Georges Irat

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When a reader wrote to ask me about a Georges Irat I had tested for Motor Sport in 1940, I was reminded of how pleased I was to get a test car, which were scarce in the war.

This was the last type made by the French firm before they turned to diesel-engine manufacture. It used the 1911cc Citroen engine and fwd transmission in a rigid chassis with all-round rubber-strand suspension.

I took two friends with me on the bench seat to Brooklands where, with a wartime pass, I was able to use part of the track that was not already closed. The Georges Irat managed 75mph over the flying-start quarter-mile with no4 plug in a poor state, and I made the front tyres scream on the Campbell Circuit banking corner. The ride was commendable but the weight of 18cwt inhibited performance. We felt that 85mph might have been possible from a car which had not been so hard-used.

On the way home we met ‘Antone’ Curtis in his Wolseley, who led us to the HRG works and kindly found a new plug, but the factory was out of bounds, on secret war production.

Our enquirer had just acquired a Georges Irat of the kind I had tested. His father had intended, with Guy Bochaton — who had premises at Notting Hill Gate, W1 — to import these cars to sell for about £300, but war intervened. And it was he who had owned the actual car (FYM 218) I used. It was sold by his wife in 1946 before he had returned from a Far East posting.

The Georges Irat was a rare car in Britain, and even in France. Made at Chatou, by the Seine, from 1921, the first model had a four-cylinder 69x130mm (1944cc) engine with pushrod ohv and Delco coil ignition, a wheelbase of 9ft 10in, and 105×815 tyres. When many cars still had iron pistons, Irat had aluminium ones. A Zenith carburettor, four-speed ‘box and Dewandre vacuum-servo brakes were used — front-wheel brakes more acceptable then to French drivers than to the cautious British motorist.

This Irat was a good fast tourer rather than a sportscar. The engine was designed and made ‘in house’ and the new car got to the 1921 Paris Salon. But not much publicity for it seems to have been generated, even when life-sized wax figures occupied a saloon at a later Salon, by which time a six-cylinder, with the same engine dimensions, had appeared.

Nor was the make very prominent in racing, although the first 24-hour race at Le Mans was regarded as ‘a must’; a couple of 2-litres ran, finishing 15th, tying with a Salmson, and ninth. They ran again in 1924 and ’26, but both retired.

Rost, the firm’s top driver, made a speciality of the odd Circuit des Routes Pavees, the roads intentionally rough, if not to exhibit comfort, at least to demonstrate durable suspension systems which kept the wheels on the ground, as speed was the aim. Rost won the event in 1923, ’25 and ’27.

The early cars sold well, a figure of some 1500 being claimed up to 1929, but after a move to Neuilly, the firm seems to have lost its way, building big luxury Lycoming-engined chassis. In 1935, they moved yet again, to Levallois-Perret, and policy changed again, to Ruby-engined fwd small cars, smarter than the usual little French offerings but not so sporting. Perhaps 1000 were sold.

On the approach to war, the 11cv Citroen-powered Georges Irat of the kind we tested was put into production, and in 1946 an 1100cc flat-four with magnesium-alloy body was made, but only as a prototype. After this, the company concentrated on diesel engines.

The French Georges Irat Club says that only 15 Citroen-engined cars are known to it. Our correspondent’s car was lengthened by a previous owner, with larger doors, but the appearance is authentic otherwise.