Past, present and future at Alpine’s Dieppe factory

Production of the new Alpine A110 is underway at the iconic Dieppe factory. AutoClassics pays a visit to find out what’s changed and what’s stayed the same

Renault has staked the rebirth of Alpine on a carefully packaged celebration of the brand’s history, with the new A110 taking its name and design inspiration from the definitive 1960s Berlinette.

So it’s appropriate that the newcomer is being built in Alpine’s factory, which was first opened in 1969 in founder Jean Rédélé’s hometown of Dieppe and, since the two brands’ 1973 amalgamation, has been home for sporting Renaults of all shapes and sizes.

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The new A110 might look retro, but it’s a truly modern car, bonded and riveted out of aluminium stampings and extrusions. It’s very different from the backbone chassis and GRP bodies of Alpine’s previous age, but shares the same basis of off-the-shelf Renault engines and running gear to create fast, affordable and great-handling sports cars.

To gear up for production, the factory has benefitted from a 36 million euro investment and expanded its workforce to nearly 400. As a result, A110s are now leaving the line at the rate of 15 per day – but inside and out the site retains an authentic look and an old-school feel, true to that established by Rédélé nearly 50 years ago.

Just the evocative logo and Alpine script along its frontage set this squat, functional facility on the outskirts of Dieppe apart from neighbouring industrial units. The ’60s-era administration block looks much as it did back in the day, with only the addition of some prefab extensions and a freshly laid shakedown area in the car park symbolic of more recent developments.

The scale and vibe are comparable with those of the Lamborghini factory way back when – although in latter years Sant’Agata has become decidedly more glitzy and Audified – but this is still a more established and substantial facility than that of modern-day Lotus, against which the A110 is clearly pitched.

In the 20-odd years since the A610 went out of production, the Dieppe factory has been kept busy as the spiritual home of Renault Sport, building hot Clios, Méganes and their various one-make race and rally derivatives. These days, the Renault Sport Clio is still built alongside the A110, the sight of both running along the same production line as well as the degree of manual labour involved now seeming unusual.

Sure, curing the adhesive used to bond the A110’s panels necessitated installation of giant ovens. And there are a few robots carrying out precision work such as riveting and applying the bonding agent to the Italian-supplied aluminium stampings. The paint shop also relies on automation to ensure consistency of finish. But the bulk of components and assemblies are ferried around the factory by workers on electric carts, and fitted to the cars by hand.

Then, as now, Dieppe was less about manufacturing per se and more a location for assembling the ingredients that make an Alpine. There’s less machinery around in the photos of 1960s A110 construction. However, given how faithful it all looks to the original, the sight of partially assembled modern A110 shells working their way steadily down the line is wonderfully evocative. It underlines the point that Alpine’s spirit – as well as its look – has been carried through to this new car.

The chance to experience that particular model is, for this visit, restricted to a trundle around the car park test track. But with the UK dealer network opening this month and the first right-hand-drive models out of the original batch of 1955 Premiere Editions soon to reach customers, the new-school Alpine will soon be on our roads. With 5000 orders already in the bank, and the factory quietly gearing up to satisfy them, Alpine’s heart is once again beating in Dieppe.

Key cars – the Alpines that helped shape the new A110

A106 – 1955

Successful rally exploits in a self-modified Renault 4CV inspired Jean Rédélé to create a Spéciale Sport version with a Michelotti-designed aluminium body. The glassfibre-clothed A106 drew on this collaboration, with its modest 747cc engine available in 21bhp and 38bhp tune.

An in-house ‘Claude’ five-speed gearbox and twin-damper ‘Mille Miles’ rear suspension set-up were options, the 251-car production run enough to establish Alpine as a manufacturer in its own right.

A108 – 1957

The A106 quickly evolved into the sleeker and more modern-looking A108, based on Dauphine running gear and a 845cc engine. Also available were 904cc Mignotet and 998cc Gordini engines. The 236-car production run saw a variety of bodystyles, the 1960 Berlinette inspired by Michelotti’s cabriolet version of the previous A106 and a revised ‘backbone and beams’ chassis both setting the template for later Alpines.

A cabriolet and a longer 2+2 GT4 versions were also built – don’t be surprised if both themes are revisited as the modern Alpine brand evolves.

A110 – 1962

Alpine’s definitive model was the clear inspiration for its modern rebirth. An update of the A108’s glassfibre body and backbone chassis, the A110 gained disc brakes all round, used the sturdier Renault 8 engine, repositioned the radiator to the rear and took performance to a new level.

Badged ‘Alpine-Renault’ from 1967, its engines expanded from 1108cc into various 1600 variants, and styling evolved along the way, too. A World Rally Championship in 1973 sealed a glittering competition career, while road versions were licence built in Spain, Brazil, Mexico and Bulgaria.

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A310 – 1971

After the delicacy of the A110 and its predecessors, the wedgy, harder-edged A310 took Alpine into a more brutalist era. The basic format was the same, though – the backbone chassis was clothed with a one-piece glassfibre shell, while power originally came from a 1.6-litre Gordini-tuned engine from the Renault 17.

A detuned, cheaper A310 SX joined the range later, and at the other end of the scale a V6 version launched in 1976 finally delivered on the muscular looks.

GTA – 1984

Clearly inspired by the A310 and the first official Renault-branded Alpine, the GTA stuck with the rear-mounted V6 but gained sleeker, more modern styling. Offered in 157bhp 2.8-litre naturally aspirated and 200bhp 2.5 turbocharged forms, it looked good and went well – but it never quite delivered on the promise of being the French alternative to Porsche.

A610 – 1991

The last Alpine to be built in the Dieppe factory before confirmation of the new A110, the A610 closely resembled the GTA and had a similar format and an evolved 247bhp 3.0-litre turbo V6. Popular with the faithful and acclaimed for its performance and handling, it never quite set the world alight – and with its death in 1996 it seemed Alpine was finished as a road-car brand. Time has proven that assumption wrong!

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