Motoring Trailblazers - Tracta

Sat 18th May 2019

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

Front-wheel drive systems are taken for granted in modern motoring and popular myth suggests that Citroen were the first to introduce the engine technology when they brought the Traction Avant into production in the 1930s.

While the history books are often written by the victors, the evolution of front-wheel drive has a couple of footnotes worthy of mention.

American engineer J Walter Christie first patented a front-wheel drive way back in 1904, but he did not put the system into a production vehicle and it was back across the Atlantic where the headlines were made.

French engineer Jean-Albert Gregoire launched a brand named Tracta, which used a patented front-wheel drive system and with financial support from his friend Pierre Fenaille, the company produced a small number of vehicles for competitions and exhibitions - debuting at the 1927 Paris Motor Show. From a factory in Versailles Tracta produced approximately 140 vehicles and entered the Le Mans 24 Hour race for three consecutive years from 1928 to 1930.

But ultimately, though innovative, Tracta failed to make financial gains and production stopped in 1934. Jean-Albert Gregoire maintained a drive in engineering and in the 1950s worked on a project for the Sports Cabriolet prototype, which featured at the 43rd Paris Motor Show.

And as for the original front-wheel drive system devised in America? Well J Walter Christie took the principles of design and applied them to Soviet tank technology, the Soviet T-34 tank seen as one of the key vehicles in helping defeat the Nazis in World War Two.