Caterham makes a French connection

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In an apparently unlikely marriage, Caterham and Renault are joining forces to create a new generation of sports car to be sold both as Caterhams and Alpines.

The move not only resurrects one of the great sports car brands but crucially provides Caterham with a new direction it has been known to be seeking for years, if not decades. Production of the iconic Seven will not be affected.

The new cars, said to share common engineering but have their own brand identities, styles and set ups, should first reach the public eye some time in 2015. Little is known about what kind of cars they will be, though it is clear they will be standalone products in their own right and not merely used as brands to promote existing Renault models — a fate currently being suffered by that other great name at Renault’s disposal, Gordini.

So expect a range of small, lightweight and rear-wheel-drive cars focused on providing driving pleasure to true enthusiasts but not blind to the desire of the more image-obsessed.

History has not been kind either to Caterham or Alpine’s more recent attempts to sell all-new models. The last Alpine, the A610, was vastly talented in almost all regards save its ability to find customers, sales ending after three slowselling years. Caterham fared even worse with its attempt at a more civilised Seven, total production of the 1994 Caterham 21 stalling short of 50 units and a far cry from the original intention of 200 cars per year. If the new venture is to work, the Caterham/Alpines will need to sell in their thousands and pitch at the affordable end of the market.

Prior to this year’s Monaco Grand Prix Renault demonstrated a new Alpine concept car called the A110-50 (above), whose sleek good looks won near-universal applause. That was based on the mid-engined Renault Megane Trophy race car and used its 3.5-litre V6 motor, though it is likely the new cars will use their own architecture and tuned versions of Renault’s four-cylinder petrol engines.

Production for both new ranges of cars has been allocated to Renault’s Dieppe facility, the original home of Alpine and where the sporting RenaultSport models are currently assembled. A Caterham built in France? That may take some getting used to.