Drivers Becoming Constructors: Jean Rédélé and Alpine

  • 08 June 2024
  • 2 min read
  • 3 images
Drivers Becoming Constructors: Jean Rédélé and Alpine  image

Photo credit: Alpine, Renault, Wheelsage

There are many ways to turn a passion for cars into a life’s work. Jean Rédélé is a prime example. He made his fortune trading war surplus right after WWII and at the age of 25 opened a Renault dealership in Paris in 1947. Passionate about racing, he soon realized the racing potential of the small 4CV, a rear-engine economy car designed by the genius Ferdinand Porsche. He began preparing one of these cars with support from Renault: Lightened, with stiffer suspension and a tuned engine, the car was ready for its racing debut.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Jean Rédélé and Alpine - 1 Jean Rédélé began his collaboration with Renault by opening a dealership in Paris in 1947 and subsequently preparing the 4CV for racing.

Young Jean had evident talent, achieving excellent results in both the 1000 Miglia and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car's quality and handling also led to great road race feats such as the Liège-Rome-Liège, the Tour de France and the Monte Carlo Rally. By then, the small 4CV was no longer enough for Rédéle. He wanted to grow as a driver and even become a constructor himself. Thus, Alpine was born, named after his success in the "Critérium des Alpes". Accustomed to racing with a low-powered car, Rédélé used lightness as his winning strategy, adapting fiberglass bodies to Renault chassis and engines. A nearly unheard-of idea at the time.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Jean Rédélé and Alpine - 2 The Alpine A110 dominated rallies and won the World Championship in 1971 and 1973.

The small Alpines soon became unbeatable, especially in rallies. With success came orders from private drivers. In Dieppe, where Alpine was based, facilities began to expand to the point that Renault, the mechanical supplier, asked to join forces with Rédélé in 1965. The bet paid off with the Alpine A110 1300cc and 1600cc models, also marketed for road use, dominating the World Rally Championship in 1971 and 1973. However, on the road, the small Alpines did not have the prestige status of sports cars.

Additionally, fears of the oil crisis and a significant market downturn arose during those years. Rédélé, on the condition that Renault protected the jobs at Alpine, sold his remaining shares to the French manufacturer and exited the scene. It was not the same for Alpine, whose name was used on Renault racing cars, most notably the A442, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978. Today, the Alpine name is in Formula 1 and the WEC Championship. Everything has changed, but Rédélé's spirit remains.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Jean Rédélé and Alpine - 3 The Alpine A442 won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978 with Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud.