THE renaissance of the open-top Italian sports car and of the British luxury car were the twin highlights of the Paris Show, which opened this week.

While the home car makers did their best to rally support with clever new prototypes, the Italians and the Brits stole the limelight. The new Alfa Spider is one of the most stunning sports cars ever. Wedge-shaped, yet delicately sculpted, it comes with a choice of twin-cam four-cylinder or V6 engines and uses front-wheel drive.

British sales will be delayed - possibly by as much as a year. A hardtop coupe version, called the GTV, was also unveiled. It is scheduled for Britain, as a Calibra rival.

Now on sale in Britain and France are the new Range Rover and Jaguar XJ6. The French, obsessed by le style anglais, seemed impressed by these bits of traditional England on wheels. Both are big improvements on their predecessors.

French makers had precious little in the way of interesting new cars, but many promising prototypes. Peugeot unveiled a pretty little Mini-sized electric car prototype called the Ion. A vehicle like it will probably go on sale within three years.

Renault does not believe it. Neither of its star show cars - a van and a 2CV-like runabout - featured pure electric power. 'We don't believe the electric car is a viable option for many years,' said the company's design chief, Patrick Le Quement.

The van has a modular rear. You order different modules - a people-carrying unit, a van-like module or a pick-up - and clip on the appropriate one at the rear. Power comes from an electric motor and a gas turbine fuelled by diesel.

The little city runabout, called the Ludo, uses a conventional piston engine fuelled by clean-burning liquefied petroleum gas, although it could also use natural gas.

Citroen bucked its recent styling conservatism by unveiling a bold 'one-box' vehicle, elements of which may reach production. The Xanae is teardrop-shaped, sized between the ZX and Xantia, and offers more cabin space than many executive cars.

Novelties include asymmetric doors, no pillar between the front and rear doors and a rear seat shaped a little like a chaise longue for extra comfort. The body is designed by a Briton: 32- year-old Mark Lloyd, an ex- Jaguar stylist.

Ford, which now owns Jaguar, finally unveiled the controversially styled Scorpio, successor to the Granada, on sale in January.

Nissan, which wants a slice of the Scorpio's market, introduced its second attempt to break into the big executive car sector. The QX takes over from the Maxima, a showroom turkey. Two- and three-litre V6 engines, said to offer extraordinary smoothness, are on offer.

For dumb names, nothing could beat Volkswagen's badge on its new 'one-box' Sharan, pronounced, as VW in Britain is keen to emphasise, Shah-ran. It will wear a different badge when UK sales start next summer, although those humourless folk at VW are not convinced.

Ford is also building a version of the car, at a new jointly owned VW-Ford factory in Portugal. Given Ford's strong Essex connections, the rumour mill suggested that Ford's people-carrier would be called the Kevin. Sadly, the name is Galaxy. As with the VW, sales in the UK start next summer.

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