Latil, an obscure French tractor maker that, apart from selling a few machines to the ESB in the distant past, would seem to have little connection or influence within Ireland.

But if you have a front wheel or four-wheel-drive vehicle, then you must thank Georges Latil for the invention of the constant velocity (CV) joint, which he patented in 1897.

It was a crude affair compared with today's items, but the basics were there and it enabled his new company to build self contained front wheel drive units that could be bolted on to the front of horse drawn wagons.

It was, in fact, directly analogous to replacing a horse with an engine in front of a plough.

The move to motor vehicles

Soon enough they moved into the production of trucks proper and with the aid, and finance, of Charles Blum, they had a successful company that was busy producing road vehicles from a factory in Paris.

In 1911, they saw another opportunity to replace the horse and that was in the haulage of field artillery which, up until then, had relied solely upon the teams of horses to be dragged around Europe.

Just as an aside, it is worth noting that the winding roads that criss-cross the Alps were built that way so as not too present too much of a gradient to horse-drawn guns.

Government incentive

Anyway, these early four-wheel-drive tractors were sold to farmers and foresters in France and came with a 30% government subsidy, on condition that they would be requisitioned by the army should the need arise.

They sold well, but the need for army service arose only too soon.

Georges latil truck
An early Latil truck with distinctive French bonnet. (Skoda Motorsport)

After the World War I, they redesigned and updated these artillery tractors, although still keeping to the layout of a truck rather than what had become the accepted format for a tractor, they were more a more an early Unimog than a Fordson.

These tractors were fully designed as four-wheel-drive vehicles and gained favour among foresters in particular, a ground anchor and winch often featuring in photographs of them at the time.

During World War II, the company formed an association with MAP, a munitions company that was looking for civilian products under the German occupation.

This collaboration resulted in a series of more conventional tractors, some with producer gas units, which were sold under the joint name of MAP-Latil.

Latil post war

At the end of the conflict, the two companies went their separate ways, with Latil once again specialising in four-wheel-drive 'tractors', although they were far more truck-like in appearance.

Indeed, come the series of great post-war reorganisations of industry by the French, they were subsumed into the Peugeot group but then transferred to a new company in 1955 called Saviem, which became better known for off-road construction and military vehicles rather than anything so mundane as farm tractors.

It was during this period that the TL series was produced and appeared with the Saviem badge on the bonnet, as shown by the rather well worn example above.

The company passed through several more changes of ownership until construction of forestry tractors ended in 1997.

However, the legacy lives on and it is hard to believe that similar multipurpose tractors, from the Unimog to the Fastrac, were not later influenced by the Latil concept.