The Ex – Works, Two Time Le Mans Veteran 1968 Alpine A220

The Ex – Works, Two Time Le Mans Veteran 1968 Alpine A220

Alpine is a name that evokes great emotion and passion amongst the followers of motorsport and automotive design. Société des Automobiles Alpine SAS, or Alpine as it was more commonly known, was set up in Dieppe in 1955 by Jean Rédélé and initially his father in law Charles Escoffier. Born out of a love of motorsport, as all great motor manufacturers should be, Alpine and their innovative designs, went on to firmly stamp their mark on both the rally and the racing world from the late 1950s through to the early 1970s. A period of time that saw some of the most significant development in automotive design, heroes made and the creation of some of the most beautiful competition cars ever produced.

Jean Rédélé’s inevitable passion for motorsport and his longstanding link with Renault were handed down from his father Émile. Émile Rédélé set up the first Dieppe Renault dealership and garage in the 1920s. Prior to that he had worked for Louis Renault, working on and testing, the 1906 Ferenc Szisz race car.

Jean was the eldest of three brothers and spent most of his time playing in his father’s garage. He went on to study civil and commercial law, business organisation, accounting, finance, English and Spanish. In 1946 alongside his studies he completed a training period at Renault. Renault were so impressed by his end of training report that they suggested he took over his fathers Dieppe Renault agency. At 24 years old, it made him the youngest agent in France.

It was not long before Jean made the step into motorsport in 1950, with the new Renault 4CV. Reasoning that “racing is the best way to test production cars and victory is the best sales tool”, his first event was the 1950 Monte Carlo Rally. Not deterred by just slipping outside the time limit he entered and won the Rally Dieppe on the 24th of July 1950.  From here there was no turning back. He won his class in the 1952 Mille Miglia, which led to a Renault Works drive at Le Mans.

By this time Rédélé’s mind was already turning toward producing his own car, based on the successful Renault 4CV chassis. He entrusted talented young Italian designer Giovani Michelotto and body maker Serafino Allemarno with making this a reality. In May 1953, Jean entered his new Rédélé Special in the Dieppe Rally and won outright.

In 1955 Jean made the obvious step and set up Société des Automobiles Alpine SAS. Reputedly named Alpine after all of the good times he had enjoyed rallying in the Alps. The cars were built using the relatively new technology of glass fibre for the body work and mainly Renault running gear. They quickly developed from the A106 through the A108 onto the legendary A110.

The A110 was an instant success, both as a road car and competition car, with the latter side of the company starting as an outlet for rally cars, but evolving to run endurance racing prototypes, hillclimb cars, ice racers, rallycross cars and eventually even single-seaters. Motorsport success continued to followed, in rallying, at Le Mans and in Formula 3. Alpine attracted many of the star drivers over the decades, including factory drivers Mauro Bianchi, Bob Wollek, Patrick Depailler, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Didier Pironi, Derek Bell, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Guy Fréquelin, Patrick Tambay, Jean-Claude Andruet, Bernard Darniche, Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Jean-Luc Thérier and Jean Ragnotti.

Such was the success of Alpine that Renault transferred the responsibility and funding for their competition department over to Alpine, before taking a majority share in the company in 1973.

On to Le Mans:

It is surely impossible for any manufacturer of sports and sports racing cars not to be drawn by the lure of the Le Mans 24 hour. Arguably the ultimate race in the world, for Jean Rédélé and his team at Alpine, it was no exception. From 1963, with the launch of the M63, Alpine were committed to the cause with great success. From 1963 to 1967 they concentrated on the smaller capacity classes with the distinctive and aerodynamic M63, M64, M56 and A210 consecutively. They took class victory in 1964, 1966 and 1967, as well the index of performance in 1964 and 1966 and scoring successive top 10 overall finishes.

Inevitably the desire for more speed factors in the design of all race cars and plans were set in motion for a 3-litre contender. In 1966 Renault commissioned Gordini to do a study of a new V8 engine and in February 1967, Renault officially approved the design of the new V8, called the T62.

The new engine was fitted to a modified A210, chassis 1727. Nicknamed the ‘Grand-Mère’, it was officially called the A211. The A211 was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show before making its debut at the Paris 1000Km on the 15th of October 1967, where it came 7th.

