THE RANGE EXTENDS
Only two years after the launch of the Coach A106, Alpine offered a cabriolet version designed by a talented Italian designer named Giovanni Michelotti.
The 1961 vintage cabriolet is distinguished by its exterior bonnet hinges, its front indicators integrated into the bumpers and its bubble headlights originally from the Berlinette TDF. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R.
Since the official start of the Alpine adventure, beginning on 6 July 1955 with the A106, Jean Rédélé's firm succeeded well in establishing a reputation among French car manufacturers. Production rates were still modest, with only 21 units of this model assembled between December 1956 and March 1957. However, Jean Rédélé felt it was necessary to diversify his range, and the concept of an Alpine cabriolet was now part of his development plans.
While the characteristic design of the rear of the A108 cabriolet eventually will be modified, the front, on the other hand, already adopted the final shape of the future Berlinette. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R.
Unfinished first project
It was not easy for Jean Rédélé to bring his cabriolet project to fruition. The plastic bodies for the Alpine Coaches were produced by Chappe & Gessalin in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, south of Paris, before being assembled in the vast Paris garage of his father-in-law, Charles Escoffier, on rue Forest. Charles Escoffier, who ran one of the largest Renault dealerships in the capital, played an active financial role in the launch of the Alpine brand, and he felt it was a shame not to use this supplier for the cabriolet. After numerous conversations between the son-in-law and his father-in-law, it was finally decided to entrust them with the design of a prototype. The prototype was presented at the Paris Motor Show in October 1956, at a price of 989,900 francs. The Chappe & Gessalin cabriolet had a harmonious body with prominent wings inspired by the American models of the period, a panoramic windscreen and a sloping bonnet leading to a false grille with stretched lines. The entire body is generously trimmed in chrome, while the wheel covers are fitted with Dunlop whitewall tyres.
The convertible is the first model of the brand to experiment with the chassis-beam which will then be generalized across the entire Alpine range. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R.
Jean Rédélé's choice
Despite the success of the Chappe & Gessalin prototype, Jean Rédélé secretly approached Giovanni Michelotti in Italy for another cabriolet project. Michelotti was no stranger, having designed the famous Coach Rédélé Spéciale, with bodywork by Allemano in Turin, and considered to be the cornerstone of Alpine's history. Michelotti had the reputation of being a fast worker and, indeed, by January 1957, two prototypes had already been completed. One was fitted with the 747 cm3 21 bhp engine from the series-production Renault 4 CV, and the second had the same engine, but in a 42 bhp version identical to that of the Coach A106 type 1063 'Mille Miles'. This more sporty version was destined for the driver Jean-Claude Galtier, who with Maurice Michy won their category at the 1955 Mille Miglia in the Rédélé Spéciale. Although the Chappe & Gessalin cabriolet was aesthetically pleasing, Jean Rédélé preferred the Michelotti version because he believed, quite rightly, that its lines were less modern but paradoxically it would wear out less quickly and was more faithful to the Alpine spirit. The Michelotti A106 cabriolet, slightly reworked, made a remarkable appearance at the 1957 Paris Motor Show and was the basis for subsequent models.
The 4-cylinder of the A108 cabriolet comes from the Renault Dauphine. Note that the radiator is located in front of the engine. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault / D.R.
In 1958, the cabriolet entered the catalogue, and as always was built on the Renault 4 CV platform, reinforced to compensate for the lack of rigidity due to the absence of a roof. The reinforcements used for the front and rear cradles also ensured good roadholding, but Jean Rédélé was unable to adapt this technical solution to the Coach. It became increasingly difficult for him to impose his stylistic and technical ideas on the Chappe brothers, whose premises had been transferred from Saint-Maur to Brie Comte-Robert in the spring of 1957. At the same time, Charles Escoffier opened a nearby subsidiary, Escobrie, to assemble the Alpine mechanical components. At the same time, Jean Rédélé set up his new company, RDL, in Dieppe, where he gradually transferred production of the reinforced polyester bodywork for the A106 convertibles. It was here that Alpine took a major industrial step forward with the adoption of the beam chassis from the second generation A108 cabriolet launched in 1960. From then on, this technique would become the trademark of all Alpine cars up to the A610 model of 1991.
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The 1957 Paris Motor Show
Selected by Jean Rédélé, at the expense of the Chappe & Gessalin prototype, the Alpine cabriolet designed by Giovanni Michelotti was officially on the market from the 44th Paris Motor Show held at the Grand Palais from October 3 to 13, 1957. That particular year, twenty-six manufactures and eight French subcontractors were exhibiting sixty-five models. Alpine, which had a small stand at the left wing entrance of the Palais, was presenting the A106 coach with a 747 cc 4-cylinder engine in three versions: 1062 (21 hp) at 850,000 Francs, 1062 S (30 hp ) at 906,000 Francs and 1,063 "Mille Miles" (43 hp) starting at 1,110,000 Francs. The convertible, based on the 1062 version, was sold at a price of 989,000 Francs Export finishing and 1,092,000 Francs Luxe finishing. The latter included wheel covers, fog lights, racing steering wheel, SOFICA heating, comfort seats and chrome surrounds. Also available was a hard top for 127,500 Francs.
