The 24 hours of Le Mans is the highlight of the year for millions of racing fans around the world. But this year, there was almost as much to be excited about off the course as there was on it. Aside from Porsche earning its 17th win since 1970 and Nissan’s bold GT-R LM Nismo out to shake up the status quo (but falling disappointingly short), Ford chose the race as a backdrop to unveil its racing-spec GT car, set to compete in next year’s race. Following Ford’s lead, Renault announced that it’s reviving its legendary Alpine nameplate for a new mid-engined sports car set to hit the streets next year.
Alpine began 60 years ago as an independent tuning company that became legendary for campaigning its Renault-based cars during the rise of European rally racing. It’s best remembered for the A110, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and formidable racers ever built. The rear-engined A110 dominated the international circuit in the ’60s and ’70s, before being overshadowed by purpose-built rally cars like the Lancia Stratos, and the later Group B cars. Alpine officially became a division of Renault in 1973, and enjoyed a successful second act building high performance grand tourers before Alpine was phased out in 1995. Still, its legend looms large, especially in European racing circles, and for Renault, Le Mans was the perfect place to reintroduce the Alpine name to its high performance road cars.
While the name hasn’t graced a production model for two decades, Alpine has never exactly left racing. It was merged along with engine tuner Gordini to create Renault Sport, which today makes some of the most formidable performance cars in the world. Renault Sport’s Megane RS 275 Trophy-R had a long reign as the fastest front-wheel drive production car to lap the Nürburgring, until it was overtaken this year by the upcoming Honda Civic Type-R. Renault revived the Alpine name in 2014 for a prototype endurance racer, and competed an A450B model at Le Mans over the weekend. Unfortunately, the prototype’s performance on the track was easily upstaged by the new road car – it was forced to retire early after getting into an accident.
Disappointments during the race aside, unveiling the new Alpine at Le Mans has special significance for Renault. This year marks the 60th anniversary of Alpine, and 37 years since it upset Porsche to win the 1978 race with its A442B car. After unveiling the new road-going Alpine at Le Mans, it’s headed to England, where it will be join other historic Alpine cars for an anniversary showcase at the Goodwood Festival of Speed later this month.
Renault is calling the new Alpine a concept for now, but sources within the company have all but confirmed that the “Celebration Concept” unveiled at Le Mans is very close to a 2016 production version. Speaking with Autocar last month, Renault exterior design chief Anthony Lo stressed the importance of getting it right when introducing such an iconic nameplate, and hinted that there could be more Alpine models to come if the new car takes off:
“The challenge with Alpine is to somehow fill this gap of more than 20 years and do a product that is believable. I feel the car really needs to create the foundation of Alpine. We need to create the 911 of Alpine. If we do that properly then we can consider [making] cars like the Panamera.”
While the timeless appeal of the 911 is the goal, expect Alpine prices to be a bit more affordable – think Porsche Boxster/Cayman, and Alfa Romeo 4C territory. Renault utilized its partnerships with Daimler and Nissan for early development of the car (it was originally slated to be built on a Nissan GT-R platform), but with Renault’s performance know how, the Alpine will be built in the historic Dieppe, France factory alongside today’s hottest Renault Sport models.
Initial production numbers are estimated at 3,000 cars per year, but it could be increased to as high as 5,000 if demand warrants. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful any of those cars will make it stateside, as Renault hasn’t sold cars in the U.S. since 1987. Still, the idea of an all-new, relatively affordable Alpine is one that makes us excited nonetheless. And if it can perform like any of its Renault Sport siblings, Porsche and Alfa Romeo should be very afraid.
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