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Alpine A110 and A442B

Renault’s long held dream to revive Alpine becomes reality

By Andrew Marsh, 05.11.12
Posted in: Manufacturer Profiles | Public

There is a small manufacturing plant less than 1km from the sea port of Dieppe. There is also a large out of town shopping area, also not far from the port. And yet – this is where the first Renault Kangoo was engineered by Alpine offshoot Berex, the first turbo charged engines for Renault F1 was developed, Le Mans was conquered and where many successful international rally cars were built – along with some amazing road cars too. Alpine was started in Dieppe by Jean Rédélé in 1955, and the Renault dealership there still bears his name.

For many the dream is still alive. The reality was different – Dieppe was run for many years under the wing of Paris based Renault Sport Technologies (RST) which had long since had nothing to do with F1 and was consigned to building charismatic versions of regular production Renault products. The relationship between Dieppe and RST HQ ranged from being frosty to non-existent.  Crucially every single body shell was stamped, framed and e-coated in other Renault factories before being delivered to Dieppe.

The Alpine plant was built in 1969 and has rather basic tooling for low volume vehicle assembly, a specialist division across the horse racing track which makes parts for converting Renault road cars into competition cars, and there is the huge – really, really huge – historic legacy. The plant builds most assemblies by hand, even though the same assemblies shared with lesser Renaults are built by suppliers for other plants.

The potential for something special has been in the dreams of Renault product planners since the days of the Spyder, to re-create the most iconic Renault-alpine ever – the A110. However, every time the dream came close, economic reality blew it straight out to sea. Now Dieppe – small, without complete car manufacturing capability – is vulnerable, and at this point Renault put together an audacious deal to keep the plant alive.

Enter Caterham

Caterham will purchase 50% of the existing ‘Automobiles Alpine Renault’ company, with a view to co-develop new vehicles both for themselves as well as Renault via the newly formed company as of  January 2013, ‘Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham’.  To underscore the commitment, both the national government as well as Région Haute Normandie contributed to the start-up of the company. Caterham have spent decades refining and re-engineering the original Lotus 7 design, but apart from competition cars have not really built anything else (Caterham 21 did not work commercially).

The Alpine feasibility study has matured for many, many years (that is why RST created a Porsche 911 ‘930’ turbo with central driving position, and why the project was stopped when it was destroyed in an accident) but could not exist inside a large corporation where ultra-low volume production of completely unique cars finished with the Renault Sport Spider finished production in 1999. Certainly with the rise of NISMO following the same path as Renault Sport in enhancing regular production cars, the Alliance is more likely to a modify rather than create unique sporting vehicles.

What are the issues?

Primarily investment. To create a superb low volume build coupe even at a price close double that of the current Laguna3 Coupe will require use of major parts such as engines, transmissions, body sub-assemblies and more to limit costs and minimise development costs as well as tooling investments.

Will it work? The heart says yea, but the mind would indicate there are huge hurdles to overcome before the first vehicle sees the light of day in 2016. Let’s hope Renault Technocentre really can support this new venture to deliver a truly inspirational car in the theme of the A110. Alpine has been through too many disappointments over the past decade, and deserves better. Let’s hope justice to the great heritage of Dieppe is done, and the heart wins!

Alpine factory 2012 and 1970

Top right - Clio3 RS in build during 2012, whilst top right the A110 in in build at the same factory during 1970. The current assembly halls were built in 1969. © Renault S.a.S

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