively minor changes over the years to the stage where, by 1974, the little car was handling 1800 cc engines developing 180 bhp (134 kW)+. With a competition weight for the car of around 620 kg (1,367 lb), the performance was excellent.
Alpine achieved increasing success in rallying, and by 1968 had been allocated the whole Renault competition budget. The close collaboration allowed Alpines to be sold and maintained in France by normal Renault dealerships. Real top level success started in 1968 with outright wins in the Coupe des Alpes and other international events. By this time the competition cars were fitted with 1440 cc engines derived from the Renault R8 Gordini. Competition successes became numerous, helped since Alpine were the first company fully to exploit the competition parts homologation rules.
In 1971, Alpine achieved a 1-2-3 finish in the Monte Carlo rally, using cars with engines derived from the Renault 16. In 1973, they repeated the 1-2-3 Monte Carlo result and went on to win the World Rally Championship outright, beating Porsche, Lancia and Ford. During all of this time, production of the Alpine A110 increased and manufacturing deals were struck for A110s and A108s with factories in a number of other countries including Spain, Mexico, Brazil and Bulgaria.
1973 brought the international petrol crisis, which had profound effects on many specialist car manufacturers worldwide. From a total Alpine production of 1421 in 1972, the numbers of cars sold dropped to 957 in 1974 and the company was bailed out via a takeover by Renault. Alpine's problems had been compounded by the need for them to develop a replacement for the A110 and launch the car just when European petrol prices leapt through the roof.
Through the 1970s, Alpine continued to campaign the A110, and later the Alpine A310 replacement car. However, to compete with Alpine's success, other manufacturers developed increasingly special cars, notably the Lancia Stratos which was based closely on the A110's size and rear-engined concept, though incorporating a Ferrari engine. Alpine's own cars, still based on the 1962 design and using a surprising number of production parts, became increasingly uncompetitive. In 1974 Alpine built a series of factory racing Renault 17 Gordinis (one driven by Jean-Luc Thérier) that won the Press on Regardless World Rally Championship round in Michigan, USA.
In fact, having achieved the rally championship, and with Renault money now fully behind them, Alpine had set their sights on a new target. The next aim was to win at Le Mans. Renault had also taken over the Gordini tuning firm and merged the two to form Renault Sport. A number of increasingly successful sports racing cars appeared, culminating in the 1978 Le Mans win with the Renault Alpine A442B. This was fitted with a turbo-charged engine; Alpine had been the first company to run in and win an international rally with a turbo car as far back as 1972 when Jean-Luc Thérier took a specially modified A110 to victory on the Critérium des Cévennes.
1971 also saw Alpine begin construction of open wheel racing cars. Initially in Formula Three within a year they were building Formula Two cars as well Unfortunately without a competitive Renault Formula Two engine available the F2 cars could neither be known as Renaults or Alpines while powered by Ford-Cosworth and BMW engines and were labelled Elf 2 and later Elf 2J. A Renault 2.0 litre engine arrived in time for Jean-Pierre Jabouille to win the European Formula 2 Championship in 1976. By this time Alpine with Jabouille driving had built a Formula One car as a testing mule which lead directly to their entry into the Formula One world championship in 1977. A second European Formula 2 championship followed with René Arnoux in 1977 with the customer Martini team, before Alpine sold the F2 operation to Willi Kauhsen to concentrate on the Le Mans and Formula One programs.
Alpine Renault continued to develop their range of models all through the 1980s. The A310 was the next modern interpretation of the A110. The Alpine A310 was a sports car with a rear-mounted engine and was initially powered by a four-cylinder 1.6 L sourced Renault 17 TS/Gordini engine. In 1976 the A310 was restyled by Robert Opron and fitted with the more powerful and newly developed V6 PRV engine. The 2.6 L motor was modified by Alpine with a four-speed manual gearbox. Later they would use a Five-speed manual gearbox and with the group 4 model get a higher tune with more cubic capacity and 3 twin barrel Weber carburetors.
After the A310 Alpine transformed into the new Alpine GTA range produced from plastic and polyester components, commencing with normally aspirated PRV V6 engines. In 1985 the V6 Turbo was introduced to complete the range. This car was faster and more powerful than the normally aspirated version. In 1986 polyester parts were cut for the first time by robot using a high pressure (3500 bar) water jet, 0.15 mm (0.01 in) in diameter at three times the speed of sound. In the same year the American specification V6 Turbo was developed.
In 1987 fitment of anti-pollution systems allowed the V6 Turbo to be distributed to Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. 1989 saw the launch of the limited edition GTA Mille Miles to celebrate Alpine's 35th anniversary. Production was limited to 100 cars, all fitted with ABS braking, polished wheels, special leather interior and paintwork. This version was not available in RHD.
