Brands come and go all the time across the automotive landscape. Heck, ABARTH part of the Fiat 500 ABARTH that we reviewed last week was itself a resurrected brand just a few years ago. The next brand to rise from the ashes is Alpine, which had been Renault’s performance brand until its closure in 1995. Renault’s partner in the resurrection: Caterham, the builder of what are essentially the continuation of the iconic Lotus 7 ever since founder Graham Nearn acquired the rights to the Lotus 7 from Lotus in 1973.
The new Alpine will continue the line that ended with the Alpine A610 in 1995. The A610 was basically an update to the 1980s-vintage A310, but with an improved interior, modern comfort features, and an updated front clip. End-of-the-line Alpines were rear engine/rear drive cars (similar to a Porsche 911’s configuration) fitted with 3.0 liter turbocharged V6s that produced either 250 or 280 horsepower, depending upon the model. The A610’s body was constructed of fiberglass on a steel backbone chassis.
One interesting sidebar about the Alpine A310/GTA/A610 is that it shared the PRV(Peugeot/Renault/Volvo) powertrain with the DeLorean, a car that also shared a rear engine/rear drive layout, but did not share the Alpine’s history of on-track success.
Anyway, back to the future (see what I did there?) The joint venture will be of the 50-50 variety, and will go by the name of Societe des Automobiles Alpine Caterham (SAAC), clearly a tip of the cap to Alpine’s historical name of Société Anonyme des Automobiles Alpine, which goes back to Alpine’s founding in 1954. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn predicted volumes in the thousands (versus sales in the hundreds toward the end of Alpine’s earlier existence).
The neo-Alpines will be built in Renault’s Dieppe facility, which is the ancestral home of Alpine, and where the cars had been previously assembled. Dieppe currently builds Renault’s sporty offerings such as the RenaultSport Megane RS250 Cup (which we had the chance to sample last year) as well as the Renault Twingo 133 Cup (another hot-hatch Renault that we were fortunate to enjoy seat time in during 2011).
Speculation was that Renault would re-launch the Alpine brand with a car similar in concept to the Alpine A110-50 concept that was displayed earlier this year. However, it is likely that the first fruit of this partnership will instead be a more basic, £35,000 sports car that strives to bring some degree of F1 technology to the masses. You see, Renault and Caterham are in collaboration with Caterham’s F1 team, with Renault being chosen as the engine supplier.
Whatever sports car or sports cars that come out of this deal, they will probably be very solid performers, given the engine technology that Renault has access to (particularly if it starts tapping alliance partner Nissan’s parts bin – helloooo GT-R parts!), plus the combination of Caterham’s super-lightweight construction in its lineup of Colin Chapman-designed hard-core sports cars (with lots of lightness “added,” of course).
Eventually, Renault will have four brands under its ownership. Dacia will handle entry-level duties, Renault will be the mass-market brand, Alpine will handle sports cars, and Intiale Paris will be the luxury brand. Not quite the same thing Volkswagen is doing with its horse farm stable of brands, but it’s clear that Carlos Ghosn is not a man who likes to sit still.