Alpine: The Story Behind A Rapidly Re-energised Marque

Gary Marlowe
10 min readOct 1, 2018

(Last updated January 2024)

Origins:

One of the more interesting marques around today is one that once was known only to rally afficiandos, but is now making a name for itself as it re-emerges after years of being dormant. The marque in question is Alpine (which, by the way, is pronounced al-peen.)

The company’s origins lie in Dieppe, a small port in Normandy in Northern France with a population of less than 35,000. In France, Dieppe is best known for its scallops.

It also happens to be twinned with Brighton, which is just up the coast from me. Like Brighton is to London, so Dieppe is to Paris. Both lay claim to being their nation’s first seaside resort, with Dieppe tracing its origins as far back as 1824. Both towns also happen to be the closest beach to their country’s capital.

But Dieppe is a long way from the Alps – nearly 1000 km – so why did a car manufacturer based there name itself Alpine?

The business was founded in 1954 by Jean Rédélé, a Renault garage owner from Dieppe whose hobby was modifying cars for rallying. By 1956, he was the youngest Renault dealer in France. He would go on to be as successful racing cars as he was selling them.

With his modified 4CV Renault, he achieved success in the Mille Miglia and the Coupe des Alpes. And it was the latter race that inspired the name.

At the time, Rédélé was unaware that the British car company Sunbeam had already launched a model with the Alpine name and this naming issue was to cause him problems throughout the company’s history. It was one that would be relatively short-lived.

His first production car was the A106. While the company’s focus was on rallying, it was a very expensive undertaking for a small business producing just two cars a week.

In its heyday, Alpines were regarded as some of the best rallying cars around.

Indeed, the original rear-engined A110, styled by the leading Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti, was hugely successful in the 60s and early 70s.

It also had a distinctive look, notably in the way its four headlights were positioned – something one associates more with rally cars than road cars. What’s more, most A110’s came with the marque’s equally distinctive turquoise blue paintwork – Alpine Blue.

In 1969, Rédélé opened his new Alpine factory in Dieppe. However, the cars were complicated to produce, requiring many more man hours which made them expensive.

But they were enjoying tremendous success in rallying. In 1971, Alpines took the first three places in the iconic Monte Carlo Rally.

With the company almost continually on the brink of closing, Renault finally acquired Alpine in 1972. The very next year saw the birth of the World Rally Championship. It was dominated by Alpine with their A110.

Despite this success, just four years later, in 1977, the A110 ceased production. And with it, so effectively did Alpine.

There was no A110 replacement, largely because the game-changing Lancia Stratos – launched in 1974 – meant mid-engined cars were the way forward and Alpine’s lacklustre sales simply couldn’t justify the investment.

The Dieppe plant however kept going, producing hot hatch variants of cars such as the Renault Clio, a few of which even bore the Alpine moniker.

In 2007, at the age of 85, Jean Rédélé died. And it appeared so had the marque he had created.

My first connection with the Alpine came in 2015 at the Festival of Speed when I saw an original A110 – mounted on a wall inside a Renault exhibit. I remember just how good it looked and the photo I took of it remains one of my favourites.

The next time I saw an A110 was also at Goodwood – one was in the paddock at Revival. Again, the photo I took of it that day is another favourite. But back to our story…

A new Alpine did surface, briefly. Called the A310, it was intended to be the A110’s successor. But the global oil crisis decimated the sports car industry and put paid to it.

The new model was just too thirsty and too expensive to make. It didn’t last long and by 1995 the Alpine marque was effectively mothballed.

After years of speculation that Renault had plans to revive the marque, things looked like they were happening in 2012.

That year saw the arrival of the A110–50, a stunning prototype created by Renault to mark the 50th anniversary of the original A110 in 1962.

Styled by Yann Jarsalle, it was a dramatic looking supercar, finished naturally in the iconic blue paint (with orange accents)

Although it was never intended for production, that same year, Alpine Renault did begin a joint project with British sports car manufacturer Caterham to create a brand new car.

However, after just two years, Caterham dropped out. That could have been the end of Alpine, but not for the first time, Renault stepped in and saved the project.

And then things went quiet. For years.

But the rumours of something very exciting just wouldn’t go away.

The all-new A110:

It would take until the end of February 2017 before the first official pictures of the all-new A110 surfaced, just days before the car itself was unveiled at the Geneva show the following month.

Although both cars shared the same name, the new model now had a mid-rather than a rear engine. And, in keeping with the brand’s DNA, the car was extraordinarily light, its aluminium body weighing in at just over 1100 kilos.

I got to see it in person when it made its UK debut at the Festival of Speed.

Designed by Antony Villain, the new A110 shared clear DNA with its predecessor. To my eyes, it was a brilliant example of how to reimagine an old model and still retain sufficient resemblance so it looks familiar: the four headlights, the sculptural bonnet detailing being just a few examples.

