FEB 26th 2016

Axon's Automotive Anorak – Revival Of The Fittest

Alpine Vision Concept

As the ex-owner of an A110 Berlinette, plus a Dieppe-built R5 Turbo, last week’s announcement by Renault of the revival of its sporting Alpine (pronounced Alpeen incidentally, and not Alpine, as in Sunbeam, Chrysler and Talbot) was a long-anticipated and exciting moment for me.

Alpine Vision Concept Promo

And the new Alpine ‘Vision’ certainly didn’t disappoint, with its pleasing 21st century take on the classic Michelotti-designed original 1961 A110, giving a stylish nod to this most iconic and revered of post-war French sports car makes and model. The new Alpine may hark back to the marque’s roots, but with its engine now finally mid-mounted – thank goodness – rather than being slung out back like each of the tail-happy Alpines of the past, the new Vision is a thoroughly modern take on a timeless classic, with an inspired retro twist, like a modern Mini or Fiat 500.

The revival of the Alpine marque is the latest in a long line of car brand names that have been bought back from the dead. Other marque revivals over the past couple of decades have included Bugatti, Abarth, MG and Praga, with the re-birth of currently dormant car brands such as TVR, Bristol, Spyker, Borgward, Jensen, and even DeLorean, planned for release in the next couple of years.

One of the most successful car brand revivals to date has to be that of the now uber-popular premium Audi marque, a re-birth for which its 50th anniversary last year went mysteriously and completely unnoticed. The roots of the Audi marque go back 106 years to the company’s founding in 1910, and during the subsequent 29 years of its automotive career first time around, Audi held a mid-brand position within the broad Auto Union group, slotted above DKW and Wanderer, and below Horch. With the outbreak of war in 1939, the Audi marque disappeared, seemingly forever.

By JoachimKohlerBremen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47043178

Fast-forward to the early 1960s though, and Mercedes-Benz acquired the rights to the surviving Auto Union DKW marques, reviving the Audi brand name in 1965 to coincide with the switch away from DKW’s traditional smoky two-stroke engines, in favour of cleaner four-cylinder units. Mercedes developed the original late-‘60s Audi 100 executive saloon model, the car that helped to put the Ingolstadt manufacturer on the map – pre-Quattro – just as Volkswagen acquired the marque in 1969. The rest, as they say, is history, with Audi growing to become one of the world’s most admired and successful car brands today.  

Of course, not all car brand revivals have been quite as successful as Audi. Take Talbot, for example. Pre-war, and immediately post-war, Talbot was a prestigious Anglo-French sporting marque with a commendable motor racing history and producing some of the most beautiful and sought-after motorcars.

When Peugeot took over Chrysler’s ailing European automotive operations in 1978-79, it absorbed the American Group’s British, French and Spanish plants into its PSA group fold, and re-badged the entire ex-Chrysler and Simca model ranges as Talbots. The plan didn’t work, and the revived Talbot car brand name was dead again by 1986.

By Charles01 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3023826

Other failed attempts at reviving dormant car brand names include Studebaker, Packard, Imperial, Cord and Stutz in the USA; whilst in Europe we have seen the re-birth (and subsequent disappearance) of ISO, Trojan, Bizzarinni, Voisin, Monteverdi, Connaught and OSCA, amongst many others.

On a much smaller scale, specialist low-volume car marques such as Delage, Peel, Marcos, Atalanta, Vanwall, Lagonda, Davrian and Three Castle Motors have been reborn and survive today, albeit in tiny numbers.

And what of the car marques that have expired but in an ideal world we would like to see revived again one day? Well, certain British makes are unlikely ever to reappear, such as Daimler (Mercedes-Benz’s parent group owns the rights to the Daimler brand name, preventing Jaguar from re-introducing it), Rover (now part of the Chinese SAIC group) and Reliant. Large automotive empires now own the rights to other once-popular British makes, including BMW (whose portfolio includes the Riley and Triumph brand names) and PSA (Hillman, Humber, Sunbeam, Singer, and so on).

The defunct car brands that I personally admire and miss tend to be the more esoteric engineering-led marques with a love-it/hate-it character, such as Saab, NSU, Panhard and Tatra (the former still making fighter jets, NSU long absorbed into Audi, and the latter two building military and commercial vehicles). In this modern and often bland identikit car world, proud names like Saab and Tatra deserve to exist to help make our roads and new car choices more interesting. It would be fascinating too to see a modern take on a 21st Century Facel Vega, Gordon Keeble, Armstrong Siddeley and De Tomaso. You never know, one day it might just happen. Until then though, I’ll enjoy waiting for the new Alpine.

Talbot image courtesy of ‘Charles01’ licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0, Audi 100 image courtesy of Joachin Kohler Bremen, licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0

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