Grégoire Sport

Sometimes—sometimes—I get an email to the tune of, "Hey, cool Vector M12 story and all, but I already knew about the car, so when are you going to write about something more obscure?"

I should remind everyone that I try to pick an interesting vehicle every day, not one that's just obscure.

Luckily, the Grégoire Sport is both.

Have you heard of Tracta, the French carmaker that was around from 1926 to 1934, run by Jean-Albert Grégoire, and considered pioneers in front-wheel drive? Apart from competing (and finishing) some early rounds of the Le Mans 24 Hours race, the firm was known for producing some of the world's most technically-advanced vehicles.

Back in the day, there was no real convention in vehicle size, drivetrain, engine location, engine orientation…since large car manufacturing firms were few and far between, hopeful entrepreneurs like Grégoire had to make things up as they went along: the first Tracta shown at the 1927 Paris Motor Show had front-wheel drive (thanks to the firm's patented Tracta constant-velocity joint), sliding pillar independent front suspension, a live rear axle with quarter elliptic leaf springs—and an engine as large as 1600cc, fitted with a supercharger. Top speed? North of 130 km/h (80 mph)…not bad for 1927.

Hell, this is an era when front-drive cars were being entered into the Indianapolis 500!

Anyway, as other manufacturers started adopting front-drive layouts for their vehicles, Grégoire was there with his constant-velocity joints, a useful patent to hold when Tracta the automobile maker was dead by 1934.

After the Second World War (which he reportedly spent learning about aluminum and how it may be used in automobile production), Grégoire lent his name and talents to the Hotchkiss Grégoire, a pioneering front-drive luxury car with extensive use of aluminum in its chassis—that failed after fewer than 250 were made.

Now we come to Grégoire's next project, first shown at the 1956 International Sports Car Show in Dearborn, Michigan—at the Ford Museum, no less! A French website mentioned that the car crashed in testing the previous December, but in any event it was fixed in time for such an important event—with Grégoire, like other luxury-minded French manufacturers, pinning his hopes on the export market.

The Grégoire Sport failed to set the world alight on its first showing in the US, with its next big showing at the 1956 Paris Motor Show with two examples present: one at the Grégoire stand (in the corner!), the other at the Henri Chapron stand—with aluminum bodywork.

Underneath its pretty lines was, again, a marvel of engineering. Front-wheel drive, with a 2188cc supercharged boxer four-cylinder engine mounted ahead of the front wheels—with no apologies for dat overhang. I bet Toyota GT86 fans even now would love to see that engine on a spec sheet, albeit made with modern technology: the Sport made just 125 horsepower.

Shown in both coupe and convertible form, the Sport was listed at a price of 3,500,000 francs—to put that into comparison, the Facel Vega FVS, a Hemi-powered grand touring car cost a mere 2,869,000 francs—and at that price buyers tended to be royal, famous, or both. 

I should also mention that even at 3,500,000 francs, Grégoire was offering the Sport at a loss.

You know that Facel Vega couldn't survive, so there was no way the Grégoire Sport ended up as even a footnote: just four were made. Jean-Albert Grégoire continued to develop drivetrain and suspension systems, along with aluminum parts to lighten production cars.

If you think that the Sport is an ingenious take on the sports car, well, a few years before the Sport Jean-Albert Grégoire lent his talents to something a bit more…extreme.