Alpine – French for sports car – is 60. And the place to celebrate? Of course, the Goodwood Festival of Speed this weekend.
It’s more than a birthday celebration, though, for along with seven classic Alpines brought over from France to get a run up the hill this weekend, there’s an eighth model, still under wraps as this is written.
Well, nearly under wraps: GRR asked for a sneak peek and was granted a flash of bonnet. You will be able to see the whole car – which previews a new Alpine sports coupe for launch in 2016 – from Friday, after Lord March drives it up the hill to mark the start of the fast hillclimb runs.
Ahead of that, we checked out the magnificent seven all lined up in a special Alpine section in the F1 Paddock in the company of their ‘owner’, head of Renault Classic Hugues Portron.
Hugues in fact has an incredible 750 classic Renaults and Alpines – road and racing cars, concepts and prototypes – in his care in a secret (alas, not open to the public) facility outside Paris. It is from here that the French classics are despatched to around 100 historic events a year all over the world, including FoS (and also this year Revival in a couple of months time).
What does Alpine mean to Hugues?
‘It is THE French sports car. Alpine is always very French, and also the David among the Goliaths. It has a rich heritage with some astonishing racing victories and it is fantastic to be at Goodwood to celebrate that heritage over 60 years. But Alpine has also been missing for too long so it is good that we will see the show car tomorrow…’
The French sports car is back! Well, on its way back at least; make sure you check out what the show car looks like and let us know what you think.
Meantime, we asked Hugues what his three favourite Alpines of all time are…
‘The A106 is the grand-mére and I love it for that,’ says Hugues of the very first Alpine. The car traces its roots back to Alpine founder Jean Rédélé’s highly tuned and Michelotti-designed version of the Renault 4CV saloon. This 4CV Special Sport would, by a slightly circuitous route, become the Alpine A106 and Rédélé’s first production car.
‘It was a great rally car and Mille Miglia racer and even today is brilliant to drive. But there is one special feature that makes it a little tricky. The car has a special gearbox with five speeds, but first is there, second back there, third over there and fourth…’ (says Hugues, waving his arms around – ed). ‘This rare gearbox makes the car very difficult to drive – when I drive it I just use first, third and fifth to be sure I can’t make a mistake!’
‘For me this is a very beautiful car, like a sculpture,’ says Hugues. ‘The design is very pure.’ That design – exceptionally low, wide and long, with vast flowing rear fins – is the work of Marcel Hubert.
The M65 is a mid-engined sports racing prototype car built to take on Le Mans under the then-new Index of Performance regulations in the 1960s. So those exceptional aerodynamics had a real purpose – to make the most of the Gordini-tuned 1300cc engine with just 130bhp!
They succeeded: this slippery and light weight (just 669kg) racer could top 160mph down the Mulsanne Straight!
Says Hugues: ‘I love driving it. I think maybe it is my favourite car to drive of all of them.’
Alpine A442 B
‘Being driven by Rene Arnoux at FoS, this car won Le Mans in 1978, driven by Didier Peroni and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud. And thereby hangs a tale, as Hugues tells us…
‘It is a very beautiful car but for me it is the story of the guys who raced it at Le Mans that makes it so emotional.
‘Jaussaud was over 40, and known as the grandfather, at Le Mans in 1978 and he had to stop driving at one point because the car was so hot. It was the first car with a bubble canopy that added 2-3km/h but it was incredibly hot for the driver. He handed over to Peroni who was much younger and, despite not being the favourites, he managed to bring the car home first.
‘But after the race Didier had a heart attack and had to be revived, he was so hot. That’s why he was late on to the podium and naked to the waist. The medics had been reviving him! It is an incredibly emotional Le Mans story.’
Here’s hoping the new Alpine Lord March will be driving up the hill Friday morning has some ventilation!