Gregoire, Jean Albert

Jaray, Paul

Ledwinka, Hans

Porsche, Ferdinand

Rumpler, Edmund


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Jean Albert Gregoire (1898-1992)

Jean Albert Gregoire was a Humanist, a man of many disciplines. He graduated from the Polytechnique, a famous French school, and was a Doctor of Law Gregoire published many books on automobile history and engineering, and also wrote mysteries and fiction. He was an Oenologue and a Mucicologue (an expert in wines and mushrooms).

In 1926, with his partner Pierre Fenaille, Gregoire invented a constant velocity joint (CV joint) under the name of Tracta. This Tracta CV joint was very strong and easy to manufacture.

Up until this time, front wheel drive cars were mostly prototypes usually built in small series mainly for racing: Christie, Gregory and Miller of the United States; Alvis and Bucciali in Europe.

Gregoire and Fenaille began producing a car under the name of Gephy and soon the Tracta. With four or six cylinders, these were race cars, sport cars, coupes or limousines which could be driven either on the race track or on the road. From 1927 to 1934, Tractas with small Scap four cylinder engines raced at Le Mans, winning their category. Number 27 was driven by Valon and Gregoire himself in 1929 and 1930.

But Gregoire was losing money and, after manufacturing only 200 to 300 cars, halted production. He then specialized in engineering and consulting, selling his patents to many companies. Both DKW in 1931 and Adler in 1933 bought Tracta licenses for their first front wheel drive cars. Imperia in Belgium and Rosengart in France manufactured the Adler under the licenses using the Tracta CV joints.

During the second World War, most of the countries used Tracta CV joints: all British vehicles, U.S. Jeeps made by Ford and Dodge command cars. Russia and Germany also used the Tracta CV joints, but without the licensing.

Jean Albert Gregoire promoted the front wheel drive automobile his entire life.

In 1934, Jean Albert Gregoire decided to design a car with a cast-aluminum frame. Aluminum was not really a new concept; besides a few parts on cars it was used mainly to make pots and pans and other kitchen wares. Aluminium Francais was a French company which monopolized the sale of aluminum manufactured by French producers.

Gregoire proposed his idea to a new engineer at Aluminium Francais, Jean Jacques Baron. Baron immediately understood the advantages of his company's collaboration with Gregoire. From 1934 until his death in 1992, Gregoire collaborated with Aluminium Francais (today known as Pechiney), developing many concepts.

In 1935, the S.I.A, (Societe des Ingenieurs de 1'Automobile), the equivalent to the American S.A.E., launched a concours for a small car, the forever dream of a "people car." Gregoire entered a small two-seater cast-aluminum car and won a prize. Aluminium Francais subsidized this prototype.

Gregoire bought an Adler manufactured by his friend Gustav Rohr and cut the steel frame, replacing parts with cast aluminum bolted together. It was successful. The new car was lighter and more rigid.

In 1936, Hotchkiss, the new owner of Amilcar, another French company, manufactured the Compound, also designed by Gregoire. The Compound was a small four seater made of cast aluminum with, of course, the Tracta CV joints. It was the first car in the world made with this technology. The war in 1939 brought production to a halt after only 600 cars were built. After the start of the war, 150 Amilcar ambulances (using the same frame as the Compound) were supplied to the forces. It was a technical success due to the participation of Montupet, an aluminum casting expert.

During the second World War, Germany forbade France to study and manufacture automobile prototypes. This did not stop Renault from building the 4-CV rear engine prototype which was tested in 1943. Aluminium Francais commissioned Gregoire for a new cast aluminum prototype, the Aluminium Francais Gregoire (the AFG).

The AFG aluminum frame followed the design of the Amilcar Compound, but the engine was a flat twin, air cooled, which was placed in front of the front axles. The car was so light that Gregoire had to invent a new type of suspension (flexibilite variable) to compensate for the weight differential (one driver or four people with luggage, for example).

The AFG was the basis for the Dyna Panhard manufactured by Panhard from 1948 to 1953. Hartnett of Australia and Kaiser from the United States were two of the companies interested in the Dyna Panhard.

Jean Jacques Baron and Jean Albert Gregoire devoted their time to give Henry J. Kaiser a crash course on cars made of aluminum. One AFG car was sent by plane to the United States and Kaiser bought the license. However, this was not the right time for a compact car with such avant garde technology.

Aluminium Francais (Pechiney) investments paid off. Panhard manufactured over 50,000 aluminum cars. Aluminum was now respected for its robustness and many essential parts in cars, other vehicles and machines relied more and more upon aluminum.

