After the demise of the Alpine A610 — a sadly underrated sports coupe — Renault’s Alpine factory in Dieppe turned to building the Renault Sport Spider, a dashing open-top roadster that made its debut in 1996. The Alpine A610 had been an attempt to consolidate Renault’s reviving fortunes with a halo performance car — and the Spider was intended to fulfill the same objective.
The concept was to produce a small racing car to be used in a single-model competition series, where driving skill alone would be the deciding factor. The commercial advantages would be to put Renault’s name back up in sporting lights, with consequent marketing benefits for the whole range and the ability to sell a road-going version of the racer.
A concept car was presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 1995. This memorably lacked a windscreen and had butterfly doors, though these had vanished and a windscreen had been added by the time the production version went on sale. The mid-engined rear-wheel drive car was a handsome open-top roadster complete with roll bar to underline its racing pedigree. Indeed, the first cars built at Alpine’s Dieppe factory were special Spider Trophy racing versions with a top speed of 156 mph (251 km/h).
This ensured that the road-going Sport Spider would satisfy the most demanding of sporting drivers. The lightweight aluminium chassis was fitted with GRP bodywork. In a technical masterstroke, engine and gearbox were a single transversely fixed unit using an oscillating hinge that effectively eradicated engine shake at speed. That engine was a 2 litre F7R borrowed from the limited-edition Renault Clio Williams hot hatch created by Renault Sport in 1992 for homologation purposes.
The Sport Spider’s production was short, and these stylish but rare roadsters have become desirable amongst collectors betting on future classic status.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1996 (until 1999)
1,998 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 131 mph (211 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Spider racing series organized by Renault took place in the UK between 1995 and 1999, supporting the British Touring Car Championship. Far from creating a level playing field, the Spider Trophy’s final season saw Andy Priaulx win all 13 races from 13 pole positions.