Following its 2017 relaunch, Alpine was reported to have taken over 5,000 cash-secured reservations. All 1,955 Premiere editions. were sold within a week, resulting in a 14-month wait-list for the new car, despite its £52,000 price tag.

In response to this demand, Alpine increased production from 15 to 20 cars a day. Today, the Dieppe factory employs around 400 and the new A110 looks like it will be even more successful than its predecessor.

In September 2018, the first new A110 was delivered to a UK customer and the same month, at Hampton Court Palace, I got to see both the old and new models side by side at Concours of Elegance.

The closer you look at the new car, the more you see how successful Alpine have been in bringing it up to date, whilst keeping the spirit of its forbear. Not only that, but they’ve also produced a car that doesn’t look like everything else on the market.

I really hope that this time the Alpine marque thrives and continues to produce distinctive cars in the years ahead.

Alpine F1:

2021 saw a huge development for the marque when Renault rebranded their F1 outfit to the Alpine division, swapping their black and yellow livery for the blue colour synonymous with Alpine’s motorsport heritage. As a demonstration of their commitment, the Alpine F1 team also welcomed back two-times world champion, Fernando Alonso, as their lead driver.

Looking at the F1 car’s livery, perhaps the most significant detail are the words written behind the driver: Renault E-Tech. By all accounts, it appears Renault want Alpine to become its high-performance electric brand, taking on the likes of Polestar and Tesla. Rumours are that no less than three new battery-powered Alpines are currently in development: a hot hatch, a crossover, and an A110 replacement.

Fast forward two years or so and we’re still waiting for any brand new models. The A110 S joined the line-up in 2019 and in 2022 the A100 GT arrived as part of a facelift. Both are priced at £62,000, a £10,000 uplift on the entry level model.

But Alpine finally had something new to share:

Here comes the R:

2023 saw the A110 expand to four versions with the introduction of the range-topping A110 R.

Lighter, tauter and more capable on track, it promises to be the best performing A110 yet. To that end, it has new aero parts, adjustable coilover suspension and the bonnet, roof, engine cover and wheels are all made from carbon, resulting in a kerb weight of just 1082kg. But it comes at price. A hefty £96,990!

Speaking in July 2023, Emmanuel Al Nawakil, Alpine’s vice president of sales and operations, said the company will hit maximum production capacity of 700 cars a month by the end of 2023 after building on last year’s record sales figures as it continues to push to become more than just a “niche” brand.

He said the rise in sales was down to the brand unlocking more capacity from its small Dieppe Jean Rédélé factory.

Alpine’s first EV:

2024 will also see Alpine’s first push into the mainstream e-market with the A290, an electric hot hatch based on the Renault Clio. Alpine have a long history of creating sporty versions of small Renault’s dating back to 1976, but this time the car will be sold as an Alpine, not a Renault. In essence, Alpine’s return to the hot hatch segment will be in place of the now-defunct RenaultSport division.

With a body styled by design director Antony Villain, this is also a very different vehicle to the A110. Indeed, there are almost no design cues shared between the two. At first glance only the horizontally split rear pillar would suggest that the new car is an Alpine.

One of the biggest differences of course is its weight. With their heavy batteries, electric cars can’t compete with the agility of the lightweight A110.

During the presentation of the Α290 concept in May 2023, Chief Designer Raphael Linari confirmed that 85% of the concept’s exterior will make it into the production version. With less carbon and more plastic and the three-seat interior reverting to a conventional four-seat configuration, expect prices to start around £40,000. Launch date should be sometime around mid-2024.

Future plans:

Linari also revealed that A290 will be followed by multiple model launches, eventually culminating in a lineup of seven electric vehicles by 2030.

Those future Alpine models will follow the A290’s naming structure, with ‘2’ denoting its name and ‘90’ reflecting that it’s not intended to be a pure sporting model. Only a select few future models — currently the A110 alone — will wear the ‘10’ badge.

Behind the image: All these images, with the exception of the A110 R and A290, were shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 using either the 12–40 2.8 Pro or the 75 1.8 lens. Shot at Festival of Speed, Goodwood Revival and Hampton Court Palace.

About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in creating out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens, not forgetting an array of automotive exotica.

On the writing side, he has used his research skills to author deep dives into some noteworthy songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials, ‘Real Wild Child’ by Ivan and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople.

He has also written a biography of Robert Palmer and the stories behind Whitesnake’s blatant Led Zep rip-off, ‘Still Of The Night’, Harry Styles’ anthem to positivity, ‘Treat People With Kindness’ and the little known Queen track ‘Cool Cat.’

Most recently, Gary has penned the fascinating story behind George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ as well as ‘Believe It Or Not’ a look into the rise of fake news and his latest essay ‘Nadir: How the cost of living crisis has brought so many in broken Britain to the depths of despair.’

All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians including the likes of Royal Blood, Joe Satriani and Wolf Alice.

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Gary Marlowe

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people