Six legendary Alpines for the new A110 to live up to
The capable new Alpine A110 that we’ve just been sampling in France is this sporting Dieppe marque’s first production model for 22 long years.
Pronounced Alpean (rhyming with ‘mean’), not Alpine (rhyming with ‘mine’), this small French sports car maker was originally founded in 1955 by Jean Rédélé. He was the youngest proprietor of a Renault dealership in France at the time, based in the historic northern harbour town of Dieppe. Due to the launch of the original British Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine model in 1954, the Alpine brand name was largely unknown in the UK, and could not be used in Britain due to the Rootes Group (subsequently Chrysler, and ultimately PSA) owning the British rights to the name.
Rédélé cut his competition teeth successfully campaigning a Renault 4CV in the early 1950s, modifying the model with his own tuned engines and a five-speed gearbox conversion. In his quest for more power and victories, he built a handful of 4CV-based lightweight ‘Coach’ coupe bodies, including the 1954 Le Marquis, one of the world’s first GRP fibre-glass bodied cars. Rédélé gained class wins in the Mille Miglia and the 1954 Coupe des Alpes, the latter inspiring the Alpine name for the sports car firm he went on to found.
As the ex-Alpine A110 Berlinette owner in the GRR team, with an avid interest in the marque’s history, I’ve been given the task of choosing half-a-dozen key Alpine model highlights that the all-new A110 has to live up to, as follows…
For his first Alpine-branded model, Rédélé turned to French coachbuilder Chappe et Gessalin (CG) to build the 4CV-based A106 in 1955, a small GRP-bodied ‘Coach’ coupe with obvious styling connections to its donor Renault base. The A106 went on to enjoy some local competition successes in France, helping to secure the credibility of this then-unknown marque.
1973 Alpine A110 Berlinette
The now iconic Giovanni Michelotti-styled Berlinette coupe body – the design of which is cleverly reflected in the new A110 – initially appeared on the Alpine A108 in 1960, before being subtly modified to create the legendary A110 ‘Tour de France’ Berlinette. The A110 was unveiled at the 1962 Paris Salon with a restyled rear end, reworked from the A108 by Michelotti to integrate the new, larger Renault R8 1,100 cc engine. These modifications gave the new Alpine more finesse and sobriety, the A108’s side vents and rear wheel arches being simplified, the rear engine cover flattened.
Initially the A110’s front end retained the A108’s small diameter headlamps, which were complemented by additional driving lights in 1967, and replaced by larger lamp units in 1969. As the original A110’s body evolved, so did it’s Renault mechanical bases and power outputs, with 1300cc R12 and 1600 R16 engines replacing the original Renault 8 motor.
The Alpine legend was built on the rallying successes of the Berlinette, with the Dieppe Works rally team being allocated Renault’s entire competition budget for 1968. Alpine’s rallying prowess, including outright wins in the Coupe des Alpes and other international events during 1968, brought a closer collaboration with Renault, which allowed A110s to be sold and maintained by regular Renault dealers for the first time.
In 1971, Alpine A110s finished first, second and third in the Monte Carlo rally, using Renault 16 engines, and in 1973, Dieppe repeated the Monte Carlo result, and also went on to win the World Rally Championship outright, thus securing Alpine’s reputation. A110 production continued in Dieppe until 1977, with the model, also built under-licence around the world, including Spain, Bulgaria, Brazil and Mexico.
1977 Alpine A310 V6
In 1971, Alpine revealed what was intended to be the A110’s natural successor, the R16-powered four-cylinder A310. The A310 was a striking wedge-shaped rear-engined 2+2 coupe, in the classic Alpine tradition, but the early four-cylinder A310s failed to live up to the very high expectations of the A110, with this more expensive model struggling to sell initially.
The fitment of the new jointly-developed PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) V6 engine in late 1976 to the revised A310 instantly turned the model into a more serious, performance sports car, with some rallying success also following, once the Works A110 had been dropped. The newly developed 2.6-litre PRV V6 motor was initially mated to a four-speed manual gearbox, with a better-suited five-speed following, along with a ‘V6 GT Pack’ option to give the A310 a more purposeful stance and performance.
1991 Alpine A610
In 1984 the A310 V6 was replaced by a new, evolutionary Alpine, the GTA, which shared the same naturally-aspirated 2.6-litre PRV V6 as its predecessor, with a more-powerful (197 bhp) turbocharged model added in 1985. The GTA was the first Alpine to be built with RHD-steering and sold in the UK, where it was branded as the Renault GTA by Alpine, Renault being unable to use the Alpine name due to the PSA Group’s rights to this nomenclature as a carry-over from its Rootes Group roots.
In 1991 the GTA received a major facelift and was re-named the A610, using the same V6 turbo engine, but now upgraded to 247 bhp. Twin pop-up headlights distinguished the front of the A610 over its GTA predecessor, and the quality of the interior, in particular, was greatly improved, with the model feeling more prestigious inside to match its higher Porsche-like price tag.
By the time the last A610 (and Alpine) rolled off the production line in Dieppe in April 1995, only 818 examples had been built, with just 67 in RHD! The end of A610 production closed the first chapter in Alpine’s 40-year manufacturing history, with the Dieppe plant being rebranded Renault Sport, and building of the wild Renault Sport Spider commencing in 1996. Production of later Renault Sport models followed in Dieppe, including the Clio and Megane.
1966 Alpine A210
Although the new 2017 A110 is Alpine’s first mid-engined production model, the Dieppe marque first dabbled with a centrally-mounted engine in the early 1960s, when Alpine joined its contemporary French sports car rivals such as Rene Bonnet, CD and Matra Sports in endurance circuit racing.
Using small-displacement Gordini-tuned, mid-mounted Renault 8 motors in its M-series sports car prototypes (M63, M64 and M65), Alpine enjoyed some local success and class wins.
The M-series cars evolved into the Alpine A210, a slippery endurance racer that competed internationally in sports car racing between 1966 and 1969. The four-cylinder A210 lead to the short-lived and unsuccessful V8-powered A110, with the A220 unveiled the following year. Consistently poor results with these two cars persuaded Alpine to withdraw from sports car racing for some years, however, and focus on its more successful rallying attempts.
1978 Renault-Alpine A442B
Having already taken the World Rally Championship in 1973, and with Renault backing now fully behind it, Alpine set its sights on a new target, to win the prestigious Le Mans 24-hour race.
A number of increasingly successful Dieppe-developed A442 sports racing cars appeared from 1976 onwards, culminating in a 1978 Le Mans victory in the Renault works colours of yellow, black and white, and driven by Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud. The winning Renault-Alpine A442B was fitted with a turbocharged motor, a first at Le Mans.
Following this all-French victory in the premier French motorsport event, Renault withdrew from sports car racing to concentrate its efforts in Formula One with its pioneering turbocharged Grand Prix racers.