An event not to miss for motoring aficionados, the Salon Rétromobile (February 4-8) officially kicked off Alpine’s 60th anniversary celebrations.
The area set aside for the brand will highlight the two models that led Jean Rédélé towards the design of the iconic A110 Berlinette: the A106 Coach and Willys-Interlagos, which was produced in Brazil.
Just days after its launch at the Festival Automobile International, the Alpine Vision Gran Turismo concept is set to delight both video game fans and those who are simply eager for clues about the first 21st Century Alpine!
“When he founded Société des Automobiles Alpine on June 25, 1955, Jean Rédélé could never have imagined that his creations would still inspire such enthusiasm and passion six decades later... Be that as it may, in 2015 we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of a brand that has attained legendary status.
The Rétromobile Show is an event where each year, we come across a host of diehard Alpine fans. This year, they will be able to congregate around a dedicated area that brings to life the brand’s past, present and future.
Alongside the historic A106 and Willy-Interlagos models, our Alpine Vision Gran Turismo concept car is sure to leave many of them mouth-agape in amazement! Seamlessly blending the past, present and future and at the crossroads between racing and road cars, this exclusive model crystallizes Alpine’s 21st Century DNA.
Complementing our ongoing commitment to motorsport, events like the Rétromobile Show enable us to keep the fire burning for those who eagerly await the unveiling of our forthcoming production car. But that’s another story, with chapters to be written all the way through to 2016!”
Bernard Ollivier, CEO, Société des Automobiles Alpine
SIXTY YEARS AGO... THE BIRTH OF ALPINE
With the benefit of hindsight, Jean Rédélé’s destiny was clear to see. Raised from a very young age in a world dominated by cars, racing and Renault, he also distinguished himself through an avant-garde vision of technology and business.
Born on May 17, 1922, Jean was the eldest son of Émile Rédélé, a Renault dealer based in Dieppe and formerly an official mechanic for Ferenc Szisz, the brand’s first ‘factory driver’ back at the beginning of the century. Once he had completed his studies at HEC business school in Paris, Jean came to the attention of Renault’s management for his ground-breaking business ideas. At the age of just 24, he became the youngest car dealer in France as he followed in his father’s footsteps.
Reasoning that ‘motorsport is the best way to test production cars and victory is the best sales tool’, Jean Rédélé entered his first competitive events four years later, at the age of 28.
After a trial run at the Rallye Monte-Carlo in 1950, he triumphed in the inaugural Rallye de Dieppe behind the wheel of the new 4CV, defeating a plethora of significantly more powerful rivals! This nationally-acclaimed victory convinced Renault to entrust him with a 4CV ‘1063’ – the special racing version – for the following season. While this enabled him to maintain his run of success, Jean Rédélé worked hard to improve the performance of his vehicle. This quest led him to Giovanni Michelotti, from whom he ordered a 4CV ‘Spéciale Sport’, whose chief attribute was an aluminium body that was rather more aerodynamically streamlined than the original vehicle. Over the course of time, this collaboration between the French rally driver and the Italian designer gave birth to three unique models.
While awaiting the delivery of his new car, Rédélé continued to compete in his ‘1063’ as his friend Louis Pons – a Renault dealer in Paris and Etampes – became his co-driver. Always seeking to enhance performance, the pair funded the development of a five-speed gearbox, designed by André-Georges Claude. This played a particularly important role in their record-breaking class victory in the Mille Miglia, the famous road race held between Brescia and Rome.
Jean Rédélé’s career path next took him to the Le Mans 24 Hours and Tour de France Automobile. In 1953, he finally got his hands on his 4CV ‘Spéciale’, and on his very first outing in the car, he won the 4th Rallye de Dieppe ahead of two Jaguars and a Porsche! The following year, the Rédélé/Pons pairing triumphed in their class for the third time on the Mille Miglia, before going on to prevail in the Coupe des Alpes. “I thoroughly enjoyed crossing the Alps in my Renault 4CV, and that gave me the idea of calling my future cars ‘Alpines’, so that my customers would experience that same driving pleasure,” he would later reveal.
The notion of creating his own brand preyed upon Jean Rédélé’s mind, and it was his father-in-law who helped him to turn his dream into reality. Owner of the Grand Garage de la Place de Clichy on rue Forest, Charles Escoffier was one of the leading Renault dealers of the era. When he asked his son-in-law to assist with the development and marketing of a series of ‘Coaches’ already commissioned from Gessalin & Chappe, it proved to be the catalyst for the foundation of the ‘Société des Automobiles Alpine’ on June 25, 1955. By the same token, it marked the end of Jean Rédélé’s driving career.
