The one that got away. The elusive white rabbit. What if Chrysler took the red pill? We'll never know if Renault's exotic Alpine would have been a competitor for Porsche in North America.
It was a brash plan from a company that was better known in the states for Le Car and the Alliance than a $40,000 (1988 money) rear-engined sports car. American Motors Company was Renault?s partner and the way they peddled their cars in the U.S. Renault was ready for a new product push in the states which included a sedan, coupe and the exciting Alpine.
Renault spent $30 million dollars to Americanize the Alpine through their Automobiles Alpine motorsport and specialty-car subsidiary. One visual difference was the headlights. All European spec cars had exposed headlights, while the U.S. spec cars received a pop-up treatment. The U.S. first laid eyes on the car in 1986, and what a car it was.
Sitting longitudinally under the large rear glass expanse was a 2.5-liter V-6 turbocharged to 10.5 psi of boost. Horsepower reached 180 at 5900 rpm and torque hit an even 200 lb-ft at 2000 rpm. The Alpine was timed with a 6.7 second sprint to 60mph, about half a second slower than the Porsche 911 and Chevy Corvette that AMC was hoping the car would target. The car did suffer from turbo-lag, taking about a second before the turbo spun up.
Outside, the body panels were made of composite materials, many out of fiberglass ?reinforced polyester to keep costs low. Unlike other plastic panel cars that use a steel structure to hang the panels on, the Alpine also used polyester pieces glued together to create the subframe and then the cosmetic panels were bonded to that. The only steel used was a structural backbone and subframes for mounting the front and rear suspension.
The interior didn?t live up to the quality of the 911. Surfaces were cheap plastic, controls were gimmicky and boxy. The seats were built to keep the driver in place and a closely mounted 5-speed stick made shifting easy and comfortable.
The 2915 pound car stuck to the road with fully independent suspension front and rear and 15 inch wheels and tires. 10.2 inch disc brakes with anti-lock system stopped the 147 mph top speed French speeder.
Renault hoped to bring about 700 units in 1987 as early-1988 models and then boost production to about 2000 units a year until at least 1993 in this iteration. Automobile Magazine even commissioned artist David Kimble to draw a cutaway version of the Alpine that they sold as a signed lithograph well into 1988. What do they say about the best laid plans?
The politics of the auto business is what kept this car off the U.S shores (though I believe that a few of the U.S. spec press cars live on). Right when the distribution of the Alpine was ready to happen, AMC was sold to Chrysler. Chrysler ran with the Jeep brand but decided to lose the AMC moniker. The long awaited Canadian-built Renault sedan became the Eagle Premier. The Renault Medallion lived on briefly as an Eagle also. The coupe version of the Premier (to be called the Allure) was dropped (probably because of the new Diamond-Star triplets that Chrysler knew was about to break ground) and the Alpine lost backing due to the ?other? premium car Chrysler was going to unleash to unwilling U.S. consumers, the Chrysler TC by Maserati. Looking back, I know which one would have been more welcomed here. The Alpine will live as the one that Chrysler let get away, leaving us to never know if Renault could have made a contender out of the quirky rear-engined 2+2.