Antony Villain speaks to GRR about the long overdue return of a classic French marque
Show cars don’t often get driven hard. Sometimes they don’t get to turn a wheel at all. But a show car used to open the Festival of Speed, with Lord March behind the wheel? That must be the new Alpine.
‘Our idea of cars is not to sit them on carpets at a motor show,’ the designer behind the pretty blue coupé, Antony Villain, tells GRR. Quite right too – and especially in such an auspicious year as the characterful French marque’s 60th anniversary.
We wanted to know more about the Alpine Goodwood Celebration model that is heralding the Alpine rebirth, and Antony, Alpine’s design director, is just the man to tell us about it. He’s young, French and loves sports cars. He is also a self-taught designer who used to work on Renault concept cars before joining Alpine two years ago.
What reaction have you had to the car so far?
Lots of positive reactions. French people especially were waiting for this car for such a long time (the car was originally shown at Le Mans – ed).
What did Lord March tell you about his drive?
He said it was terrific. He was really happy about the drive and the car, and that Alpine were celebrating such an important anniversary with all the true petrolheads at Goodwood.
What makes it French?
It is a pleasure to drive, it has true Alpine agility and feedback from the road and it is also an elegant car – we didn’t want a car too aggressive or arrogant. All these things are part of the DNA of Alpine.
But it’s not rear-engined!
True, but there have been mid-engined racing Alpines. I think mid-engined is better.
Being French and growing up with Alpine as part of French motoring culture, did that make this an easy or difficult car to design?
It was difficult. We are not doing a Renault here but restarting Alpine, and a lot of people are waiting for this rebirth. So there was a lot of pressure. It was also difficult because we have had to package something that could be a reality. We had to understand the market and owners’ needs for a car like this. Of course this is a show car, just a step, and not the final work.
What would you have to change if this car were to make production?
A lot of things. There are no headlights, no taillights, no interior, there is an engine but it is not the real one. We are still working on aerodynamics and interior. We made it a driveable show car because we wanted to make it alive. Our idea of cars is not to sit them on carpets at a motor show.
What parts of the design make it distinctly Alpine?
The low back with the single elegant line that drops towards the rear of the car. That’s very Alpine. The rear window of course which is a great Alpine characteristic, along with the ancillary lights at the front. My favourite view is from the back with its low tail and wide wheelarches – the way the car sits on the road looks really good.
Is it enough that it’s reminiscent of the classic Alpine models?
No, because a big change for us is that we don’t want the car to be (a success in) just France. We have designed it as much for a global market. We won’t convince 100 per cent of people but we have to find new buyers, not just in France but worldwide. We have to open the brand to worldwide exposure.
Is Alpine well enough known outside France for that?
No, not at the moment. It is known in the UK a bit and in Germany, but when we go out from Europe it is not known at all.
The car started as a joint project with Caterham, are there still parts of the car that were developed with Caterham?
Of course. In this collaboration we had a lot of good things.
Was the partnership with Caterham doomed to fail?
There were a lot of political problems. But I am still in touch the design team at Caterham and we are still friends, but completely separate organisations.
What do you see as Alpine’s natural position in the sports coupé market today?
Based on history, it would not be the most powerful car, not the biggest engine, but with more lightness. The idea is not to compete with Porsche. One of the mistakes of Alpine before was that we wanted to fight with Porsche and that was probably too difficult. We have to stick to a car that’s light weight and special to drive, and bring freshness to the market. We don’t want to do a supercar. We have to be humble.