THE A106: THE BEGINNING OF AN INCREDIBLE ADVENTURE
When envisioning his future creations, Jean Rédélé was keen to focus on the following basic principles: simple yet competitive mechanicals, using the highest proportion of production parts possible and all clothed by a lightweight and attractive body. In some respects, Charles Escoffier’s ‘Coach’ adhered to these prerequisites... even if Jean Rédélé did not take the credit for it!
Designed by Jean Gessalin and built by the Chappe brothers, the first prototype was presented by Escoffier to Renault’s management board in February, 1955. Once its homologation had been confirmed, Jean Rédélé set about working his magic. He made a number of modifications, borne out of the 4CVs developed in tandem with Michelotti. The ‘Coach’ took on the name A106: ‘A’ for Alpine and ‘106’ in reference to the code name of the 4CV, which served as a source for parts.
At the beginning of July, three Alpine A106s in the colours of the French flag – one in blue, one white and one red – paraded through the courtyard of Renault’s headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt. Even if he was not particularly fond of the design of the first Alpine, Jean Rédélé was nonetheless extremely proud to have become a full-fledged car manufacturer in his own right.
Mechanically, the Alpine A106 used the same chassis and suspension as the 4CV. The 747cc, four-cylinder in-line engine was offered in two versions – one producing 21hp, the other 38hp. This first Alpine stood out above all for its polyester body, fitted to the original chassis of the 4CV.
As options, it was possible to equip the A106 with the ‘Claude’ five-speed gearbox or the ‘Mille Miles’ suspension, composed of four rear shock absorbers.
True to his principles of continuous improvement – at a time before ‘Kaizen’ had entered the motor industry vocabulary – Jean Rédélé relentlessly sought to make advances to the A106. Tiring of Gessalin & Chappe's reluctance to evolve the vehicle, the Dieppe native elected to open his own body shop: RDL. This spirit of independence was further evinced in the launch of a cabriolet version, designed by Michelotti and unveiled at the 1956 Paris Motor Show. A third variation saw the light of day in 1958: the A106 ‘Coupé Sport’ – effectively the cabriolet but with a hard-top!
With 251 cars produced between 1955 and 1960, the A106 enabled Jean Rédélé to successfully establish his business – but that was only the first phase...
A108: THE FIRST BERLINETTE
Should we talk about the A108 or the A108s? There were so many different body types and configurations that it is difficult to paint an accurate picture of the history of a model of which 236 examples were built between 1958 and 1965.
The A108 appeared for the first time at the 1957 Paris Motor Show. The body of the A106 ‘Coach’ – produced by Chappe & Gessalin – and the RDL cabriolet were initially retained, with the real changes taking place under the bonnet: the engine from the 4CV was replaced by the 845cc ‘Ventoux’ powerplant from the Renault Dauphine. Over time, it became possible to instead opt for a re-bored 904cc unit prepared by Marc Mignotet, or the 998cc engine from the Dauphine Gordini.
The style evolved too, based on a variant of the A106 conceived by Philippe Charles, a young designer aged just 17! Using the Michelotti-designed cabriolet as his starting-point, he covered the headlights with a Perspex bubble and made the rear of the car longer so as to achieve a slimmer and more streamlined shape. Baptised ‘Berlinette’, this car was entered into the 1960 Tour de France Automobile by Jean Rédélé himself, and its critical success was such that the new look was soon transferred across to the cabriolets and ‘Coupé-Sports’ produced by RDL.
Another significant corner was turned in 1961, with the generalisation of the ‘beams and backbone’ chassis across all models. This architecture was based on a robust central beam, onto which were grafted side rails that supported the front and rear sub-frames. Enhancing stiffness and reducing weight, this innovation would be the secret behind the superb handling of Alpine cars throughout the generations.
THE WILLYS-INTERLAGOS: TESTAMENT TO AN INNOVATIVE EXPORT POLICY
Whilst well aware that international expansion would likely yield fresh channels of growth, Jean Rédélé came up against insufficient finances, meaning he was unable to create and develop a traditional export network. Undeterred, he found another way in suggesting to industrial partners that they manufacture his cars under licence.
It must be said that Alpines were relatively easy to assemble, even for unqualified labour. They were also highly-regarded for their reliability, since they used mass-produced mechanical components from Renault.