1990 saw the launch of the special edition wide bodied GTA Le Mans. The car wore polyester wheel arch extensions with a one piece front. Wheels were 3 piece BBS style produced by ACT, 8x16" front & 10x17" rear. Otherwise identical mechanically to the V6 Turbo, the engine was fitted with a catalytic converter and power was reduced to 185 bhp (138 kW). This model was available in the UK and RHD versions carried a numbered plaque on the dashboard. The Le Mans is the most collectable and valuable GTA derivative, since only 325 were made (299 LHD and 26 RHD). These were available from Renault dealers in the UK and the country's motoring press are belatedly recognising the GTA series as the 'great unsung supercar of the 1980s'
The Alpine A610 was launched in 1991. It was re-styled inside and out but was still recognisable as a GTA derivative. The chassis structure was extensively reworked but the central box principal remained the same. The front was completely re-designed the interior was also greatly improved. Air-conditioning and power steering were fitted as standard. The total production run for A610s derivatives was 818 vehicles 67 RHD and 751 LHD. After production of the A610 ended, the Alpine factory in Dieppe produced the Renault Sport Spider and a new era was to begin.
The last Alpine, an A610, rolled off the Dieppe line at 7. April 1995, Renault abandoning the Alpine name. This was always a problem in the UK market. Alpines could not be sold in the UK under their own name because Sunbeam owned the trade mark (because of the mid-50s Sunbeam Alpine Mk I). In the 1970s, for example Dieppe were building modified Renault R5s for the world wide market. The rest of the world knew them as R5 Alpines but in the UK they had to be renamed to R5 Gordini. Strangely enough with the numerous company takeovers that have occurred, it is another French company, PSA (Peugot/Talbot/Citroën) who now own the British Alpine trademark.
The Alpine factory in Dieppe continues to expand; in the 1980s they built the special R5 Turbo cars, following the rear engined formula they have always used. They built all Clio Williams and RenaultSport Spiders. The factory proudly put its Alpine badges on the built early batches of the mid engined Clio series one Clio V6. The Clio Series 2 was also assembled there with more recent RenaultSport Clio 172 and RenaultSport Clio 182s.
Between 1989 and 1995, a new Alpine named the A710 "Berlinette 2", was designed and 2 prototypes were built. Due to the cost of the project (600 millions Francs), and as adding modern equipment and interior would compromise the price and performances, the project was canceled.
The Dieppe factory is known as the producer of RenaultSport models that are sold worldwide. This was originally the "Alpine" factory that Renault gained when they acquired the brand in 1973. Some of the Renault Sport models produced in Dieppe are currently the Mégane Renault Sport, Clio Renault Sport and the new Mégane Renault Sport dCi is to be built on Renault’s Dieppe assembly line. All the RenaultSport track-, tarmac- and gravel-racing Meganes and Clios are also made in the Dieppe factory.
In October 2007, it has been reported that Renault’s marketing boss Patrick Blain has revealed that there are plans for several sports cars in Renault’s future lineup, but stressed that the first model won’t arrive until after 2010. Blain confirmed that Renault is unlikely to pick a new name for its future sports car and will probably go with Alpine to brand it. Blain described it as being a “radical sports car” and not just a sports version of a regular model.
The new Alpine sports car will likely have a version of the Nissan GT-R's Premium Midship platform.
The presence of sportier models in the Renault line-up would give the French automaker a better opportunity to capitalize on its Formula One prowess, having won two back-to-back world championships with Fernando Alonso, translating these efforts to its production cars is a moot point because Renault’s lineup is lacking in the sports car department. Management is hoping to change all that and is keen to start building sports cars again, as it has in the past, with the revival of the legendary Alpine label.
In France there is a large network of Alpine enthusiasts clubs. Clubs exist in many countries including the UK, USA, Australia, Japan.
In February 2009, Renault confirmed that plans to revive the Alpine brand have been frozen as a direct result of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and recession.
In May 2012, images of a new Renault Alpine concept titled as Renault Alpine A110-50 were leaked prior to its debut in Monaco. Its styling was based on the Renault DeZir presented in 2010.
According to a Spanish car magazine it is said that the road version will be released in 2013.
In November 2012, Renault and Caterham Cars announced the purchasing by the latter of an 50 per cent stake in the Renault's wholly owned subsidiary Société des Automobiles Alpine to create a joint venture (Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham) owned equally by both parts, with the aim of developing affordable sport cars under the Alpine (for Renault) and Caterham (for Caterham Cars) brands, which would be available in 2016In this partnership, Caterham acquired 50% ownership of the Renault's Dieppe assembly plant assets
Renault Alpines outside France
Renault Alpines were never imported into Australia, but as enthusiasts wanted more than just the normal local Renault offerings, Renault Alpine enthusiasts have privately imported the following models into Australia. Currently there are A110, A310, GTA-atmo-turbo-lemans, A610, Renault 5 Turbo and Renault Sport Spiders registered.
An example of an Alpine weekend was held in Victoria with attendees from South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. There were 17 Alpines and 2 Renault 5 Turbos. The Alpine model breakdown was: A110: 5 | A310 (4 cyl): 3 | A310 (6 cyl): 4 | GTA Turbo: 2| GTA atmo: 3
The Renault Alpine 108 was produced in Brazil from 1962 to 1966, under license by Willys-Overland do Brasil, branded "Willys Interlagos". It was the first Brazilian sports car.
Bulgaria produced its own version of the Renault Alpine, known as Bulgaralpine from 1967 to 1969. About 100 vehicles were produced.