Jean Rédélé

Rédaction : Albert Lallement  

Mister Alpine

In 1955, after being the youngest Renault dealer in France and one of the best rally drivers of his generation, Jean Rédélé created the Alpine brand.

In a country that was just recovering from the Second World War and was slowly moving into the famous "Trente Glorieuses", a young generation of innovators and entrepreneurs was setting new standards. Jean Rédélé was one of these lively, business-savvy minds, who also had a strong passion for motor racing. Ambitious projects were drawn up and rapidly resulted in the design of models dedicated to racing, followed by the creation of the famous Alpine brand.

At the Rallye of Monte-Carlo in 1951, Jean Rédélé and P. Scott finished 4th in their category and 44th overall driving their Renault 4 CV "1063".© IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Archives et Collections

Together with Jean-Luc Lagardère, the founder of Matra, and Guy Ligier shortly afterwards, Jean Rédélé was one of the outstanding personalities who enabled the revival of motor sport in France. He also contributed to the international success of the French car industry with Alpine, which made an impressive name in every competitive discipline. The Dieppe based brand became World Rally Champion in 1973, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978 with Renault and was at the foundation of the Régie's Formula 1 adventure. To achieve this technological success, all the talent and determination of an entrepreneur such as Jean Rédélé was required.

In 1992, for his 70th birthday, Jean Rédélé in front of the A110 1100 Berlinette is surrounded by several members of the Alpine Club of France© IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections 

Under the Losange banner 

The fate of Jean Rédélé is strongly associated with the yellow diamond of the Renault brand. His father Émile, originally from Tourcoing, had been employed by Renault in Billancourt, in the then fledgling racing department. He married Madeleine Prieur from Paris and became the test mechanic for the official Renault driver, Ferenc-Szicz. He decided to settle in Dieppe during the 1912 ACF Grand Prix, held on the Dieppe circuit. He set up a car repair workshop there, and then became one of the first Renault representatives. Jean Rédélé was born on May 17, 1922 and his childhood was filled with the noise and atmosphere of engines and mechanics. A committed student, he passed his BAC in Rouen, then the war made him move to Limoges where he completed his studies before entering the École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC) in 1945 on a state scholarship. He opted to do his final internship at Renault, where he was offered a job in the company's sales network. Jean decided to take over his father's business, "Les Grands Garages de Normandie" in Dieppe, and at the age of 24 became the youngest Renault dealer in France.

Jean Rédélé presented the Sports Prototypes Alpine A210 to General de Gaulle and Renault CEO Pierre Dreyfus at the 1968 Paris Motor Show.  © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections

A skilled driver 

Alongside this relatively unprofitable activity, as sales of new cars were still highly restricted, he began refurbishing military vehicles bought from the Domaines. As his job required him to drive almost 100,000 kilometres a year in his Renault 4CV, he acquired a great deal of experience as a driver and became very familiar with the little Renault sedan. When his interest in motor racing developed, it was with the 4CV that he participated in his first rally, the Dieppe Rally in July 1950, which he won brilliantly. With this success, he was noticed by François Landon, head of the new Renault competition department. When the "1063" competition version of the 4CV was released, he was given a copy and joined the official team alongside experienced drivers such as Rosier, Michy, Estager and Lecondriller. He finished 4th in the 1951 Monte Carlo Rally, then went on to win class victories over the next three seasons during the Coupe des Alpes (1954), the Liège-Rome-Liège (1952 and 1954), the Tour Auto (1952) and the Mille Miglia (1952 to 1954), often in partnership with his friend Louis Pons.

Jean Rédélé, pictured in the stands at the 24 Hours of Le Mans next to Amédée Gordini, was very close to his colleagues, whether they were engineers or race mechanics  © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo ©   Archives et Collections

A dynamic entrepreneur 

While participating in numerous rallies, the idea of building his own racing cars began to grow in Jean Rédélé's mind. In his opinion, the 4CV was a great little car, with a robust engine that deserved a more aerodynamic and lighter body. With this in mind, he commissioned the Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti to design a more sporty bodywork, to be made of aluminium at the Allemano factory in Turin. It was the famous "Rédélé Spéciale" chassis that would be the start of his career as a manufacturer. In 1952 he married Michelle Escoffier, the daughter of Charles Escoffier, one of the most important Renault dealers in Paris. Escoffier helped him tremendously by financing the first studies for the first Alpine A106, not long after the creation of the Société des Automobiles Alpine on July 6, 1955. The new enterprise was established at 13, rue Forest in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, at the headquarters of the Renault-Escoffier garage. Two years later, the Alpine workshops moved to rue Pasteur in Dieppe.

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The work of a lifetime

The Alpine brand was created by a visionary and determined entrepreneur. A keen competition driver, Jean Rédélé embarked on the adventure of building his own sports cars in July 1955. The first Alpines were equipped with Renault engines derived from the 4CV and the Dauphine. In 1962, the arrival of the R8 in the catalogue of the Régie led to the introduction of the A110 Berlinette, the emblematic model of the Dieppe-based manufacturer, which was produced for a decade. The first agreements between Renault and Alpine in 1968 gradually led to the takeover of the company and its racing department in the early 1970s. The Alpine A310 was launched in 1971 and was fitted with a V6 two years later, before being replaced by the Renault-Alpine GTA in 1984. The final Alpine, the A610 Turbo, was introduced in 1990 and was sold until 1995. Although the Dieppe factory continued to manufacture some of Renault's sport models, it was not until 2017 that the Alpine brand returned to the market.

