The first road-test impressions of an inexpensive front drive, all independently sprung French sports-car, possessing good performance and some unique features of design
THIS war, although it has been so reluctant to get started, nevertheless has put paid to a lot of interesting ventures, amongst which was the introduction of the modern Georges-Irat to the British market. The scheme was to make this unique sports-car available over here at a price on a par with that of the Morgan 4/4 and TB M.G. Midget, after introducing the marque by entering it for the L.C.C. Three Hour Sports Car Race, with Peter Clark as driver. Although neither plan materialised, Guy Bochaton, who is the man behind the venture, is now running the car which Clark would have raced, and recently we were able to conduct a short road-test of this unusually interesting car. Most people, if they know anything of the Georges-Irat at all, remember them as the conventional 2-litre cars which finished 15th and 29th at Le Mans in 1923. The present Georges-Irat has no association with these cars, being built by Automobiles Georges-Irat, Godefroy et Levegh. MM. Godefroy and Levegh used to make the front-drive Tracta, which MOTOR SPORT road-tested in March, 1930, and which, in 1,100 c.c. form, qualified for the Rudge Cup at Le Mans in 1927, and finished third in the Final in 1928—the production version was notable for marked directional un-certainty. The marque continued to do well at Le Mans, being fifth and sixth in the 1929 Rudge Cup and third and fifth in 1930, in 985 c.c. form, and continued to run at Le Mans until 1934. The modern Georges-Irat uses a practically standard 1,911 c.c. six-cylinder Citroen engine and front-end—confirming the faith of Godefroy and Levegh in front-wheel drive—and the result is an inexpensive car of very good performance, for which spares and maintenance are easily procurable. Indeed, Citroen in England had agreed to give full servicing facilities to Georges-Irat owners. Apart from the front drive, the specification is unique by reason of rubber suspension, both front and rear wheels being controlled by thick strands of rubber-cord, and all of them suspended independently.
The Citroen front-drive layout is modified to take the new suspension, and the wheels are permitted a very big rise and fall. The chassis is a light pressed steel construction. One’s first impression of the car is that of a typically modern Continental two-seater. From the frontal and three-quarter frontal aspects the streamline effect is excellent, but the flatness of the tail, which falls away behind the doors and accommodates the exposed spare wheel, somewhat spoils the rear aspect. This was especially noticeable when we compared the car with E. M. Thomas’s 328 B.M.W., which it about equals in size. The welded, pressed steel body frame proved entirely free from rattles and we were ready to overlook the rather Continental casuality of finish—the French so often leave cars out in the open, day and night, anyway. The car tested is the only one in this country: an Australian Air-Force blue, left-hand drive, air flow two/three-seater. The seat readily accommodates three persons abreast, provided the driver keeps his left elbow outside the body, or flat against the side if the hood is up. Indeed, with two up, an arm-rest would be a great asset, and had Peter Clark driven the car in the Sports-Car Race he would have had to be strapped in to prevent loss of control while cornering. The washable white upholstery is very useful, but does not contribute to stability on the wide squab. The left-hand spring-spoke steering wheel is almost vertical, in an ideal position, and the seat is comfortable. The “umbrella-handle” Citroen gear lever comes through the dash within easy reach of the right hand and there is a protruding switch below the wheel, easily reached by the left hand, with a rotary motion for the lamps and press-action for the horn. From left to right the facia contains:—oil gauge reading to 6 kg.; fuel gauge below; indicator control; advance and retard control below; ignition key; 100 m.p.h. 6 inch speedometer with trip; ammeter; choke and starter controls below; clock; hand-grip for passengers; big cubby hole below; and spot light switch. The direction indicators are of coloured light type, illegal in this country, and the mounting of the tubular rear bumper, on angle-iron extensions, is rather terrible. The pedals are well-placed, and a heel-and-toe action should be possible, given less lost movement on the brake pedal. The hood was not too easy to erect and is rather low, but, in conjunction with glass windows in the doors, gives real coupe-snugness when erect. Behind the seat is space for an occasional passenger or any amount of luggage. The low screen winds open and possesses a Marchal wiper. The lighting is 6 volt, constant voltage, and the Ducellier headlamps are said to be very effective, but were, of course, masked for driving in war-time Britain during our test. On the outward journey to Brooklands we had the car weighed and it came out at 18 cwt. exactly—rather a disappointment. Doubtless, much increased performance could be obtained by using a lightweight body. As it is, the long bonnet displays not a ripple over bad going and facia and frontworks display the exact antithesis of an old-school Bentley. As the Georges-Irat has a rigid base, these good qualities would probably remain, were an aluminium-panel body fitted. It is interesting that in spite of front drive, not more than 10 cwt. is carried by the front wheels, and this roughly 50/50 weight distribution gives extremely good riding, as subsequent remarks will show. Having taken aboard a third passenger, armed with Leica and stop-watch, we achieved the Kingston By-Pass, less crowded than it once was, and, being a twin-track road, where we could appreciate the advantages of left-hand steering without encountering the loss of overtaking-visibility that results with this drive on English roads. Actually, both wings are visible, but precise gutter-hugging is simplified by sitting on the near side.
