Campbell's French Connection

What was the Gregoire Campbell? Well, in 1919 it was announced that “Mr Malcolm Campbell of Brooldands fame has exerted a considerable influence on the car and is its sponsor in Britain”.

The Gregoire was a reputable French marque, made by Gregoire et Cie at Poissy, Seine-et-Oise, from 1903. Small cars were offered first, but larger ones followed, four-cylinder engines being adopted in 1904, and by 1906 the name was established, with the advent of a popular twin-cylinder model, available with a four-cylinder engine by 1908. But it was the 16/24hp Gregoire, developed from the firm’s racing voiturettes, that was a more sporting car. By 1914 it was even better, for Gregoire now had a 70x140mm sportscar, its engine, with light steel pistons, said to give 38bhp at 2800rpm.

Nor had the company neglected racing. A Gregoire was second in class in the 1905 Circuit des Ardennes, but a three-car team for the Coupe de L’Auto trial was a disaster, due to tyre trouble and a horse kicking in one car’s radiator. But two 7.4-litre Gregoires were entered for the 1906 French GP, for Taveneau and de Bosch; the latter’s radiator lasted but one lap, the other car non-started. Horizontal oh-valve cars were unready for Indianapolis in 1920. After the war the 10CV production Gregoire gained overhead valves and a 2.3-litre engine, making it a 60mph car. Before it all ended in 1924 Hinstin had made a typical French light car for Gregoire, sold in Britain as the Little-Greg, and the Poissy works had assembled Bignan’s 3-litre sportscar.

It was the last named which Malcolm Campbell adopted as the Gregoire Campbell. Maybe it was surplus to the maker’s output at their Courbevoie factory. Whatever, at the 1919 London Show it was listed separately from the other Gregoires and appeared as a show chassis and as a two-seater sportscar with dickey-seat on the stand of Gregoire British Sales Ltd, who had premises in Halkin Place, in London’s fashionable Berkeley Square. As early as August 1919 Campbell had advertised that he was agent for the 17/50hp Gregoire-Campbell super-sporting car, a chassis being on its way from France. But perhaps to hedge his bets, Campbell was also agent for the Dawson.

The G-C had the four-cylinder 85×130 (2940cc) Bignan side-valve engine. The very large valves were slightly inclined and the camshaft pinion weighed some 5kg, to act as a timing gear damper. The twobearing crankshaft was in the bottom instead of the usual top part of the crankcase, and to stop oil getting into the cylinders its crank-pins each had two thrower rings near the webs and corresponding grooves on the big ends. The carburettor was a Claudel, which may have been a Campbell mod, and he seems to have revised the radiator shape.

The de la Fourmaise chassis had a wheelbase of 9ft Sin, a cone clutch, four-speed gearbox, halfelliptic springs and 880×120 tyres. The rear brakes had pipes within their drums to drain away surplus oil from the hubs, which also lubricated the brake cams. The chassis price was £990 sans tyres, when a 30/98 Vauxhall chassis cost £1125, and Bentley proposed to offer the 3-litre chassis for £850.