Alpine’s first cabriolets, shown a 1959 model, prefigure the orientation of the lines of the future Berlinettes. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections
The designer of the bodywork for the Alpine cabriolet presented in 1957 was a young Italian designer, Giovanni Michelotti, to whom Jean Rédélé had previously commissioned a study for the "Rédélé Spéciale" coupé in 1952. Born in Turin on October 6, 1921, Giovanni Michelotti started his carreer as apprentice at Farina at the age of 16 and opened his own studio in Turin in 1949. His first orders came from prestigious coachbuilders such as Vignale, Bertone, Allemano or Ghia with whom he established solid and lasting collaborations. The speed from moving from a sketch to a functional prototype made it that he was regularly consulted by various manufacturers such as BMW, Triumph, DAF, Lancia, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and even Fiat. In 1967, he set up his business in Orbassano on the outskirts of Turin and when he died on January 23, 1980, it was estimated that he created more than 1,200 design studies for the automotive industry.
Giovanni Michelotti was a prolific automotive designer in the purest tradition of post-war Italian design. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections
Hair blowing in the wind
In the mid-1950s, cabriolets and other sporty convertibles began to appear on the market. Until then, however, the major French manufacturers had neglected this range, and only a few craftsmen such as Brissonneau, Pichon & Parat, Chapron and Letourneur & Marchand produced luxury, top-of-the-range models on a confidential basis. The success of the Karmann Ghia, based on the VW Beetle, which won over a wide public thanks to its elegance and craftsmanship, prompted Régie Renault to study its Floride cabriolet, based on the Dauphine and to be launched in 1958. Although Jean Rédélé did not have the production power of Renault or Volkswagen, he was nonetheless convinced he could offer a vehicle of this type, one that would fall somewhere between the craft and the industrial. Taking up the idea of the convertible barquette proposed by Louis Rosier in 1953, Jean Rédélé in turn designed an attractive cabriolet, based on the Renault 4CV platform. Using his excellent contacts across the Alps, he entrusted the design of the bodywork in 1956 to a talented and young stylist from Turin, Giovanni Michelotti.
In the catalog distributed by Régie Renault, it is written that "the Alpine cabriolet adds the pleasure of the sun to that of fast driving". © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections
A pioneering model
Although its image was somewhat overshadowed by the success of the Berlinettes of the next decade, the first A108 cabriolet played a major role in the history of the Alpine brand. When Philippe Charles and Serge Zuliani designed the bodywork for the Berlinette Tour de France and subsequently the 1100, they used the remarkable lines created by Giovanni Michelotti for the 1957 cabriolet. From an industrial point of view, the production of the Alpine cabriolet was also an opportunity for Jean Rédélé to break with the ties and agreements that his father-in-law Charles Escoffier had initially forged with the coachbuilder Chappe & Gessalin. As from 1958, the bodywork for the new cabriolet was produced in the factory based in Dieppe, after the creation of the company RDL the previous year, giving Jean Rédélé a degree of independence from subcontractors he had been lacking until then.
Seen in profile, the by Philippe Charles redesigned A108 that was based on a study by Michelotti, heralds the future lines of the Berlinette. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections
During the 1950s, automotive journalists had the opportunity to test drive new French models on the Montlhéry circuit shortly before their official presentation at the Paris Motor Show. The August 1957 issue of L'Automobile magazine featured an article by Claude Vogel on the Alpine A106 range for the upcoming model year. His comments were full of praise: "The Alpine's roadholding really surprised us.... It's a solid, sound car that will give the sporty driver a great deal of pleasure... The Alpine is a fine, stylish little car, presented with great taste and simplicity". On the circuit, it clocked a top speed of 143.613 km/h, with a 100 m from standstill in 19"45 and a kilometre from standstill in 40". That day, it achieved an average hourly speed of 100.525 km/h and a maximum fuel consumption of 11.6 litres per 100 km.
Alpine A 108 Cabriolet (1960)
• Engine: Renault type 670-1, 4 cylinders in line, rear overhang, longitudinal
• Displacement: 845 cm3
• Bore x stroke: 58 mm x 80 mm
• Power: 40 bhp at 5,000 rpm
• Fuel supply: Solex 32 PIBT inverted carburettor
• Ignition: battery, coil, igniter (Ducellier)
• Timing: side camshaft, rods and rocker arms, 2 overhead valves per cylinder
• Transmission: Renault, front wheel drive, 4-speed gearbox (1st not synchronised) + M.A.
• Tyres: 135 x 380 (front and rear)
• Brakes: hydraulic, drums front and rear
• Length: 3700 mm
• Width: 1450 mm
• Height: 1250 mm
• Wheelbase: 2100 mm
• Front track: 1220 mm
• Rear track: 1220 mm
• Weight (empty): 530 kg
• Maximum speed: 135 km/h