As the hydraulic brakes were calling for considerable pedal-pumping before providing a decisive stop, we paid a visit to the “Acorn Service Station” to make certain nothing serious was amiss. Incidentally, George Fitt, who made the excusable but nevertheless humorous remark that the Georges-Irat engine “is almost like a Citroen,” told us that his Centric-blown Hudson is stored along with his ex-Norton “Jabberwock” Ford V8—so the correspondent who said last month that the Hudson is seen daily in Maidenhead has mistaken Strang’s Hudson for Fitt’s.
The run to Brooklands showed the Georges-Irat to cruise easily and smoothly with a nicely Continental, unobtrusive exhaust note. Having obtained a special War-Time Track Permit, we went out to glean what we could over two-thirds of Brookland’s outer circuit, the course being “no man’s land,” round part of the Byfleet and the portions round about the Fork. Already the excellence of the suspension had been noted and hanging a car on rubber bands seemed to be a good thing to do. However, although the wheels are located by certain radius arms, there is no damping of any kind. Consequently, we were extremely pleased to discover that the rough surface of the Track (now, by the way, littered and weed-infested) only served to accentuate the excellent riding, rather pronounced fore and aft pitching being the only reaction. The very undulating section leaving the Members’ banking on the inside of the Track could be negotiated “hands-off,” and at over 60 m.p.h. the riding got better than ever, while driving at lower speeds over grass mounds beside Sahara straight worried the car not at all.
Cornering qualities are of a truly high standard, and not at all reminiscent of the Tracta. As one expects with f.w.d., application of power stifles any tendency to tail-slides, and, experimenting along part of the Campbell road circuit, it was possible to come out on to the Members’ banking accelerating hard in second gear, with the front wheels screaming in protest, and yet retain full control, when so many rear-drive cars would slide up the banking and dive for that telegraph post which still bears evidence of S. C. H. Davis’s contretemps, when he skidded from the opposite direction. The technique is to brake before a corner and go round on the drive. The steering kicked viciously from full lock while cornering under power and could only be controlled properly by striking a balance between letting it castor-action through the fingers, and gripping it to one position. It is light, positive and the castor action is considerable. The lock is definitely taxi-like and two turns are needed lock-to-lock—high gearing, for the actual ratio cannot properly be determined by this figure, in view of the lock-variation of different cars. It is worth mentioning that when MOTOR SPORT tested a Citroen Twelve in July 1938, we said: ” . . . under load the steering certainly became stiffer than on the over-run . . . but it remained, even on the drive, smooth in action . . . “
So it seems that the pronounced and unpleasant kick-back on the Georges-Irat may be due to a particular cause. The five stud pressed-steel wheels, for instance, carry 130 x 40 French Dunlop super balloon covers, which we think hardly capable of the weight and speed of the car. One of them had a nasty sidewall gash, but by judicious changing round, a tyre mileage of some 20,000 seems probable, or 10,000 Miles from the front tyres.
The dash-protruding gear lever for the three-speed gearbox has a gate with bottom and reverse on the outside. There is synchromesh on second and top, and without practice the writer found he could do a good double-declutch change from top to second before a critical audience, the action being very pleasant. The gears go in decisively, and the action of the lever was good, though as free as that on the Citroen we tested was stiff, so that a keen owner could probably, with a little adjustment devise a very pleasing action indeed. The clutch took up smoothly and is very light, if a little slow to engage and disengage. The brakes appeared to have a defect in the master cylinder and required much pedal-pumping to produce a good pull-up, and under such trying conditions applications are apt to be fierce. However, the car stopped all square on wet surfaces, and there is every reason to imagine that normally the brakes are up to the Lockheed standard. The umbrella left-hand lever is of light construction, but quite suitable as a parking brake.
We have, up to now, been advancing the 2-litre Georges-Irat as an up-to-the-minute sports job possessed of admirable handling and general qualities. Lots of cars sell well which handle nicely, but are of sober performance, and likewise many are successful because they have abnormal urge for their size even though less desirable in other respects. To the enthusiast both aspects are of importance, and we were interested to try the abilities of the Georges-Irat, bearing in mind its good qualities and that it was to have been marketed at under £300. Under adverse conditions, given only a brief run, with three up and screen erect, we negotiated the flying quarter-mile at 75 m.p.h. Doubtless, given a little attention, and under decent conditions, well over 80 m.p.h. could be realised. As it was, No. 4 plug gave up as we concluded the tests. We left the Track, and, while seeking a source of supply, espied a badge-bearing Wolseley saloon which contained Tony Curtis. He kindly led us to the H.R.G. works and found us a new 14 mm. plug—incidentally, no cars have been made at H.R.G.’s since war began, and entry seemed to be rather barred to journalists, even to those of motoring ilk. H.R.G. service and enthusiastic exchange of opinions still goes on. The Georges-Irat seemed to be much fitter after this change of bottle, so doubtless the fault had adversely affected the figures. The engine had net been serviced for 7,000 miles and seemed to have a very loose distributor while the mixture appeared rich, the downdraught Solex visibly pouring fuel into the works, perhaps in this instance a bit too enthusiastically. Carburation. was “fruity” in the usual Continental manner, but the urge was there in plenty, the front wheels spinning after the get-away. Under the circumstances the acceleration figure should be capable of material improvement. Three up, the standing quarter-mile took 22.0 secs. Other readings were not taken as the speedometer was definitely inaccurate, cheerfully recording 110 m.p.h. at the end of the flying quarter-mile. Reverting to plug trouble, we are of the opinion that it was caused by a blow, and not overheating, as the engine is humoured by the high top gear ratio and never unduly hurried. Oil pressure varies with speed, from 2 to 4 kgs. per square inch. Fuel consumption, including the Track work and thirty miles in London, was 21 m.p.g., and some 25 m.p.g. could be expected at more ordinary rates of progression.
The under-bonnet details are pleasing. The push-rod o.h.v. six-cylinder Citroen engine, with coil ignition, is nicely finished and the starter is easily accessible, but the battery gets unduly warm. It should not be difficult to convert to right hand drive. The bonnet clips worked very well, and the rigidity of the long bonnet has already been praised. There is a useful under-bonnet locker into which a decent tool-box could be built. We have been unable to ascertain the gear ratios, but believe top to be in the region of 3 to 1. Transmission is, of course, Citroen, than which no front-drive layout is better proven, and the wheels are hung from the frame on independent linkages, damped by rubber strands.
Altogether, the Georges-lrat is a most interesting car, of modern and in many ways unique appeal, and possessed of a good performance in relation to the proposed price. We imagine that it should be possible to install the four-cylinder Citroen Twelve engine, if greater economy allied to a maximum of about 65 m.p.h. were desired, or, perhaps, to achieve greater performance by using the later 2½-litre Citroen sports engine. Either way, spares and maintenance would present no problem. The Georges-Irat was to have been handled in this country by Bochaton Motors, 111, Notting Hill Gate, W.11, and doubtless Mr. Guy Bochaton will gladly supply further information to those likely to be interested in this unique car when the war is over.
Engine: Six-cylinders, bore 78 mm., stroke 100 mm., capacity 1,911 c.c. R.A.C. rating 15 h.p. Tax £18 15s. Push-rod o.h.v. Single Solex downdraught carburetter. Coil Ignition with hand control.
Gearbox: Three speeds and reverse. Synchromesh on second and top. Central, dashboard lever. Front drive.
Suspension: All Independent, by rubber-strands. No shock-absorbers.
Brakes: Hydraulic on all four wheels.
Weight: 18 cwt.
Price: Three-seater;under £300.
Concessionaires: Bochaton Motors, 111, Notting Hill Gate, London, W.11.