In 1969 a French teenager built a 1:5 scale model of his wedge-shaped wet dream. Eight years later it had progressed into a full-size driving car. Only to be stopped by bureaucracy.
The teenagers name was Denis Meyrignac, and his dream was an extreme wedge, which by the late sixties was of course all the rage. The biggest Italian design houses were trying hard to outdo each other with spectacular, cutting-edge lines – and then you had Denis Meyrignac; the teenager from Paris. Even at his young age, he must have had quite a talent, because if his scale model from 1969 was even close to being as stunning as the final car, he wasn’t just up to speed with the latest automotive fashion – he was creating it!
Well, except of course for the fact, that to create fashion, it would have required that someone actually knew about his radical wedge. I’ll confess that I didn’t, when I visited the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2016. At this point I also didn’t own my Alpine A310 yet, but I was still immediately drawn to this bizarre little sportscar. Judging by the constant crowd which surrounded this French dream, I wasn’t the only one mystified by the low wedge, which despite being very much its own, really looks like something with close ties to the late-sixties creations of Bertone and Pininfarina.
The only problem is, that while the idea saw the light of day in 1969, the finished car wasn’t displayed to the public until 1977 at the Geneva Auto Salon. By then, the design was of course no longer quite as avant-garde. Still, I raise my glass to Meyrignac – by this point a young man – for actually seeing the project through to a complete and functioning car.
Sadly though, the whole project was stopped just as spectacularly as it had started: Legend goes (at least according to Goodwood’s write-up in front of the displayed car) that Meyrignac managed to show his scale model to none other than Alpine’s Jean Rédélé in 1969, who in turn immediately gifted Meyrignac a complete chassis including the drivetrain, for him to make his dream a reality. Meyrignac then set about building the body to the highest standard all on his own – borrowing his brothers basement to do so.
While progress was slow, it all went surprisingly well, as can be seen by the finished product which perfectly displays Meyrignac’s meticulous workmanship. But then French bureaucracy struck, and it struck hard! A technical department insisted that they required tests of the engine to ensure that it conformed with a variety of regulations, despite the engine – and all the rest of the mechanical components for that matter – of course being identical to the Alpine which was already approved. The cost of these tests would have been in the region of 40,000 FF, which roughly equated to the price of a brand-new Alpine, and was certainly significantly more than what the whole project had thus far cost Meyrignac. But there was simply no way around it. The tests weren’t made, and as such the project stalled there, as the car was never approved. Nonetheless, the car was displayed at Geneva in 1977, but they can’t have spent much time inspecting the engine bay, as period reports suggest that it was powered by the V6 PRV-engine from the A310.
Thereafter the car all but disappeared until Renault found that Meyrignac still had the prototype. In fact, it was parked and hidden in a corner of the same basement from where it was initially brought to life. Renault offered to restore the car – now there’s a marque who clearly understand the significance of heritage! They also use the Meyrignac prototype, and as interest was building in 2016 for the forthcoming rebirth of the Alpine Renault, the ultra-exotic 1977 prototype was displayed at Goodwood’s “Cartier Style & Luxe” alongside the early Alpine model range and not least the new Alpine prototype as the only new car there.
Now I never get bored with early Alpines of any sort, but it was still the Meyrignac which stole the limelight during the display at Goodwood. Reaching a mere 101 centimeters of the ground, it’s even lower than the car upon which it’s based, and the sensual curves have been replaced by extreme wedge. It’s supposedly more aerodynamic and thereby also faster than the original A110. But I suppose that’s all theory as it hasn’t ever driven much. There are also a few irregularities in its timeline, because if the scale model was ready in 1969, why then is the chassis a 1971 A110 1600? And how come the Meyrignac has a quoted topspeed of 200 km/h, when it’s meant to be faster than the A110 which could exceed 200 km/h? Last but not least, why is the prototype from Geneva bright red, when the car dragged from the basement is dark blue?
But when you see the Meyrignac in the flesh, all of that doesn’t really matter. It’s so dramatic and stunning, that I was prepared to believe just about any story. Now that I even have my own Alpine parked in the garage, I’m all the more grateful that I got to experience this unique French dream in real life. It’s physical proof that even as an experienced and well-traveled car enthusiast, it’s indeed worthwhile to get up off the sofa to and go experience something. You might just end up learning something new…