Renault reinvents Alpine with tasty tribute to past

The Renault A110-50 concept car. Photo / Supplied
The Renault A110-50 concept car. Photo / Supplied

Svelte, light, lot of grunt. It's a pretty pure experience

Renault has revealed a new concept racecar to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its highly regarded historic A110 "Berlinette" rally car - the first real winner in a long line of Alpine sports cars.

The A110-50 concept racer that has finally been unveiled by the French car maker's motorsport arm is a tasty take on the old theme and pays tribute to the Berlinette while offering a wholly modern interpretation.

"Developing this concept car was a great adventure. It was a catalyst for creativity," said Renault's concepts boss Axel Breun. "We wanted to make a Berlinette that was of our time, and which boldly embodies Renault's passion for motorsport. We were guided by our hearts and emotions,"

Dressed in a fresh version of the famous Alpine Blue paint and stealing heavily from the Renault Megane Trophy's parts bin, not to mention its race development, the concept car follows the effective "light is fast" formula, using carbon fibre heavily where the original used a fibreglass body.

It tips the scales at a staggeringly light 880kg.

And that's where things get interesting. This svelte shell packs a 3.5-litre V6 from Renault Sport Technologies, mounted in a "mid-rear" position, rather than the rear-mounted approach in the Berlinette.

It produces its 300kW maximum power at 7200rpm and gulps air through a roof-mounted intake, which Renault Sport says gives it a wider power band. The grunt hits ground via a semi-automatic sequential six-speed box, via a twin-plate clutch that can be engaged either with a pedal or using a steering wheel-mounted paddle. The gearbox is longitudinally mounted behind the engine, and houses a limited slip diff.

The 2625mm wheelbase is obviously identical to the Megane Trophy, although the track is slightly wider to shoehorn massive 21-inch wheels, wearing under the guards.

It sits on fully adjustable Sachs dampers which are mounted directly to the lower wishbones. Braking is provided by 365mm rotors at the front, with six-pot callipers, and 330mm with four-piston versions at the rear.

Renault Sport says it decided against fitting modern driver aids such as ABS and traction control, in order to "improve driver feedback and provide the purest driving experience possible". Judging by the shakedown video of the car, it's a pretty pure experience.

Renault feeds off its motorsport success - the Megane that this Alpine concept is based on is a huge model in Europe, and its sport versions offer staggeringly stable and grippy performance consider their front-wheel-drive layout. Formula One is where the glory is at though, and Renault's fortunes are firmly attached to the success of Red Bull stars Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Whether or not this spells car sales is something for the statisticians and soothsayers, but a new Alpine production car - especially one based on this aggressive form - would surely haul some new buyers into the showroom.

Berlinette was built to win - and did!

The original A110 Berlinette was revealed at the Paris Motor Show in 1962.

Alpine started life with the A106 in 1955 as a Dieppe-based independent manufacturer, before roaring through the rally circuit with great success.

Until now, the nameplate has been gathering dust after the unusual-looking GTA was discontinued in the mid-90s.

The competition Berlinette was conceived as a hard-edged rally car, it was built to win, and quickly became a contender. A fibreglass body and rear-mounted engine gave the car enviable agility, not to mention impressive traction and offered drivers a chance to show off oversteer abilities with the highly-controllable, yet quite flamboyant tail-happy machine.

Powered by a meagre 1300cc, it was winning rallies in France with the year, and when Renault took on Alpine in 1967, it capitalised on the development that had already been completed and formed a works team.

It won the French rally championship with Jean Claude Andruet in the driver's seat in 1967 and with Jean Vinatier in 1969.

Andruet was back at the helm in 1970, this time with a 1600cc engine at his back, and won the Euro and French titles.

Another year, another haul, and in 1971 the Renault team had its best result to date, with a clean sweep of the iconic Monte Carlo Rally. It was won by Swedish legend Ove Andersson, who continued his fine form with victory in Italy, Greece and Austria meaning an International championship gong.

Incredibly, 1973 saw this feat repeated, this time with an 1800cc engine.

But the little Alpine's days were numbered, with Lancia's gorgeous Stratos making the rally world its own as the 70s progressed.

- NZ Herald

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