The A220 and this car, chassis 1731:

Although the result at Paris for the A211 was promising, it was clear a new chassis needed to be built for the V8 engine to take advantage of the new 3-Litre formula at Le Mans. The new A220 was a different beast to the earlier Alpine sports prototypes. Designed by a collaboration of Richard Bouleau, André De Cortanze, Marcel Hubert, André and Henri Renut Gauchet; the chassis comprised of a multi-tubular welded steel tube spaceframe. The front and rear suspension was independent, coil sprung, with hydraulic telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar and magnesium alloy uprights. The brakes were ventilated discs, ATE alloy callipers with twin circuit hydraulic actuation. The car carried  2 x 60-litre tanks mounted in sills and the body was fibreglass mouldings, laminated glass windscreen, with perspex side windows and rear screen. The A220 was also right hand drive to be better suited to circuit driving.

The Gordini V8 engine was revised for the new chassis. A mid-mounted, dry sump, 90° V8, 2996 cc, with double over head camshafts, 85 mm bore, 66 mm stroke and 10.5:1 compression ratio. The block was cast iron, with a 5-bearing crankshaft and alloy cylinder heads, with hemispherical combustion chambers and 2 valves per cylinder, breathing through four Webber twin-choke, downdraught, 38DCNL5 or 40DCNL5 carburettors, depending on event.

It was the first and the last V8 engine to be designed and built by Amédée Gordini. The manufacturer’s stated power output was 320 bhp at 7800 rpm; however in-period estimates during car testing were that it was less than 290 bhp.

The gearbox was a ZF 5DS-25 5-speed transaxle and the differential ratios varied depending on the event. The wheels were magnesium, 10″x15″ at the front and 13″x15″ at the rear and all up in running order, the car weighed 690 kg.This car, chassis 1731, is the second of the nine A220 built and of all nine it has the most extensive in-period  competition history. The car’s initial build was completed at the end of July 1968 and with the first chassis 1730 destroyed in a practice accident at the 1968 Nürburgring 1000Km in May, it made its racing debut at the Zeltweg airfield circuit in Austria on 25 August.

Carrying race No. 5 and driven by Works driver Mauro Bianchi, 1731 qualified in 4th place on a grid of 19 cars. The race was to be run over 157 laps of the 1.988mile (3.2km) circuit and would last 2h 55min in warm conditions. For many of the teams it would be a last trial before Le Mans and as such, the class of the field was high. Mauro Bianchi was chosen to drive alone, although André de Cortanze was on hand if he was needed. Mauro proved to be quite fast in practice, but the car spent a lot of time in the pits with electrical gremlins. Come the start, Mauro stormed away and despite eventually being caught by the Porsche 908 of race winner Jo Siffert, he was putting on a grand show until on lap 27 he went a little off line, caught one of the straw bales lining the course and not only damaged his steering but broke an oil pipe which led to a rapid loss of oil. His race was over.Due to that year’s industrial and student unrest, the 1968 Le Mans 24 hours was put back to September. This allowed a team of four A220 to be prepared to go the 24 Hour race a few weeks later on the 28-29th September. This car was entered as race number 29 and was driven by Jean Guichet and Jean-Pierre Jabouille.

After the setback of an engine failure in qualifying, the engine was changed and they qualified 18th fastest in a time of 3min 54.9sec.

On race day, rain made the track a tricky proposition for the start. It was decided that the experienced Guichet, a master in the rain, would get the car through the early stages. He demonstrated his skill admirably by getting up to 5th place overall in the first hour.

Sadly, during the evening and into the night, the car had to visit the pits many times for exhaust bracket repairs, a new starter motor and various electrical maladies. On lap 185, just before 7am, it stopped with alternator failure on the Mulsanne straight.

1731’s next outing would be at the Grand Prix de la Corniche at Casablanca, Morocco, on the 10th of October 1968. André de Cortanze gave the  A220 its first victory in chassis 1734, from André Wicky in a Porsche 910. Local driver André Guelfi, was chosen to drive this car, carrying race number 123. As he got used to the car, he was moving up the field to 3rd place. By the 6th lap, de Cortanze’s Alpine had lapped everyone except the 2nd and 3rd placed cars. However, Guelfi was struggling with a faulty gearbox (he only had two gears available by now) and eventually it caused his engine to fail.

On the 29th and 30th of March 1969 Alpine returned to Le Mans for the pre-race tests. The radiators had been moved to the rear on the newer cars allowing the side intakes to be faired over. This car, numbered 28 (for the test and not the race) and driven by Mauro Bianchi, retained its side radiators, intake and comb type rear wing. This car remains the only A220 retaining its side radiators to this day. This was sadly to be the last time Mauro Bianchi raced as, due to the sad death of his brother that weekend in a Tipo 33 Alfa Romeo, he gave up racing there and then.

1731’s first race in 1969 was at the Monza 1000km on the 25th of April. Alpine fielded a team of three A220. This car was driven by Jean-Claude Andruet and Henri Grandsire, carrying the race number 15 (as seen to our right). They qualified 17th but did not start the race due to engine failure in the second practice.