Some of the early Alpine production catalogues, like the 1961 cabriolet (right) and the 1957 Mille Miles car (centre). © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo ©   Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections

Success at the Tour Auto

During his career as a driver, Jean Rédélé distinguished himself in several classic post-war rally events. Among these, the Tour de France Automobile, which had only recently been relaunched from the ashes, brought him great success. This race, which was then reserved for series production cars, had become one of the most prestigious in Europe and Jean Rédélé was to take part five times. In 1951, in partnership with William Hammersley, he finished 18th with a Renault 4 CV 747 cm3. The following year, he achieved his best result, 3rd overall and 1st in the 500 to 750 cm3 class, with a Renault 4 CV "1063" that he had prepared himself and which he shared with Paul Moser. In 1953, the same team finished 2nd in the category of series produced cars with a 4CV "1062", then in 1954 Jean Rédélé finished 15th, still in a Renault 4CV, co-driven by Louis Pons. For the 1956 edition, the two friends competed in an Alpine A106, but had to withdraw.

In the Tour de France Automobile of 1951, Jean Rédélé and his navigator William Hammersley finished 18th overall and 3rd in the 750cc category with their Renault 4 CV "1063". © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo ©  Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections

On behalf of his father

Jean-Charles Rédélé, the son of Alpine's founder, was born on 12 December 1962 in Paris. In the early 1990s, he began by restoring several prototypes that had remained dormant in the Dieppe factory. Following in his father's footsteps, he began to collect the cars, both production and competition, as well as the various prototypes that shaped the history of the Alpine brand. As time went by and restoration progressed, the Rédélé "collection" grew and regularly took part in classic car events such as Classic Days, thus perpetuating the family heritage. Jean-Charles Rédélé is the director of the company Ambre Automobiles which operates several car garages. At the same time, he participates in historic vehicle races and more recently in GT4 events driving the new Alpine Renault, in association with Nicolas Prost, son of the four-time F1 World Champion.

For the 40th anniversary of Alpine in July 1995, Jean-Charles Rédélé and his father posed together on the terrace of the Rédélé-Escoffier garage, rue Forest in Paris, standing in front of a Berlinette A110 1100. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections

An engineer at heart

Even before creating his own car brand, Jean Rédélé always looked to modify and improve the cars he raced, mainly Renault 4CVs. To this end, he surrounded himself very early on with engineers and tuners with whom he continued to maintain close relations when he started the Alpine adventure. In 1952, he used the famous Claude transmission for the first time in a race. This 5-speed gearbox was designed by André-Georges Claude, an experienced driver who had created Satecmo, a company specialising in manufacturing competition components for the 4CV engine. Jean Rédélé and Louis Pons bought the patent in 1952 and produced the gearbox at the Pons workshop on Rue de Javel in Paris. Very flexible in use, the Claude gearbox was soon adopted by François Landon, who had just taken over the management of the new competition department at Régie Renault.

Jacques Henry, the winner of the 1970 Alpine Challenge, is surrounded by Jean Rédélé and Marc Mignotet, the loyal tuner of the A110 Berlinette racing engines from 1964 to 1974. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo ©  Renault D.R. / Archives et Collections

THE NAME ALPINE

The Société des Automobiles Alpine was founded on July 6th, 1955. Jean Rédélé often explained the origin of the company's name when he created his brand. It is a reference to the 1954 Critérium International des Alpes where Jean Rédélé and his faithful team-mate Louis Pons had just distinguished themselves driving an official Renault 4 CV R 1063 winning the 750cc class and finishing 2nd overall. Jean Rédélé later recalled: "I chose the name Alpine for my company because it represented to me the sheer pleasure of driving on mountain roads. I enjoyed myself the most when driving my 4CV with its 5-speed gearbox across the Alps. I wanted my customers to experience this exciting driving sensation behind the steering wheel of the car I intended to build. The name Alpine sounds good, and at the same time it's a symbol.

JEAN RÉDÉLÉ RACING AT LE MANS

Long before his Alpine cars competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jean Rédélé twice took part as a driver in this great endurance event. In 1952, he was a member of the Renault factory team and shared with Guy Lapchin the steering wheel of a 4 CV "1063" specially prepared by the "Service des es sais spéciaux" of the Régie. At the head of the 750 cm3 category with three hours to go, the car carrying number 67 suddenly fell back in the rankings due to an overheated engine. Ultimately, it finished 17th overall and 4th in its class. The following year, Jean Rédélé teamed up with Louis Pons in an official Renault 4 CV prototype "1063" with a 747cc engine and bodywork produced by Vernet-Pairard. The car, number 54, withdrew after the 4th hour of the race due to a broken engine.

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