There are few examples in our world of strong cooperation between an industrial giant and a visionary man. The power of the multinational corporation and the freedom of imagination of one individual bore substantial results. It was not a coincidence that in 1934, Jean Jacques Baron, the young engineer from Aluminium Francais, was one of the first to teach a new science in France, marketing.

A small electrical car with a cast aluminum body was manufactured in small series during the second World War. For many years this car held the record for speed and distance between Paris and Tours (250 kms) without recharging the battery.

With the end of World War II in 1945, Gregoire and Aluminium Francais worked on new projects. Another cast-aluminum front wheel drive car was built at this time. It was a full-size sedan accommodating five passengers with a speed of up to 100 miles/hour. The engine was a two-liter, flat four, with an estimated gas mileage of 35 miles per gallon. The CV joints were made under the Tracta license. The 1948 prototype at the Salon de l'Automobile in Paris made more than one French man dream of owning this car.

Pechiney was willing to donate the blueprints to whomever wanted to manufacture the car. Hotchkiss again agreed to be involved in the project. Unfortunately, Hotchkiss, without the income from machine guns (now in the hands of the French government), had no money. Funds coming from Pechiney and some French banks helped the company to barely survive.

Their new Gregoire was technically too different for a company such as Hotchkiss, who was used to making very traditional cars. Mr. Montupet was replaced by a new company who was unable to master the skill or expertise of the process.

Peugeot was one of the three major car companies in France (Renault and Citroen being the other two) which controlled Hotchkiss. Peugeot had other problems to work out during the turbulent post-war period. Under the principle "not made here," Peugeot did not like the Gregoire coming from an alien engineering group and halted production. Only 253 cars were delivered.

The 50-year-old Gregoire, with a CX of only .26 (today's cars are not so aerodynamic), had exceptional handling, a high level-of silence and comfort and, to this day, does not show its age. Jean Albert Gregoire was not alone when he proclaimed that the French industry lost a great opportunity.

Before ending this chapter we must mention three more creations of Gregoire: 
* The Socema Gregoire, the first French car with a gas-turbine; 
* The Gregoire Sport, shown at the 1954 Detroit sports car show; and 
* The CGE, an electric car which experimented with alternatives in energy.


Paul Jaray (1889-1974)

Hungarian, born in Vienna, he pioneered aerodynamism in the first part of the twentieth century.

He designed the new generation of Zeppelins with a tear drop shape instead of the long narrow cylinder of the first dirigibles.

With Zeppelin he experimented on automobiles bodies in a wind tunnel and, later on, designed special bodies for Benz, Adler, Hanomag, Maybach, Audi....   The Tatras 77 and 87 were his only automobiles with a success story and apparently he was not involved with the Volkswagen or Mercedes 170 H which followed his patents. 

Anyhow, Chrysler for the Airflow and Peugeot for the 402 were obliged to pay royalties to Paul Jaray.


In the late twenties he left for Switzerland et created his own consulting Company STROMLINEN KAROSSERIE GES. In Zurich


Hans Ledwinka (1878-1967)

Born in the vicinity of Vienna, in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hans Ledwinka worked as a mechanic before consecrating part of his time to studies.

Ledwinka was employed by Nesseldorf Wagenbau in 1897 (the company which later became known as Tatra), in the town of Kropvinice, which today belongs to the Czech Republic.  He designed railroad cars before becoming involved near the end of the 19th century with the first car made by Nesseldorf.  Ledwinka stayed with Tatra until 1945 (with a five-year interruption at Steyr in Austria from 1916 to 1921).

In 1945, the Communist government sent Ledwinka to prison.  When he was finally freed in 1951, he refused to resume working for Tatra and spent his last years in Germany.


Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951)

Born in 1875 in Bohemia, the young Porsche preferred to be a mechanical apprentice instead of a university scholar while reading about mechanical theories at home.

In 1898, he was employed by Lohner, a manufacturer of electric cars and, at the age of 23, designed the Lohner-Porsche. This car was exhibited at the most prestigious car exhibition of the time, LExposition Universelle De Paris in 1900. Following the philosophy of Lohner, the car is electric, but with a unique four wheel drive system in which each wheel is driven by its own electrical motor.

The Lohner-Porsche automobiles sold well, offering Ferdinand Porsche the opportunity to design another prototype. A four wheel drive with an electrical motor in each wheel, and an electrical generator powered by a gas engine. In 1902, with Ferdinand Porsche as the pilot, it won its class at the hill climb in Exelber, Austria.

Porsche left Lohner in 1905 to accept a position at Daimler. During the next 25 years, his constant search for new designs and very low level of diplomacy resulted in many different design engineering positions with different companies.