Next was the Spa 1000km on the 11th of May. Alpine again fielded a team of three cars with this car driven by Henri Grandiser and Jean-Pierre Jabouille and carrying race number 3 (as seen on the next page). They qualified the car 14th on the grid but sadly had to retire with a broken damper.

With Spa behind them, it was on to Le Mans on the 14th and 15th of June 1969, where Alpine fielded a large team,  including four A220. This  time carrying the number 31 and white headlight covers, driving duties were entrusted to Alpine works rally aces Jean Pierre Nicholas and Jean-Luc Thérier.

The competition of the larger engine Porsche 917 and Ferrari’s was fierce. Despite the larger cars, Nicholas and Thérier qualified the car 19th on the grid, the second fastest of the Alpine team. By late evening 1731 was up in 10th place, the teams highest place car and all was looking promising. Sadly with pit stops to fix broken brackets, overheating and eventually engine failure due to a head gasket letting go, 1731’s gallant challenge was brought to an end on lap 160.

After the trials of Le Mans the ever resourceful engineers at Alpine felt that the A220 might be more suited to the shorter street type circuits rather than the long high speed races such as Le Mans, Spa and Monza. They set about modifying this car, 1731, accordingly. Still retaining its side radiators they removed the long tail. A chassis extension was produced to allow it to be prepared with its high speed long tail bodywork, as it can still be to this day.

1731 was then entered into the very fast Chamrousse Speed Hill Climb in the Isère region of France on the 27th of July. Driven by Jean Vinatier, he recorded a time of 8min 32.2 seconds earning him 3rd place overall all behind Jean Pierre beltoise in a Formula 2 Matra and Rouveran in a Formula 2 Techno.

The new short tail format was tried again a Nogaro on the 17th of August. Again driven by Vinatier, he put 1731 on the front row of the grid between the two Porsches (as seen below). Fastest off of the line Vinatier led the field until the last few laps when the engine temperature started to rise he had to concede and take 2nd place to the hard chasing Porsche 908.

After the success at Nogaro, the team modified 1731 to meet road regulations for the Citerium Des Cevennes. For this event the cars had to run on public roads and as such had to conform to the ‘certificat d’imitriculation’. To enable road use, the ground clearance was increased, the carburettor size was reduced to improve mid-range torque and the car was fitted with cooling fans, a second alternator, a co-drivers seat and a map light. Registered on the 17th of August 1969, 1731 is the only A220 to be road registered by Alpine.

In October 1969 it was displayed at a one-off reception at the Transport Ministry for the Seine Maritime region before being taken to the Citerium Des Cevennes on the 22nd and 23rd of November 1969. Driven by Jean-Pierre Jabouille and his trusted mechanic Jean-Claude Guénard, sadly, they had to retire with electrical problems when the alternator failed, bringing the racing career of 1731 to a close.

1731 was subsequently retained at the Alpine factory in Dieppe, where it remained through the purchase of Alpine by Renault in 1973, until it was purchased by Jean-Pierre Buirette on the 11th of December 1978.  Jean Pierre Buirette was an original chassis designer from Alpine, in period, who was involved with the development of the A220, as well a committee member of the Association des Anciens d’Alpine. He the set about and completed a meticulous twenty year  restoration  of the car from 1984 to 2004.

In 2012, 1731 was awarded first prize in the Meguiars Concours d’Etat et d’Elegance at the 2012 Le Mans Classic and was displayed on Alpine’s stand at Retromobile in 2013. Acquired by the current owner in 2013, it was brought to the UK under the eye of renowned Alpine expert Tim Moores and an engine specialist associate who was charged with getting it back to full working order. It won the top award at the Meguiar’s Concours at the Origine RS day at Goodwood on 23rd August 2014 and was selected to be shown at the 2014 Classic Motor Show on the Meguiar’s Car Club Showcase stand featuring the best of the cars that have been judged best in show at Meguiar’s sponsored events in 2014.

1731 is accompanied by an extensive history file, spare gearbox casing, wheels, long tail mounting frame, lower clip for the long tail and the mould for the top and bottom clip of the long tail.

Registered for the road after the race at Nogaro on 17th August 1969, it is the only A220 that was road-registered by Alpine. Surely one of the ultimate entries to Le Mans Classic and so much more.  Only ever owned by the Alpine works, former Alpine Chassis designer Jean Pierre Buirette and the current owner, this is a truly unique opportunity to become the fourth owner and the first person to race the car since Alpine in period as well as acquire a significant piece of French racing and Le Mans history.