Alpine frolicsFebruary 28, 2012
“I must be off to save the nation,” said The Mole, with a piece of toast in one hand, and his briefcase in the other.
“Good luck,” said Mrs Mole airily. “I’m not sure anyone is going to be very frightened of a balding middle-aged man, armed only with a piece of toast, even if the marmalade is horrid.”
“Gandhi was very successful,” said The Mole. “And he did not even have a toaster.”
The two chuckled like an old couple and The Mole climbed into his car, while Mrs Mole went back to planning a campaign to hold a jumble sale for The Red Squirrel Survival Trust. As he drove down the lane The Mole remembered, wistfully, the days before Oswald the chauffeur was posted to “The Pool”, in one of the many rounds of government cuts. In those days he could work all the way to the office, but these days he had to drive himself up the A3 or, worse still, catch a train from Horsley, which was a ghastly business. In either case, the only work possible en route was exercising the grey matter and he spent the drive mulling over the news that DreamWorks Animation is going to create a motor racing movie about a snail called Turbo, who has ambitions to win the Indianapolis 500.
It was daft idea, he concluded, yet strangely brilliant and a very smart piece of work by IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, who seems to have grasped that the movie industry can be a very good way to promote motor racing, and to make money for the sport.
Bernie Ecclestone is not exactly out of date, he mused, as he was on the Kingston Bypass. Well, not in a Hollywood where a silent black and white film can win five Oscars.
Movie-making these days, he concluded, is about selling cuddly toys and Turbo the Snail might have the potential to become the next Lightning McQueen. But who would buy a speedy snail? Would that appeal to the kids of tomorrow? He giggled. Well, perhaps the French ones. They would take cute little Turbo and after two weeks feeding him up would lob him live into a pot of boiling water and serve the corpse with butter, parsley and garlic.
Or in a feuilleté.
He was still chortling to himself when he arrived at Vauxhall Cross, but before he had even finished a cup of coffee and a ginger nut biscuit, the phone rang. It was Isabelle, his undercover agent inside the Renault empire in Boulogne-Billancourt. The Mole had often tried to find the right words to describe her, but “waif” did not have enough style and panache; “Gamine” did not quite capture her beauty and “Elfish” lacked any hint of her predatory nature. She was all of them, and yet none of them, at the same time.
“Darling,” she said.”Could you be a darling and come and visit me in Paris today? We should meet at the Plaza. You could jump on the Victoria Line and catch the 10.24. You would be here by two. Then we can ravish the patisseries in the Galerie des Gobelins. And they do have a very nice lunch on the train these days.”
Isabelle had used their codeword “darling” twice in the same sentence, and that meant something big.
“I’ll be there,” he said. “You figure out the time that will be.”
“Can you get me on the 10.24 Eurostar?” he said to Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) and closed his briefcase again.
Four hours later they met in the lobby. She sashayed up to him and stuck out a pair of glossy lips. He offered her a cheek and caught a whiff of Arpège. She hooked her arm through his and they walked to the Galerie des Gobelins.
“I love expensive hotels,” she said. “They are so sexy. So romantique. Do you know that right now lots of important Frenchmen and their mistresses are making sweet music together upstairs. It is so very naughty.”
“Well, I suppose after eating all those snails they need a lie down,” The Mole said. “And with the 35-hour week they have time for that sort of thing.”
Isabelle smiled, twiddling with one of her rings.
“There is always time for that sort of thing,” he said.
“It’s a such shame that I am on the 16.13 back to London,” The Mole said, with a wink.
“You are such a flirt,” said Isabelle, with a flutter of her eyelashes.
“We must get down to business,” said The Mole.
“I take a little more romancing than that,” said Isabelle, with a flash of her eyes. The Mole blushed.
“You know what I mean,” he said. She shrugged.
“There is big news. We are getting into something quite exciting with Alpine,” she said. “You know after that dreadful business in Singapore with Flavio and that pretty Piquet boy, Monsieur Ghosn wanted nothing to do with F1. He felt that going green was the best thing. But now we have this new COO called Carlos Tavares. He is one of Ghosn’s men, but he is a real, how do you say, motorhead? He has raced a lot himself. Even in a big Dallara thing. The Renault World Series, I think. Anyway, they want a new Automobiles Alpine because it is a nice sporty brand and Renault wants more high-end products, because the cars at the moment are all mid-range and vraiment dull. Alpine fits nicely. Tavares did the Williams-Renault deal last year and now he has appointed Alain Prost as a Renault ambassador. These are the moves of a racing person.”
The Mole nodded.
“Now he is going to revive Alpine. With all these young Frenchmen in F1 and a chance for a new French GP, we have to watch out for a new Renault push into F1. I think it could come with Alpine. I don’t think they want to own a team again, but it would be the perfect way to promote a new range of sports cars.”
“You mean like a Red Bull-Alpine kind of deal?” said The Mole.
“They are with Infiniti,” she said. “I am not sure what they will do, but I think it will probably use one of our platforms. You know. You design what you need and then use it to build different cars for different markets. They use the same platform to build the Renault Clio, the Nissan Cube and the Dacia Logan as well. That way they cut down on development costs and save money on spare parts.”
“Yes, yes,” said The Mole. “Car industry stuff.”
“I think that the new Alpine story will be rather like the original,” Isabelle went on. “This guy called Jean Rédélé from Dieppe, who took a small Renault after the war and turned it into a rally car. Renault did not want to go racing at the time, but they were happy for him to do it. Well, that became a business when Alpine began building road cars, with Renault engines in them. In the end Renault took him over. The original Alpines were great cars and the company won Monte Carlo Rally and I think maybe the World Rally Championship as well. Later on, in the Renault era, they won Le Mans and built the prototype Renault F1 car. There is a good heritage.”
“So who is going to start building cars on a Renault platform?” said The Mole.
Isabelle shook her head.
“I have no idea who will be the next Jean Rédélé,” she said. “But I doubt he will come from Dieppe.”