I came across Peter Stevens’ facebook page when I was researching my piece on the Alpine A310. In one post he had described his time working with Alpine, and I made contact with him. As a result of these conversations, Peter has very kindly sent me some images of a mid-engined proposal he had prepared for presentation to Alpine. These images have never been published before, and Curbside Classic is proud to bring them to you for the first time.
Professor Peter Stevens is one of the UK’s foremost automotive stylists. He started his career at Ford in the 1970s and went on to work with Ogle, Lotus, BMW, McLaren, Lamborghini, Jaguar, Prodrive and Toyota. Some of the shapes that came from his hand include the Lotus Elan M100, Jaguar XJR-15, MG Z-series and Rover 75.
For a period in the 1970s Stevens was involved with Trevor Fiore, who was working with Alpine.
To recap from my Alpine A310 article, I will reproduce Peter’s words;
‘In 1976 the A310 was restyled with input from myself, the project under the guidance of Renault Design Chief Robert Opron. The original 1971 car was never wind tunnel tested and suffered from both front end lift and rear instability and one of my jobs for the 1976 model was to counter these problems with small aerodynamic additions.’
‘The other interesting job was to design an alloy wheel for the A110, Alpine Renault 5 and the A310. During the previous year’s Monte Carlo Rally all the works cars had retired with damaged rear suspension caused by heavy lumps of ice being frozen between the wheel spokes and so putting the wheels out of balance. The task was to design a wheel that was sufficienty smooth that the snow would not stick to it. I always preferred the three-slot version of the smooth wheel, the four-slot style tended to look static.’
These wheels would live a Renault-related life of their own. The mid-engined Turbo R5 received them during mid-development, but they would not be used on the production vehicles. Another application was the DeLorean Safety Vehicle mockup of 1976, anticipated to be using the PRV V6 engine. This vehicle was ultimately renamed and released without the Alpine’s wheels.
The wheels also made an appearance on the Alpine A480 styling proposal. There is very little information available on this project, apart from that it was part of an initiative called Nouvelle Alpine Gamme, or New Alpine Range for 1980. It was a mid-rear engined configuration, with a shape influenced by the DeLorean and an eye on the US market. This fullsize styling mockup was presented to Renault leadership on 13 May 1977, but not shown publicly and never proceeded with.
In my A310 article I posited that the A480 might have been the work of Marcello Gandini at Bertone, but I now think it’s from Marc Deschamps – who was shared between Renault and Bertone at the time the A480 was produced before taking Gandini’s full-time position with the carrozzeria in 1980. Deschamps had produced the original sketch for the mid-engined R5 Turbo in 1976, and in the early 1980s he was generating shapes such as the Mazda MX81 and Lamborghini Athon which bear some similarities to the A480.
Though Peter Stevens worked with Alpine during this period, he was employed directly by Trevor Fiore. Around the summer of 1978, Fiore briefed Stevens on a mid-engined Alpine and provided him with some 1/5 scale drawings of the car’s packaging. Stevens conceived the shape and built the 1/5 scale model, photos of which we are seeing today.
This front 3/4 angle shows it off at its best. Though it doesn’t bear any overt Alpine cues, it’s still a sharp, trim, handsome and nicely proportioned form.
Peter discussing this photo; ‘My idea for the complex detailing on the rear deck surface was to emphasise the contrast between the simplicity of the surfaces touched by the air flow and the complexity of the details that were influenced by the technology. I have always had this philosophy and used it on the McLaren and Diablo SV too.’
I love this angle. Though it may not have been applicable in the real world, the detailing around the car’s venting contrasts effectively with the rest of the shape. I realise this may be a counter-intuitive response, but I tend to believe the clean wedge sometimes needs a tension point. In a similar way I prefer the NACA ducts on the first production Lamborghini LP400 to the smoother shape of the prototype LP500.
This facet of the model speaks the same language as the innard-revealing Centre Pompidou, which had only recently been built.
The profile is probably the least effective angle. The mid-rear engined configuration resulted in a cab-forward solution from Stevens – something he came to master. It brings to mind the 1994 Cadillac Seville, and the proposal in general reminds me of the 1983 S12 Nissan Gazelle and 1988 Nissan EXA, though of course neither manufacturer was privy to this model.
Peter Stevens is not sure whether this was created at the request of Renault/Alpine, or if Fiore was making a proactive effort based on the presence (and perhaps failure) of the A480. Stevens drove the scale model to Dieppe in his white VW van and presented it to the Alpine team himself.
The mid-rear engined Alpine project was abandoned by Renault, who made the more pragmatic decision to sustain the A310 V6 for a second series, and to focus any extra effort on the R5 variations with which Stevens also had some involvement.
Peter Stevens enjoyed a very good relationship with the Alpine team, and a decade later when he asked to use the tail lights from their GTA on his 1989 Lotus Elan M100, they were more than happy to help.
After the Elan entered production, Peter Stevens left his role as Head of Design at Lotus and moved on to create to his next shape.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Professor Peter Stevens
for allowing Curbside Classic to reproduce these images.