Time to flip open the 1961 Auto-parade again. This time, it’s a car I’ve seen numerous times in these vintage catalogs, but didn’t know enough about. Time to do a little digging: Andre Gregoire was a true pioneer in automotive technology, having invented the Tracta universal joint that advanced the state of front wheel drive technology. In the twenties and early thirties , a series of Tracta models were built, but the firm was wiped out in 1934. But Gregoire planned a comeback:
In 1955, Gregoire unveiled the very sophisticated prototype of the Sports Cabriolet, with a body by Chapron. Needless to say, it had a front wheel drive, with a boxer four mounted ahead of the front wheels, a lá Citroen and Subaru. A 2.2 liter unit, it was also supercharged, and put out 125 hp. But the whole project came to naught, and only four examples were ever built. Yet it kept showing up in the annual World-Parades, right through 1961. An odd mixture of early Thunderbird and Mercedes 190 SL, with a front overhang that was far ahead of the times.
Overhang pioneer, Love it. Handling must have been kinda ordinary all that weight in front of the axle understeer then snap oversteer without the Subie rwd to power slide thru turns. It would be a right bastard in parking buildings trying to negotiate a ramp and keep the bumper off the ground. Never seen one did he manage to sell any?
That’s a beautiful car.
I didn’t know about Gregoire’s role in front-drive, apparently Rzeppa at Ford independently invented the CV joint right afterwards.
Great animation and history at the Wikipedia:
PS: This car wasn’t in the Tracta Wikipedia article. It is now.
Nice-looking car, and changing the rear tires would be a snap–just have someone lean on the front of the car to raise the rear wheels off the ground! 😉
Pretty advanced for ’55 designwise, engineeringwise and otherwise. It looks better with the longer wheelbase.
Agreed – longer wheelbase makes all the difference, as does the angle of the photo. I have always thought that if you get down low, any car looks better – seems to be the case here too.
I guess I’m just not a “front overhang” kind of guy. The Cord front drive cars from the 1930s put the engine behind the drive wheels, so the wheels were pushed way out front. This car seems to share the curse of most modern front drivers that place the engine out front of the drive wheels. The aesthetics just don’t work for me. I would sooner have the Star Chief and its exaggerated rear overhang.
Totally with you there. Front overhangs generally look disproportionate to me – though stylists are doing that ‘wrap-the-headlight-right-around-the-side’ trick nowadays to hide the overhang effect. I used to think my old company ’05 Mazda6 looked nice, but from the right (wrong?) angle the huge and weird overhang ruined it. To be honest, no disproportionate overhang is one of the main reasons I always drive RWD cars when I pay for them myself.
Yep. The previous generation of Peugeots, like this one, looked horrible with that huge front overhang, gaping mouth and wrap-around aquaria. Luckily the current ones do look so much better.
Wow that is really something, right up there with my personal record holder the Citroen C6.
Typical for all big Citroëns: long front overhang, short rear overhang. The XM, CX and DS had it too.
To me a long front overhang and stiff windshield said Citroen. When PSA went with the faster windshields their designs started to say Intrepid more than CX. That C6 is really something though.
Here it is after a trip to the CC design studio.
That’s a cross between some BMW and a C6. 🙂
I’ve been looking for such a fine descriptor.
Saw a new CRZ the other day…this reminds me of that.
Looks like Ford from the 70s took a long look at this when putting their design ideas together for their full sizers.
“with a front overhang that was *far ahead* of the times.”
A French boxer four ahead of the front wheels introduced in 1955….just what a much better known French FWD car introduced that year needed!
Too bad Citroen didn’t put this drivetrain in the DS, making proper use of its long front overhang and eliminating a huge intrusion into the cabin.
Too expensive? Or just “Not Invented Here”?
Try googling Hotchkiss Grégoire and see what happens.
I don’t know for sure, and Google isn’t helping much, but I think it’s safe to assume that this car is a re-bodied Hotchkiss with a supercharger. Hotchkiss intended their Gregoire as a volume model and only ended up selling about 250 of them (catastrophic disaster!) so they would’ve had lots of spare chassis and engines laying around.
This is Chapron’s coupe version of the Hotchkiss. It’s taller body disguises the front overhang a little better, but it has just as much as the Tracta/Gregoire Cabriolet seen here:
Could this be the car that inspired the ’74 Matador? AMC lost something in the translation.
I would have never guessed a flat-4 with front-wheel drive was under the hood. There are slight changes on the silver car that make the overhang barely more noticeable than on a 190SL. It’s a nice looking car.
Knowing there is a technical reason for the overhang, it doesn’t bother me. I always understood the huge one on the Ferrari 512 as being necessary for packaging and the whole car is just so beautiful. The overhang on a Lincoln Mark VI is a different matter.
So ungainly. Another great oddity.
The Citroen GS/GSA was the one with the flat four hanging over the front wheels, as opposed to a flat twin in the 2CV, Dyane and Ami. There have been a few instances of hot-rodding 2CV’s with GS drivetrains.
The DS had the tranny in front Cord and Saab-style, like its Traction Avant predecessor, while the CX, XM and C6 were transverse. All the big Citroens had vertical engines, as in inline fours and V6’s.
All of them had super-short rear overhangs as was Citroen practice, not to mention the rear wheels having a much narrower track.
The original plan for the citroen DS called for à flat 6 cylinder hanging over the front wheels. However the cost to develop the engine became to high and the management decided to use what was already there: the in-line 4 of the Traction-Avant. With the engine behind the front wheels which explained the huge intrusion in the passenger compartment.
BTW: Only the Citroen DS had a smaller rear track than front (may be the CX as well.
The LIghtburn Zeta Sport had a ridiculous front overhang