Encouraged by the development of these cars and consequent customer demand, he founded the Société Anonyme des Automobiles Alpine in 1954. The firm was named Alpine after his Coupe des Alpes successes. He did not realise that over in England the previous year, Sunbeam Car Company had introduced a sports coupe derived from the Sunbeam Talbot and called the Sunbeam Alpine. This naming problem was to cause problems for Alpine throughout its history.
In 1955, he worked with the Chappe brothers to be amongst the pioneers of auto glass fibre construction and produced a small coupe, based on 4CV mechanicals and called the Alpine A106. It used the platform chassis of the original Renault 4CV. The A106 achieved a number of successes through the 1950s and was joined by a low and stylish cabriolet. Styling for this car was contracted to the Italian designer Michelotti. Under the glassfibre body was a very stiff chassis based on a central tubular backbone which was to be the hallmark of all Alpines built. Alpine then took the Michelotti cabriolet design and developed a 2+2 closed coupe (or 'berlinette') body for it: this became the A108, built between 1958 and 1963.
This new car was the A110 Berlinette Tour de France, named after a successful run with the Alpine A108 in the 1962 event. Starting with a 956 cc engine of , the same chassis and body developed with relatively minor changes over the years to the stage where, by 1974, the little car was handling 1800 cc engines developing +. With a competition weight for the car of around , the performance was excellent.
Alpine achieved increasing success in rallying, and by 1968 had been allocated the whole Renault competition budget. The close collaboration allowed Alpines to be sold and maintained in France by normal Renault dealerships. Real top level success started in 1968 with outright wins in the Coupe des Alpes and other international events. By this time the competition cars were fitted with 1440 cc engines derived from the Renault R8 Gordini. Competition successes became numerous, helped since Alpine were the first company fully to exploit the competition parts homologation rules.
1973 brought the international petrol crisis, which had profound effects on many specialist car manufacturers worldwide. From a total Alpine production of 1421 in 1972, the numbers of cars sold dropped to 957 in 1974 and the company was bailed out via a takeover by Renault. Alpine's problems had been compounded by the need for them to develop a replacement for the A110 and launch the car just when European petrol prices leapt through the roof.
Through the 1970s Alpine continued to campaign the A110, and later the Alpine A310 replacement car. However, to compete with Alpine's success, other manufacturers developed increasingly special cars, notably the Lancia Stratos which was based closely on the A110's size and rear engined concept, though incorporating a Ferrari engine. Alpine's own cars, still based on the 1962 design and using a surprising number of production parts, became increasingly uncompetitive. In 1974 Alpine built a series of factory racing Renault 17 Gordinis (one driven by Jean-Luc Thérier) that won the Press on Regardless World Rally Championship round in Michigan, USA.
In fact, having achieved the rally championship, and with Renault money now fully behind them, Alpine had set their sights on a new target. The next aim was to win at Le Mans. Renault had also taken over the Gordini tuning firm and merged the two to form Renault Sport. A number of increasingly successful sports racing cars appeared, culminating in the 1978 Le Mans win with the Renault Alpine A442B. This was fitted with a turbo-charged engine; Alpine had been the first company to run in and win an international rally with a turbo car as far back as 1972 when Jean-Luc Thérier took a specially modified A110 to victory on the Critérium des Cévennes.
After the A310 Alpine transformed into the new Alpine GTA range produced from plastic and polyester components, commencing with normally aspirated PRV V6 engines. In 1985 the V6 Turbo was introduced to complete the range. This car was faster and more powerful than the normally aspirated version. In 1986 polyester parts were cut for the first time by robot using a high pressure (3500 bar) water jet, in diameter at three times the speed of sound. In the same year the American specification V6 Turbo was developed.
In 1987 fitment of anti-pollution systems allowed the V6 Turbo to be distributed to Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. 1989 saw the launch of the limited edition GTA Mille Miles to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Alpine. Production was limited to 100 cars, all fitted with ABS braking, polished wheels, special leather interior and paintwork. This version was not available in RHD.
The Alpine A610 was launched in 1991, it was re-styled inside and out but was still recognisable as a GTA derivative. The chassis structure was extensively reworked but the central box principal remained the same. The front was completely re-designed The interior was also greatly improved. Air-conditioning and power steering were fitted as standard. The total production run for A610s derivatives was 818 vehicles 67 RHD and 751 LHD. After production of the A610 ended, the Alpine factory in Dieppe produced the Renaultsport Spider and a new era was to begin.
The last Alpine, an A610, rolled off the Dieppe line late in 1994, Renault abandoning the Alpine name. This was always a problem in the UK market. Alpines could not be sold in the UK under their own name because Sunbeam owned the trade mark (because of the mid-50s Sunbeam Alpine Mk I). In the 1970s, for example Dieppe were building modified Renault R5s for the world wide market. The rest of the world knew them as R5 Alpines but in the UK they had to be renamed to R5 Gordini. Strangely enough with the numerous company takeovers that have occurred, it is another French company, PSA (Peugot/Talbot/Citroën) who now own the British Alpine trademark.
The Alpine factory in Dieppe continues to expand; in the 1980s they built the special R5 Turbo cars, following the rear engined formula they have always used. They built all Clio Williams and RenaultSport Spiders. The factory proudly put its Alpine badges on the built early batches of the mid engined Clio series one Clio V6. The Clio Series 2 was also assembled there with more recent RenaultSport Clio 172 and RenaultSport Clio 182s.
In October 2007, it has been reported that Renault’s marketing boss Patrick Blain has revealed that there are plans for several sports cars in Renault’s future lineup, but stressed that the first model won’t arrive until after 2010. Blain confirmed that Renault is unlikely to pick a new name for its future sports car and will probably go with Alpine to brand it. Blain described it as being a “radical sports car” and not just a sports version of a regular model.
The presence of sportier models in the Renault line-up would give the French automaker a better opportunity to capitalize on its Formula One prowess, having won two back-to-back world championships with Fernando Alonso, translating these efforts to its production cars is a moot point because Renault’s lineup is lacking in the sports car department. Management is hoping to change all that and is keen to start building sports cars again, as it has in the past, with the revival of the legendary Alpine label.
In France there is a large network of Alpine enthusiasts clubs. Clubs exist in many countries including the UK, USA, Australia, Japan.
Alpine is now the Renaultsport Technologies factory in Dieppe.
RS official websites
An example of an Alpine weekend was held in Victoria with attendees from South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. There were 17 Alpines and 2 Renault 5 Turbos. The Alpine model breakdown was: A110: 5 | A310 (4 cyl): 3 | A310 (6 cyl): 4 | GTA Turbo: 2| GTA atmo: 3