Breath of Alpine air

A ban­tamweight race and rally le­gend is set to re­turn

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

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.

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