Renault will re-launch the Alpine brand with a new sports car in 2016, which is tipped to cost around £50,000.
As a precursor to the car's launch, Alpine will celebrate its heritage at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this summer with a 60th anniversary display. Models which will feature as part of the display include the 1955 A106, the A110, the 1978 Le Mans-winning A442b and the A450b, Alpine's current World Endurance Championship car.
Having been spotted testing at the Nürburgring since summer 2013, it's understood that development on the 2016 sports car is entering the final stages. The rear-drive, two-seat coupé will be used to revitalise the Alpine brand and bring it back into mainstream recognition. Early test mules hid under Lotus bodywork, while the car is believed to sit on an all-new platform.
The team testing the mule at the Nürburgring was high-performance suspensions specialist Ohlins, known for its work on Renaultsport models.
Renault officials have previously said the new car must become a halo model for Alpine, fulfilling a similar role to that of the Porsche 911. Renault design boss Laurens van den Acker said: "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.”
The seeds of the project, which began with a joint development programme with Caterham, were sown in 2012. However, after a series of disputes the two companies went their separate ways in 2014.
A concept version of the Alpine appeared at the Goodwood Festival of speed in 2012. Power for the Alpine 110-50 concept came from a 3.5-litre V6, which produced 395bhp at 7200rpm and 311lb ft at 6200rpm. Power was sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed sequential gearbox and mechanical limited-slip differential.
Originally designed to celebrate 50 years of the Alpine A110 Berlinette, references to the original include the 1962 car’s central foglights alluded to with a pair or half-domed LED rings on the new concept, a 3D rear window that reveals the mid-mounted engine, and a new take on the classic Alpine Blue paint to cover the carbonfibre bodywork.
Since then, Renault has bought out the remaining stake held by Caterham in its sports car business, with both manufacturers saying they will continue development of their respective cars individually.
Problems between Renault and Caterham first surfaced at the beginning of 2014, with insiders admitting to creative tensions between the two brands. The development of the Alpine car has also reportedly been delayed due to design changes, after an early prototype received mixed reviews at customer clinics.
At the time of its split, Renault said the decision to cancel the joint development programme had been made by mutual consent, and didn't rule out working with Caterham again in the future.
Described as the "Berlinette of the 21st century", it is understood that the complete design, including the car's interior, has now been signed off.
The current launch date of 2016 is around a year later than first planned.
Caterham's design for its own sports car, known internally as C120, is believed to have been ready for some time, but as both cars were due to be launched together it's likely this contributed to the ending of the partnership.
It's understood that the British company will continue to use the tech it has already developed with Renault for its own car. The company has admitted that there will be some job losses at its Norfolk-based tech centre as a result.
Caterham insiders are also refuting rumours that the firm has acquired beleagured German sports car maker Artega to make use of its mid-engined platform and production facilities. Caterham's finished car is expected to have around 300bhp available, while Renault's Alpine is tipped to have around 250bhp and a kerb weight of some 1100kg.
Both cars will have separate bodies and interiors, and their handling and driving characteristics will be tuned differently. Caterham also intends to launch more versions of its car with varying power outputs after the first model goes on sale.
Alpine bosses have been open about the future of the brand, with plans for a whole family of models openly discussed. Speaking to Autocar at the Moscow motor show last year, van den Acker said there was “a hope” that the sports car would spearhead a range of Alpine-branded vehicles.
“As with many things we need to have a good business first. We all love Alpines but we all want to make money as well. Let’s get the first car right and then I hope I can start doing Alpines for the rest of my life,” he said.
Final details are being kept closely under wraps, as Van den Acker admits “I’ve been a bit cagey to talk too much about it. Sports cars are an endangered species – there are always ten reasons not to do it.”
Van den Acker is understood to have shelved plans to design a production version of the Renault DeZir concept in favour of working on the Alpine car. "Even I’d admit that’s not necessary," he said "I gladly defer DeZir in order to do an Alpine."
The design of the car is understood to have been delayed at several stages, as creative tensions with Caterham surfaced. Caterham Group CEO Graham Macdonald declined to comment on specifics of the joint venture, but admitted the project had fallen behind schedule and that there were creative tensions between the former partners.
“There are ongoing frustrations on both sides," he told Autocar in 2014 "but we knew there would be challenges from the start. It was never going to be easy: we are a small, agile company and they are a large, corporate firm. That’s causing frustrations for us and, I’m sure, for them.”
The departure of then Renault boss Carlos Tavares - a long-term supporter of plans to revive Alpine - from the company in 2013 is not said to be the reason the project has stalled.
Officials have warned that the final Alpine design won't look anything like the concept seen at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2012. Renault has in recent weeks unveiled an Alpine-branded virtual racer as part of the Vision Gran Turismo project, but although that car features Alpine colours it's unlikely to preview the design of the sports car.
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