Breath of Alpine air
A bantamweight race and rally legend is set to return
FAMED French sports car brand Alpine is poised to return and a Le Mans racer will provide an early pointer.
It will be be built within three years— and in righthand drive, suitable for Australia. Meanwhile, Renault is going racing again with Alpine to promote a showroom comeback.
Alpines won the 24-hour classic in the distant past, and dominated the World Rally Championship in the 1970s.
‘‘ People have been dreaming about this comeback. Alpine can be a halo for Renault,’’ says design chief Laurens van den Acker.
Development is being directed by Bernard Ollivier— who has already scored a giant hit by establishing Renault Sport— and he knows he will only get one shot at a successful start.
‘‘ We cannot afford a single mistake. If we get this wrong, we are dead,’’ Ollivier tells Carsguide.
Renault has already unveiled an Alpine concept, yet Ollivier and van den Acker say it’s nothing like the final direction, being too heavy on the engineering front and too ugly on the design side.
‘‘ That was a monster. It was too big. But we had to give people something,’’ van den Acker says.
‘‘ We have to make it contemporary and modern. It’s not going to be a complete surprise. People have been dreaming and I need to give them an Alpine A110 (the former rally star), with a twist.
‘‘ The cool thing is that we’re going to do it. After years and years and years of talking things have really accelerated.’’
Renault is working with Britain’s Caterham Cars, which is known for its raw 1950s-style sports cars. Caterham chief Tony Fernandes, also the head of the Caterham team in F1, says a return to Le Mans makes sense for Alpine.
Ollivier is more concerned about the production car and delivering something capable of drawing customers from Porsche. ‘‘ For me, an Alpine is not a car to go 300km/h. The DNA in an Alpine is the pleasure you take in short bursts,’’ he says. ‘‘ Lightness is very important. The ratio between weight and power is very important.’’
The target is to build 25,000 cars over the life of the new-age Alpine, with 5000 in the first year. There were only 30,000 Alpines built before manufacturing stopped in the 1990s. ‘‘ We are quite modest on volume. There are many countries that don’t know the Alpine brand,’’ says Ollivier.
‘‘ A lot of our future customers will come, probably, from Porsche. Not because our car is a competitor, but only because Porsche is too strong in the market.’’
The likely target weight is 1000kg. Ollivier deflects talk of a front or rear-wheel drive, even though the Alpine is almost certain to drive through its tail.