It was the best thing that could have happened to American Motors/Renault. The public saw the Alliance a couple of years ago, liked what it saw, and bought the car in volume. A year ago the hatchback Encore hit the road. Ditto.
Now, cashing in on the return trip of the open-top motorcar to the highway, the company has introduced an Alliance convertible, the first AMC ragtop in 17 years.
At $10,295, ''it's the lowest-priced convertible on the road,'' says Peter G. Guptill, vice-president of marketing for the company.
Indeed, it was the success of the two-year-old Alliance that kept the company on the road.
The French-American carmaker has now upped the performance of the '85 Alliance, based on the Renault 9 in France, with an optional 1.7-liter engine, a significant improvement over the standard 1.4. Both engines use Bendix single-point fuel injection.
If there has been one obviously weak spot in the Alliance/Encore until now, it was the underpowered engine. Now, with the 1.7-liter engine (standard on the Alliance Limited sedan, Encore GS hatchback, and convertible, and an option on the rest of the line), the Alliance is far more fun to drive. Unless you prefer an underpowered car or live in a flat area without hills, the larger engine is the way to go.
The Alliance, despite an occasional fault, still packs a high level of quality between the doors, a fact that has sometimes eluded Renault as it shipped its own French-built cars to the United States. The Alliance is stable as it moves down the road and doesn't surprise the driver with any unexpected traits that might get him in trouble.
Rear-seat entry in the 2-door is a chore, however, but that can be said about many other cars as well.
Built on a wheelbase of 97.8 inches, the Alliance/Encore still provides adequate inside room for most individuals. Helping out in the space department, of course, are the rocker-type front seats, which give far more foot room than a conventional front-seat system.
On the road, with the larger engine and a manual transmission, you should be able to get mileage in the mid-20s or better in the city and well up in the 30s if the traffic and expressway terrain are right on the mark.
The Alliance, says Mr. Guptill, ''is 75 percent domestic content,'' which means that only one-quarter of the car is imported from France. All of it is put together in the company's auto-assembly complex in Kenosha, Wis., located between Milwaukee and Chicago.
American Motors, which reports its fourth consecutive quarter in the black, is now in the second year of a five-year development plan and will bring out its light-pickup fighter, Comanche, in 1986. The Comanche will come in both 2 -wheel-drive and 4-wheel drive. AMC also plans to ship a turbocharged version of the new Renault Alpine and the versatile Espace van to the United States in 1986 .
French-government-owned Renault has a 46 percent stake in AMC.
Optimistic for the future, the company is building a new assembly complex in Brampton, Ontario. The Canadian government lent the US carmaker $150 million and helped out with bank financing for the new plant.
With all the activity now going on at the company, it should be remembered that the car that made it all possible is the Alliance. If the car had ''bombed, '' AMC might have as well.