Page 1 of 2 Next >> Since its conception in the 1880s, the automobile developed at a rapid pace. Every aspect of Karl Benz's original design was changed or improved some way. There was one major exception; the drive of the engine was always to the rear wheels. The very practical reason for this was that it was considered too complicated to connect drive-shafts to wheels that also had to steer. The first engineer to recognize the advantages of front wheel drive was the legendary American racing car constructor Harry Miller. From the early 1920s, he offered his single seater racers with either front or rear wheel drive. Due the absence of a prop-shaft, the front wheel drive versions were considerably lower.
Miller's work was followed with great interest around the world and found a following particularly in France. Jean Albert Gregoire and Pierre Fenaille, two young and very talented engineers, teamed up to develop their own front wheel driven machine. To that end they established 'Tracta' in Asnieres, France. Short for Traction Avant, the name was a clear indicator of the intentions of the two men. Dubbed the Gephi (short for Gregoire and Fenaille), the first Tracta was constructed in 1926. It was fitted with a rudimentary roadster body and was immediately put to the test on the track. Gregoire and Fenaille believed that racing success would help convince the people that a front-wheel drive machine could function just as good and even better than a conventionally driven car.
The biggest hurdle to overcome was how to get the power to the front wheels without impairing the steering. The two men attended to that problem by fitting drive-shafts with double joints that provided movement in all the directions needed. After its inventor, it is sometimes referred to as Hooke's joint, but today it is better known as a universal joint. The driven wheels were kept upright at all times by the use of a Lancia inspired spring/damper strut that limited wheel movement to up and down only. The drum brakes at the front were fitted next to the differential, to prevent them from interfering with the movement of the universal joints. Page 1 of 2 Next >>