The motoring world has been buzzing over the past few weeks with excitement at the most recent Alpine model – the first in over 20 years – which was unveiled in its latest guise in Monaco, to much fanfare. The modern iteration, though sharing some styling cues with the firm’s most famous son, the A110, is undeniably modern. However, its creators at Renault have their sights set firmly on the history books.
Alpine was the brainchild of young Renault dealer Jean Rédélé, who began modifying and racing 4CVs in the post-war years. His ever more outlandish racers brought him much competition success, coming within a whisker of winning the 1950 and 1951 Rallye Monte-Carlo, and picking up his first of three class wins at the Mille Miglia the following year.
By the early 1950s demand for his lightweight aluminium-bodied creations had reached commercial viability, and by 1955 his first Alpine-badged creation, the intriguing Michelotti-penned A106 had been built. The more svelte Dauphine-based A108 followed, and its success led to the Gordini-powered A110. Underpinned by the latest R8 running gear, the lightweight Berlinette became a sideways star of rallies the world over.
And Alpine’s success didn’t stop there…
Renault entrusted its Gordini-tuned engines to Rene Bonnet for the 1962 Le Mans 24 Hours, but his failure to win against the CD Panhards mean that Redele was the preferred option the following year. The R8’s inline ‘four’ found its way into the M63, a streamlined racer penned by Lotus designer Len Terry and modified by Bernard Boyer and Richard Bouleau to meet new regulations at La Sarthe.
Just five hours into the race Christian Heinz, who was leading his class in the M63, hit a patch of oil caused by the retirement of Bruce McLaren and Innes Ireland’s Aston Martin DP214. The Lightweight E-type of Roy Salvadori also spun after hitting the oil and was struck by Jean-Pierre Manzon’s Aerojet LM6. The pair escaped with injuries, but Heinz sadly lost his life after striking a lamp post.
Alpine picked itself up following the tragedy in 1963 by developing a new endurance racer, the M64. It was based heavily on the earlier car, but was fitted with a larger 1149cc engine that offered a considerable increase in power – up 115bhp from 95bhp.
Driven by Henry Morrogh and Roger Delageneste, the car took a resounding class win and finished first in the Index of Thermal Efficiency. Its next outing was at Reims, where again the pair won their class. Following that race Juan Manuel Fangio, who had been spectating, took a lap of honour with Morrogh.
Though Alpine had poured resources into its latest M64 model, Redele didn’t put all his eggs in one basket, preferring instead to run a second M63, which was driven by Roger Masson and Teodore Zeccoli. It performed well, coming second in class behind Delageneste and Morrogh, and just ahead of Standard Triumph’s Spitfire entry.
It is pictured being passed by Peter Bolton and Jack Sears’ AC Cobra Coupe, which suffered a tyre blowout that culminated in the death of three spectators who had strayed into a restricted area.
The 1967 Le Mans 24 Hours was marked by the battle between Ford and Ferrari, and featured a bizarre incident where Mike Parkes, in the second-placed Ferrari 330, hounded race leader Dan Gurney, who was easing off to preserve his car, for several miles. Gurney eventually pulled off the circuit and stopped, with Parkes doing likewise before finally passing 'Handsome Dan'.
Further down the starting order, the sub-1.6-litre, 1.3-litre and 1.15-litre prototype categories were dominated by Alpine, which had seven A210s and a lone M63 running in the race. Mauro Bianchi and Jean Vinatier’s 1.5-litre A210, photographed here being passed by the 330P3/P4 of Jean Guichet and Herbert Muller, took a class win.
Le Mans in 1968 was marked by changes to both the regulations and the circuit. The run from Maison Blanche to the pit straight was interrupted by the first Ford chicane, which reduced speeds on the approach to the pits and added around 10 seconds to lap times.
In addition to the works on the circuit, new regulations meant that cars with engines larger than 5-litres were banned from competing in Sports Car categories, while Prototypes were capped at 3-litres, leading many teams to adopt Formula One engines.
Alpine threw its hat in the ring with the Renault-Gordini V8-engined A220, but at 300bhp it was down on power compared to slippery Porsche 908 and 907L, both of which finished ahead of the French entry. By the close of play, the A220 had also been beaten by a trio of Alfa Romeo T33s, which contested a lower class.
Alain Le Guellec and Alain Serpaggi (pictured) finished eight laps adrift of their V8-engined sister car and fourth in class behind the Alfas.
The Porsche 911S was the car to beat at the Rallye Monte-Carlo in 1970, with Bjorn Waldegard and Lars Helmer taking the spoils ahead of Larrousse’s second-placed car and Ake Andersson in fourth. However, the Stuttgart sandwich was split by Jean-Pierre Nicolas and Claude Roure, who rounded off the top three with their R8-engined A110 1300.
The 1971 Rallye Monte-Carlo was marked by changeable weather, with everything from driving rain and hail to blizzard conditions affecting the route. Alpine fielded two three-car teams, plus a number of privateers. Swede Ove Andersson proved the strongest, taking the lead from the first stage and holding it for the duration of the rally for what became one of Alpine’s most famous achievements: a 1-2-3 finish of A110 1600s.
Alpine’s success on the Monte assured the A110’s reputation as a snow specialist, but it proved to be no one-trick pony. Bernard Darniche took the model to its third win of 1973 on the Morocco Rally, which was marked by loose surfaces of sand and gravel.
Development of the A110 was reaching its zenith by 1973, the racers now boasting 175bhp 1.8-litre engines and a raft of technical improvements in Group IV guise. In total, 13 examples were built, but it took only three to deliver the firm’s second clean sweep at the Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The French drivers had the edge on this occasion, with Jean-Claude Andruet and Michéle Petit edging the Swede Ove Andersson and Jean Todt by just 26 seconds.
By 1975, Lancia’s Stratos was dominating the world of international rallies, scoring victory after victory. Both Fiat and Alpine’s teams put up a brave fight, with the former finishing just one point ahead of the Alpine’s Nocolas/Laverne A110 for second place in the championship.
Privateer Bernard Decure had come across the original A310 prototype during a visit to Dieppe in 1975 and, with the help of Mauro Bianchi, managed to buy the car. It wasn’t until he had lunch with Hervé Poulain at Le Mans that the challenge to run the car at the 1977 24 Hours race was laid down.
The car was stripped down with the help of volunteers, and rebuilt to Le Mans specifications, which required Decure to fit a Group 5 body. A number of mechanical improvements were made, including fitting of uprated suspension and an endurance fuel tank, while sponsorship came courtesy of the Dieppe Chamber of Commerce. Its slogan, ‘Poisson Dippois, Poisson de Choix’ gave the car its nickname: ‘Poisson Dieppois’.
Renault and Alpine pooled resources for their assault on Le Mans in the late 1970s, with the former putting its financial weight behind development of the turbocharged A442. Only one car made it to La Sarthe in 1976, and it failed to finish, leading Renault Sport to draft in Derek Bell. Despite the Briton’s endurance expertise, all four cars failed to make the chequered flag in ’77.
By 1978, the Alpine entries were more competitive and increasingly reliable. An old A442 was joined by a bubble-canopied A442B and the state-of-the-art A443, all proving quick in the opening stages. The oldest car suffered transmission failure at the halfway point, followed by the A443, which was retired in the 18th hour. A committed performance from Didier Pironi (which left him too exhausted to climb the podium) sealed the win for Alpine, and signalled Renault’s withdrawal from endurance racing.