During this turbulent time, one of his realizations was the Landwehr train, a train designed for the road and used by the Emperor Francois Joseph to bring supplies to his troops. The leading car, or engine, was powered by a Daimler gas engine of 100 horsepower, linked to an electrical generator. In keeping with the race car approach, all four wheels were equipped with an electric motor. This progressive design becomes even more ahead of its time when all of the cars became equipped with the same four wheel drive system, whose power was supplied by the engine car through cables. During the first World War, these trains traveled on difficult terrain to supply the army, and could also be fitted with special tires in order to ride on normal railroad tracks.

The "C Train" succeeded the Landwehr on the drawing table. Its intent being purely military, it was equipped with an 81-ton gun and four cars, each with eight wheel drives, following the concept of the Landwehr train. The total weight with cargo was in excess of 150 tons.

During the next few years, Ferdinand Porsche worked for Austro Daimler and Steyr before joining Daimler Germany in 1923. In 1926, Daimler merged with Benz, providing the opportunity for Ferdinand Porsche to work on the completion of the Mercedes S and SSK projects. As well as race car projects, he designed a diesel powered truck and a popular automobile.

Each stay at the above manufacturers was marked by his poor temper, which led to the opening of his own engineering office in Stuttgart in 1930. A few of his previous colleagues became his associates, along with his son, Ferry, who in 1948 assured the continuance of the company.

As the economy of Germany was declining, projects became scarce. The arrival of Hitler, however, would change Ferdinand Porsche's destiny. The Fuhrer had a vivid interest and passion for highways and automobiles. The concept of the "people's car" and victories at racetracks were believed to be major propaganda tools.

Having already designed two prototypes of popular cars with rear engine designs for Zundapp and NSU, Porsche, one of the leaders in automobile engineering of the time, became the perfect candidate. Even though he was not a regime card carrier, Porsche was not suspicious. His birth place had been in the same region as the Fuhrer's, which probably helped.

In 1934, the order to design and build the first "people-s car" was received and the first prototypes were built in the garage of Ferdinand Porsche's villa in Stuttgart. Under the direction of Porsche, Daimler Benz produced 30 prototypes in 1937. These cars were given to the SS and underwent the most rigorous testing.

The German automakers, however, did not have much interest in the contract to build these cars because of a low selling price (990 Marks) facilitated by Hitler. The work syndicate became the only solution and the car was to be named the KDF, and subsidized by the government.

WWII was here and the "people's car" was not built. The factory instead built the Kubelwagen, the military version, followed by the Schwimwagen, an amphibian vehicle. Both cars were designed in an expedient manner by Porsche. This is how the Volkswagen Beetle became such a success, benefitting from a harsh five-year development program.

Ferdinand Porsche actively participated in other military projects, among them the tank named "Tiger" and an electric/diesel super tank weighing more than 188 tons. The latter was never produced due to the end of the war.

Prior to the war, Porsche's design of a central engine race car was very successful, giving him, a respectable amount of credibility. Another race car prepared by Porsche and also the first car to use the Porsche name, was designed closely to the KDF This car was to be entered in the Berlin-Rome Rally, but, due to war consequences, the race never took place.

After the war, Porsche spent 20 months in a French prison and could not help in the restructuring of this company. It was his son, Ferry, who along with some of his father's associates, reopened the business.

Dr. Porsche (as he was addressed after receiving his honorary doctorate degree from the University of Stuttgart) was certainly the most prolific designer during the first half of the 20th century.

He designed a car during the 1930s which is still being built 50 years later (in Mexico). He designed front wheel drive cars as well as rear and central engine cars. His trucks and tractors used electrical traction, water- or air-cooled combustion engines, and not to forget the diesel/electric train.

His racing achievements include victories and world records for Lohner, Austro Daimler and Auto Union.

Last but not least, he was an engineer for the military in Austria during WWI and Germany during WWII. He designed and built all-terrain vehicles, gun vehicles and tanks.

Today, the Porsche name is the most successful in car racing and by far a preference among sports car enthusiasts due to his son's and grandchildren's involvement with the engineering company he created.

Dr. Porsche died in 1951 at the age of 75.


Edmund Rumpler (1872-1940)


Born in Vienna.

An aeronautical engineer, he designed a fighter plane, the “Taube” in the first world war.

In 1921 the Tropfen Auto was presented in a show in Berlin.

Based on research made by Rumpler for his airplanes, the Tropfen body was very aerodynamic and was powered by a mid-engine placed slightly in front of the rear wheels.

The Tropfen Auto was a sensation.

Benz was involved with the new concept and tried, without success, to commercialize the Tropfen Auto. Benz developped also a race car based on the same ideas in 1923.

Edmund Rumpler returned to aviation. He was Jewish and was arrested by the Nazis. Goering, who was an aviator, remembered the planes designed by Rumpler and protected him.



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