Following a failure in Belgium – where just 50 A106s were manufactured by the Small factory – it was in Brazil that Rédélé achieved a breakthrough. The Willys-Overland firm, which already manufactured Dauphines under a Renault licence, began production using equipment supplied by the Dieppe factory. From 1960, ‘Interlagos’ models – named after the famous Brazilian motor racing circuit – left the Sao Paulo workshop. At first glance, only the trained eye could distinguish an ‘Interlagos’ from its Alpine A108 sister car.
This partnership continued with the A110, and in total, 1,500 coupés, Berlinettes and cabriolets were produced up until 1966.
As in France, these Alpines manufactured across the other side of the Atlantic proved to be very capable in motorsport, most notably in endurance races such as the Mil Milhas. Indeed, it was after starting out in ‘Interlagos’ models that the likes of Carlos Pace, Emerson Fittipaldi and brother Wilson Fittipaldi headed to Europe in order to climb the career ladder all the way up to Formula 1.
This collaboration served as a model for similar agreements in Mexico (Dinalpine), Spain (Fasa) and Bulgaria (Bulgaralpine). All-in-all, nearly 15 per cent of Alpines were built under licence abroad.
THE A110: QUITE SIMPLY A LEGEND
In providing the visual identity conceived by Philippe Charles and the ‘beams and backbone’ chassis architecture, the A108 laid the foundations for the A110, which appeared in 1962. As the 4CV had done for the A106 and the Dauphine for the A108, it was the Renault 8 that acted as a parts bank for Jean Rédélé’s latest creation.
The relationship with Renault – close from the very first day – was further strengthened when the French manufacturer tasked Alpine with representing it in motorsport. What’s more, from 1967, every car produced would bear the official name ‘Alpine-Renault’.
Buoyed by the brand’s excellent results in rallying, the Berlinette went on to achieve tremendous commercial success. In order to respond to increasing demand, Alpine found itself needing to adapt its manufacturing set-up, with production henceforth shared between the workshop on avenue Pasteur in Paris, the original Dieppe factory and the new plant in Thiron-Gardais (Eure-et-Loir).
Over the course of its different versions, the A110 evolved constantly. The 1108cc engine was succeeded in-turn by 1255cc, 1565cc and 1605cc units. Outward changes were minor, but frequent: a grille incorporating four headlights, extended wheel arches, front radiator, removable rear apron... In 1977, production drew to a close with the 1600SX, fitted with a 1647cc powerplant.
FROM THE BERLINETTE TO THE GRAND TOURISME
Designed by Jean Rédélé himself, the Alpine A310 looked set to enable the brand to capitalise upon the success of the Berlinette – but the oil crisis of 1973 brought a shuddering halt to the upward momentum and caused a significant drop in sales. Bit by bit, Alpine picked itself back up by evolving its new model, introducing fuel injection in 1974, the V6 PRV engine in 1976 and the same rear suspension as the Renault R5 Turbo in 1981...
In 1985, the new GTA made its debut. This model marked a further departure for Alpine from the spartan concept of the Berlinette as it turned its attentions towards the Grand Tourisme world. In its range-topping version complete with V6 Turbo engine, the GTA generated some 200hp, which led the media to dub the car as a ‘fighter jet for the road’!
In 1990, the A610 joined the Alpine line-up with a 2,963cc V6 Turbo powerplant. Despite the press praising its handling abilities and dynamic performance, this model struggled to find its niche amongst the public and was discontinued in 1995.
After production of the A610 ceased, the Dieppe factory focused its efforts on the manufacture of numerous high-performance models for Renault Sport, from the R5 Turbo to the Clio R.S., Renault Sport Spider and Clio V6. Today, this historic site – which has always proudly retained the Alpine logo on its walls – is right at the heart of the brand’s rebirth.
THE ALPINE RENAISSANCE
Frequently debated and palpably desired by fans for almost 20 years, the Alpine brand’s revival by Renault needed to be handled correctly if it was to prove a success. Expectations were so high that disappointment simply wasn’t an option!
The unveiling of the Alpine A110-50 concept car to mark the 50th anniversary of the Berlinette in 2012 represented a timely litmus test as to whether the interest was still strong. It was.
On November 5, 2012, Carlos Ghosn officially announced the rebirth of Alpine and a design project for a ‘21st Century Berlinette’, scheduled for completion in 2016.
When no fewer than five A110s were entered for the 2013 edition of Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique – 40 years on from Alpine’s famous one-two-three finish in 1973 – the enthusiasm generated was such that reneging on the decision to revive the brand was no longer an option!
