How Alpine set a new template for international rally cars

The small French marque created a legend in a time when others failed and faded away into obscurity. The Alpine A110, produced from 1961 to 1977, is a vehicle universally adored by car enthusiasts. It’s light, powerful, agile and is simultaneously beautiful and aggressive.

To see Alpine in perspective, consider the highly acclaimed new A110, which is a most evocative tribute. This beauty looks tiny and delicate – until you park it beside the earlier car. It’s not unlike comparing any of the BMW MINI’s with the Issigonis original; almost no new small car is small in the way of that Mini or, say, an NSU Prinz, or before them the Renault 4CV.

The 2018 A110 is astonishingly light for a new millennium vehicle, weighing just 1080kg, which means its apparently modest peak output of 185kW goes a long way. But there was a time when sports cars often weighed little more than half this. Go back to 1957 and the first production Alpine, the A106, would have barely made it to 600kg wring wet and with a full tank of essence.

The very fact that the 2018 Alpine bears the A110 name suggests how cherished the earlier car is, how celebrated its three-number signifier; one thinks ‘911’, and Porsche – Alpine may never rival the Zuffenhausen marque but some journalists who have driven the latest Cayman and the new A110, prefer the latter: they talk of purity.

The first-gen Alpine A110 was the third and most successful iteration of the lightweight French sports car produced by Société des Automobiles Alpine. The company was eventually absorbed by Renault but it has had a long association with the Régie going back before World War One.

Jean Redelé’s father, Emile, worked as a mechanic for Renault factory Grand Prix driver Ferenc Szisz who was noted for winning the Grand Prix de la Sarthe in 1906 at Le Mans.

After the war, Louis Renault asked Emile to open a Renault dealership in Dieppe, a small French town on the coast of the English Channel.

Jean Redelé, who was born in 1922, completed his business and economics degree in Paris during World War Two. This degree included work experience at Renault. Jean produced a report on some of Renault’s work practices that caught the attention of CEO Pierre Dreyfus.

Asked to put his ideas to work, Redelé was appointed Renault’s official dealer in Dieppe and, at 24, was the youngest Renault dealer in France. But he had a much deeper interest in cars than simply selling them.

Jean Redelé chose the then new Renault 4CV for his start in motorsport. The 4CV, conceived by Louis Renault and modelled to some extent on the Volkswagen (which made its public debut at the 1938 Berlin Motor Show), this tiny rear-engined car had a 750cc engine; it was sold in Australia as the Renault 750.

Continue reading in Volume 7 of Retromotive magazine...

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