Featured: How Alpine Created Sports Car Royalty from Humble Renaults

How Alpine Created Sports Car Royalty from Humble Renaults

By Alan Franklin
April 1, 2013
11 comments

Alpine’s humble beginnings date back to the early 1950s, when French garage owner Jean Rédélé started tuning Renault’s humble 4CV, a goofy little hunchback of a sedan with performance on par with a carriage drawn by a sick horse. Soon, Rédélé was fitting 4CV’s with custom five-speed gearboxes and aluminum body panels, in which he astonishingly saw some success behind the wheel at Le Mans and Sebring. As his reputation for tuning and fabrication grew, so did demand for his work, prompting the foundation of Société Anonyme des Automobiles Alpine in 1954, so named for the Coupe des Alpes—the official name of the old Alpine Rally.

In 1955 Alpine released their first self-branded car, the Michelotti-styled A106. Again utilizing 4CV mechanicals, the tiny coupe featured fiberglass panels atop an Alpine-designed backbone chassis, which similarly to Lotus would later become a company trademark.

By 1962 Alpine was deep into a mutually beneficial relationship with Renault; the latter supplying engines, gearboxes and other aid to the former, which in turn would then provide publicity for Renault through motorsports victories across Europe. With Renault’s introduction of the R8 that same year, Alpine took advantage of that car’s more advanced drivetrain and began work on the soon to be legendary A110. Alpine was so utterly dominate in racing with the A110 that by 1968 they were allocated Renault’s entire competition budget.

The A110’s last year was 1971, but it went out with a bang by winning that year’s Monte Carlo rally with an amazing 1-2-3 finish—an event that some speculate moved Lancia to design their own similarly-sized, rear-engined rally  machine, the awesome Dino-powered Stratos. Its replacement was the A310. Though not as classically beautiful as its predecessor, it definitely carried a funky 1970s vibe, looking like a French interpretation of a rear-engined, two-seater Camaro—even receiving its own “big block” option, a 2.7 V6, which was offered from 1976-on. Due to its similarly tail-heavy weight distribution (read: satanic handling characteristics) and multicylinder power, the press began describing the A310 as a genuine competitor for Porsche’s 911.

The GTA was introduced in 1986. In true 80s style, it wore a lot of polyester… body panels. At first it made do with the A310’s aging V6, incidentally the same engine used in the DeLorean, but, again in a very eighties way, it was soon turbocharged, for the first time brining Alpine into near-supercar performance territory. It was an utterly gorgeous car, low, wide and long, the 310’s angular shape smoothed into something like a low-flying Mirage jet fighter. Five years later an updated version of the GTA made its debut, this time called the A610. Featuring a re-engineered chassis and a myriad of other detail improvements (pop-up headlights!) it was sadly to be the last Alpine-branded car ever built. In 1996 Renault pulled the plug and permanently shut down Alpine production.

RenaultSport, a sub-brand founded in 1976 by combining Alpine and fellow Renault tuner Gordini, is now housed at the former Alpine works in Dieppe, and continues to play a central role in all Renault motorsports development. During the 1980s, still under the Alpine banner, Dieppe was responsible for R5 Turbo production, as well as that car’s 2001 spiritual successor, the awesome and improbably proportioned Clio V6. Other cars built there include the Clio Williams, RenaultSport Spider, and more recently, all RenaultSport versions of the Clio and Megane—both widely considered to be among the greatest hot hatches ever built. Many of Renault’s WRC racecars are also built at Dieppe.

Photo Sources: Voiture.info, ClassicAndPerformanceCar.com, FavCars.com, ProductionCars.com, IEDEIblog.com, LeMansLive.com, volan.si and Forum-Auto.com

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wardrose
wardrose
2 months ago

That good article. It was shortly turbocharged, bringing Alpine into near-supercar territory for the first time. It was an absolutely stunning automobile, low, broad, and long, with an angular design that resembled a low-flying Mirage jet fighter cookie clicker. Five years later, an improved version of the GTA, dubbed the A610, was released. It was regrettably to be the final Alpine-branded automobile ever made, with a re-engineered chassis and a plethora of additional detail enhancements (pop-up headlights!). Renault put the plug on Alpine manufacture permanently in 1996.

rodfmourao
rodfmourao
3 years ago

In addition to this excellent article (congrats!) and just for information, RenaultSport developed here in Brazil its first sports car abroad France. Sandero RS was released for Brazil and Argentina markets in the late of 2015. In fact, this hatch is commercialized in Europe by Dacia, like a Renault low cost company (a former Romenian manufacturer). Here in South America, Renault put its logo on the hatch, very well succeeded in sales. In annex, I let a recent photo of my Sandero RS during a track day in Interlagos, Sao Paulo’s international circuit. Having interest, my exemplary is in Petrolicius’ disposition for a next video. That would be my great pleasure!

Paul D.
Paul D.
5 years ago

Great run down of a historic racing marque. The A110 is a gorgeous beast! My only quibble with the article is the erroneous connection of polyester with the 1980’s. Anyone worth their plaid suit and white vinyl shoes knows the “age of polyester” was in the 1970’s.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
6 years ago

I crave, long and yearn for an A310. God, I love those things…

Alex Jay Brady
Alex Jay Brady
6 years ago

I had one it was great fun! tyres were very expensive and the body got squishy on a hot day but i loved it.

Alex Jay Brady
Alex Jay Brady
6 years ago

Sorry I had the GTA not the A310
id love an A310!!!
http://imgur.com/eFyjAjZ
http://imgur.com/hofeZ8B

SteveD
SteveD
9 years ago

Louis you gave us awesome news, thanks

Andre C  Hulstaert
Andre C Hulstaert
9 years ago

I love these cars, especially the A110. I even devoted a whole section on my website to different types of Alpines which I was able to shoot at a meeting in France. http://www.hulstaertphoto.us/alpine-a110/

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
9 years ago

Great photos, Andre! Thanks for sharing.

Leucea Alexandru
Leucea Alexandru
9 years ago

And what a car this was. Beautifully designed, with that timeless shape, especially the ‘fastback’ styled A610. Definitely one of my favorite french cars.

Louis Devineau
Louis Devineau
9 years ago

Actually Alpine’s rebirth isn’t at all hypothetical, it’s 100\% certain.
Renault teamed up with Caterham, who took 50\% of the Société des Automobiles Alpine Renault, which is now called Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham. Alpine and Caterham will engineer the car together but they will have different bodies and suspension setups. The engine and chassis will be the same, and in all likeliness the cars will be RWD and rear- or mid-engineed. All this awesomeness is expected for 2015 or 2016. Additionnaly, Renault annouced last month that Alpine would be making sort of a comeback to endurance racing. They partnered up with Signatech and the Alpine N36, with its Signatech chassis, Nissan engine and sexy blue and orange color scheme will be racing in LMP2 at Le Mans this very year (and in European Le Mans Series as well). There have also been rumors about Renault brining Gordini back as a more hardcore version of Renault Sport models (starting with the Clio IV whose semi-automatic sequential paddle-shifted gearbox has left enthusiast wanting more) and they may even be considering bringing Renault-Gordini back in WTCC.
Great article, but don’t be sceptic about a “possible” return of Alpine, it’s absolutely certain !