With Bernard Ollivier at its helm, Société des Automobiles Alpine is now hard at work on the new ‘21st Century Berlinette’. The general concept and style are already fixed, with efforts currently focused on the design of individual parts, modelling and production. To this end, substantial investment has been made in the Dieppe factory, while disguised prototypes have been on the road to evaluate a variety of different technological solutions.
As anticipation builds towards the official presentation of this new model, Alpine has paid tribute to its heritage and reputation as a leading competitor in the world of motorsport with successful participations in the European endurance championship (ELMS) and Le Mans 24 Hours. Alpine has also grabbed the headlines in an unexpected area: as the new star of an eponymously-named video game, the Alpine Vision Gran Turismo inspires passion through a blend of sportiness, modernity and respect for the DNA of a brand that has lived on in the hearts of its fans for 60 years.
THE ALPINE VISION GRAN TURISMO
The Alpine Vision Gran Turismo – fruit of the collective imagination of the designers and engineers entrusted with developing the 21st Century Berlinette – will blast into homes all over the world in March, 2015. Every owner of the game Gran Turismo 6 will be able to download this virtual model and find themselves behind the wheel of the most incredible Alpine yet. As the icing on the cake and to appeal to the eyes, this concept car has also been produced in the form of a full-scale model.
The story began in July, 2013, when Polyphony Digital Inc. – the studio responsible for the development of PlayStation® Gran Turismo – encouraged Alpine to take up the challenge of designing a virtual car. On both sides of the table, the enthusiasm and passion for this project were mutual. The Alpine teams immediately threw themselves into the exciting initiative with the same commitment as they have shown for the development of the forthcoming road model.
An in-house competition involving around 15 designers was won by the project submitted by Victor Sfiazof: “It’s a genuine sportscar which combines the passion for cars with enjoyment behind the wheel. There are numerous references to the past, present and future. The idea of a ‘barquette’ stemmed from the Alpine A450’s involvement in the Le Mans 24 Hours. That said, the front end takes its inspiration from the A110, and the vertical fins at the rear recall the A210 and A220 while making a real contribution to the car’s styling. As an aeronautic fan, I wanted to incorporate cues from the world of aviation, too. The airbrakes add a nice high-tech touch to the rear end. This exclusive model similarly integrates hints of the future Alpine, but we can’t say any more about that just yet!”
A SPECTACULAR DESIGN
The guided tour of the Alpine Vision Gran Turismo begins with the front of the car, which bears a striking resemblance to the A110. The sloping V-shaped bonnet is enhanced by a central crease and, in another nod to the 1960s, the cross-shaped LED lights recall the black tape that was used to protect the additional lights fitted to the Berlinette rally cars. These references to the past blend in seamlessly with an undeniably modern aerodynamic package which includes a splitter designed to channel airflow along the body sides. It also provides a glimpse of the suspension wishbones.
The car’s profile awakens other memories. The air that escapes behind the front wheels is directed through large intakes, which accentuate the narrow form of the body. Complementing the overall harmony, the long lateral rear fins call to mind the A210s and A220s which shone so brilliantly in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The appeal of the Alpine Vision Gran Turismo is further enhanced by its open cockpit. The driver sits on the right, a design typical of sport-prototype cars given that the majority of circuits run in a clockwise direction.
The rear-end design – the most popular view amongst gamers – represents an unmistakeable highlight of the Alpine Vision Gran Turismo. The flat bottom that runs beneath the car terminates in arched form, while a lower wing links the wheel arches to the stern. As at the front, the bodywork exposes the double wishbone suspension. The most striking characteristics of the Alpine Vision Gran Turismo become apparent under braking. Integrated into the profile of the tail, the hydraulically-activated airbrakes can be deployed in an instant, while at the same time revealing the brake lights!
BEHIND THE WHEEL: A TRUE ALPINE
The Alpine Vision Gran Turismo might be a virtual machine, but it was nonetheless duty-bound to adopt driving dynamics and handling characteristics worthy of its glorious predecessors. Terry Baillon, a simulation and chassis development engineer for the forthcoming production model, therefore treated this vehicle as if it would one day take to the road for real: “Right from the outset of the project, we set performance and handling targets for the Alpine Vision Gran Turismo. We then transcribed them into technical characteristics, with the object of achieving driving dynamics for players that are in keeping with what we envisioned back at the start. We used our own software in the development, before sending our data to Polyphony Digital to enable them to model the vehicle within the context of the video game.”
