How Alpine Created Sports Car Royalty from Humble Renaults
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.