In front of the screen and holding either a steering wheel or a PlayStation Dual Shock® controller, long test sessions were required in order to refine the settings of the car. Blending elements of both the Alpine A450 racing car and the 21st Century Berlinette, the Alpine Vision Gran Turismo offers a few glimpses of the driving dynamics of the forthcoming road-going model, while at the same time displaying characteristics specific to Le Mans prototypes. Being a true Alpine, the accent is placed very much upon agility, spirit and driving enjoyment!
MOTORSPORT: A CONSTANT THEME THROUGHOUT ALPINE’S HISTORY
Founded by a skilled driver, Alpine is a brand whose history is punctuated by success in motorsport, from the Rallye Monte-Carlo to the Le Mans 24 Hours!
Even if the characteristics of the A106 ‘Coach’ did not particularly lend themselves to racing, in the hands of drivers of the calibre of Jacques Féret and Jean Vinatier, it nonetheless succeeded in securing some very creditable results. Motorsport also served as the catalyst for the development and evolution of the A108, while providing the baseline for the A110.
Beginning in 1963, Alpine pitted itself against the gruelling Le Mans 24 Hours, targeting the ‘Performance Index’ and ‘Efficiency Index’ accolades rather than outright victory. With their small Gordini engines, the Alpines stood out for their aerodynamic efficiency. Two victories ensued, in 1964 with the M64 crewed by Henry Morrogh / Roger Delageneste and again two years later with the A210 piloted by Jacques Cheinisse / Roger Delageneste.
The Alpine name also achieved success in single-seaters, with Henri Grandsire winning the French F3 Championship in 1964. Several years later, Patrick Depailler (1971) and Michel Leclère (1972) repeated the feat.
In rallying, the A110 Berlinette swiftly showed itself to be a potent force. In 1968, Gérard Larrousse came close to winning in Monte-Carlo, but it was the team of ‘Musketeers’ who truly earned the Dieppe-based manufacturer its spurs within the sport. Alpine-Renault sporting director Jacques Cheinisse recruited a ‘dream team’ composed of Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Jean-Claude Andruet, Bernard Darniche and Jean-Luc Thérier. Other drivers would subsequently bolster this legendary quartet, such as Ove Andersson who triumphed in Monte-Carlo in 1971.
In 1973, the Alpine-Renault squad competed for the very first World Rally Championship title. The season began superbly, with a one-two-three finish for Andruet, Andersson and Nicolas in Monte-Carlo. Across 13 rounds, the Berlinette won six times and on every type of terrain: Monte-Carlo (Andruet), Portugal (Thérier), Morocco (Darniche), Acropolis (Thérier), Sanremo (Thérier) and Tour de Corse (Nicolas). The last of those victories saw Alpine conclude the campaign in fine style, with another top three lock-out to write the closing chapter of an extraordinary story! These results crowned Alpine-Renault World Champion, ahead of rivals Fiat Abarth and Ford.
The 1973 season also witnessed the re-launch of Alpine’s endurance racing programme, which had been halted after the disappointment of the A220 at the end of the 1960s. This time, the brand had the top step of the podium firmly in its sights. Victory edged closer year by year until it was finally achieved in 1978. Behind the wheel of the Alpine Renault A442-B, Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and Didier Pironi triumphed ahead of the A442 (crewed by Guy Fréquelin and Jean Ragnotti) which came fourth.
With its mission accomplished, Renault was able to turn its attentions towards Formula 1 with its 1.5-litre V6 turbo engine.
The Alpine A310 similarly enjoyed its days in the sun, tasting glory with Jean Ragnotti, Bruno Saby and Jean-Pierre Beltoise – French Rallycross Champions in successive years from 1977 to 1979 – as well as Guy Fréquelin, the 1977 French Rally Champion.
Following the organisation of the Alpine Europa Cup – contested as a curtain-raiser to Formula 1 Grands Prix with the GTA model – the brand’s motorsport activities drew to a close in 1988.
At the end of 2012, when Alpine’s revival was officially announced, a return to motorsport was immediately mooted. After forging a partnership with Signatech, the brand entered both the European endurance championship (ELMS) and the Le Mans 24 Hours. During its very first season (2013), the A450 lifted the European laurels. The Signatech-Alpine squad successfully defended its ELMS crown in 2014, while at the same time clinching an LMP2 class podium finish at Le Mans. This performance was accompanied by seventh position in the overall classification – the second-best result in the brand’s history at La Sarthe after its 1978 victory! Now the story is set to continue in 2015, with a confirmed ongoing commitment to endurance racing...