Historic Car Brands
Panhard et Levassor was established in 1887 as an automobile manufacturing company by René Panhard and Émile Levassor, whose engineering background was in woodworking machinery. The first vehicles were based on a Daimler engine licence.
1894 Panhard et Levassor – Science Museum UK
Things had happened in rapid succession in 1887. Levassor’s good friend was Paris lawyer, Edouard Sarazin, who was also a friend and representative of Gottlieb Daimler, looking after his interests in France.
When Sarazin died suddenly, Daimler commissioned his widow, Louise, to carry on her late husband’s agency. That agency included a licence to build Daimler’s engines and vehicles.
Louise married Levassor in 1890, three years after her husband’s death and the licence went with her. Daimler and Levassor became friends and later shared improvements with one another.
1898 Panhard et Levassor Landaulet Type A1- Manarif
After initially producing engines for fledgling car makers, Panhard et Levassor decided to produce their own vehicles. Following production of rear-engined vehicles, the company standardised in 1891 on what would become the norm for car design for the next 30 years or so: front-engined, with a front-mounted radiator, driving though a sliding-mesh gearbox to the rear wheels. It was called Systeme Panhard.
Also in 1891 Panhard et Levassor shared the Daimler licence with Armand Peugeot.
For the 1894 Paris–Rouen Rally, Alfred Vacheron equipped his 4hp with a steering wheel; believed to be one of the earliest employments of the principle.
In 1895, 1.2-litre Panhard et Levassor vehicles finished first and second in the 49-hour Paris–Bordeaux–Paris race, with one being piloted solo by Levassor. In this same year the Daimler twin was replaced by the Phenix Panhard et Levassor twin.
During the 1896 Paris–Marseille–Paris race, Levassor was seriously injured in a crash and died in Paris the following year.
1902 12hp Panhard et Levassor – Victoria and Albert Museum
Arthur Krebs succeeded Levassor as General Manager in 1897 and held the job until 1916. He helped turn the Panhard et Levassor Company into one of the largest and most profitable manufacturers of automobiles before World War I.
Panhards won numerous races from 1895 to 1903 and the Panhard rod was developed, to control sideways movement of their beam axles. This single invention has immortalised the company, because it’s fitted to millions of live axles in light commercials all over the world.
In the early 1900s, four-cylinder cars were introduced and the 8/11hp was a popular model. In 1906, two monster vehicles were made: a 50hp, 10.5-litre four and an 11-litre six.
By 1909 the four-model range included the trusty Phenix 1.2-litre twin; 2.4-litre fours of 10hp and 15hp and a 25hp, five-litre six.
1913 Panhard et Levassor – Lars-Goran Lindgren
Panhard et Levassor avoided poppet valves where possible, from 1910, using licensed sleeve-valve technology that had been patented by the American Charles Yale Knight.
Between 1910 and 1924 the Panhard et Levassor catalogue listed plenty of models with conventional-valve engines, but these were offered alongside cars powered by sleeve-valve power units. The first production sleeve-valve was a 4.4-litre displacement, 20hp four.
The next example was a 2.6-litre four in 1912, followed by a 35hp, 7.4-litre four. The first sleeve-valve six was the 6.6-litre, 30hp engine of 1914.
1924 Panhard et Levassor X45 – Dave Hitchborne
Following various detailed improvements to the sleeve valve technology by Panhard’s own engineering department, from 1924 until 1940 all Panhard cars used sleeve-valve engines.
Under the presidency of Raymond Poincaré, which ran from 1913 until 1920, Panhard et Levassor’s 18CV and 20CV models were the official presidential cars.
During World War I, Panhard, like other leading automobile producers, concentrated on war production, including large numbers of military trucks, V12 aero-engines, gun components and large diameter shells.
The military also used the sleeve-valve engined Panhard 20hp and General Joffre used two 35hp Panhard Type X35s, powered by four-cylinder 7.4-litre engines for his personal transport.
Panhard resumed passenger car production in March 1919 with the 10hp Panhard Type X19, which used a four-cylinder, 2.2-litre, poppet-valve engine.
For the 15th Paris Motor Show, in October 1919, Panhard displayed four, four-cylinder engined models: the Type X19; the Type X31 2.3-litre, 12hp; the Type X28 3.2-litre, 16 hp and the Type X29 4.9-litre, 20hp.
1930 Panhard et Levassor Cabrio Coupe – Pourtout
In 1922 came a small, 1.2-litre sleeve-valve, 10hp engine and an expensive, limited-production, 6.4-litre in-line eight.
By 1925, all Panhard’s cars were powered by Knight sleeve valve engines with steel sleeves that were thinner and lighter than the original cast iron ones. Also, the outer sleeves that were less thermally stressed than the inner sleeves were coated on their inner sides with an anti-friction material, employing a patented technique on which Panhard engineers had been working since 1923.
Panhard Eclipse – Pourtout
In 1925, a 4.8-litre model set the world record for the fastest one-hour run, an average of 185.51km/h (115.26mph).
At the 20th Paris Motor Show in October 1926, a new Panhard 16CV ‘Six’ had a 3.4-litre, six-cylinder engine, leading the nine models on display.
1933 Panhard et Levassor X74 – Dave 7
When Panhard presented the 1931 line-up at the Paris Motor Show, in October 1930, the company concentrated on ’S-series’ cars. The ’S’ stood for ‘Voitures surbaissées’ (cars having an ‘underslung’ chassis) but that was stretched to imply: souples, supérieures, stables, spacieuses, silencieuses et sans soupapes (using valveless cylinders).
Panhard’s increasingly expensive six-cylinder engined cars had engine sizes ranging from 2.4 litres to 3.4 litres. There was also a five-litre, eight-cylinder Type X67 on display.
1936 Panhard et Levassor Dynamic
Panhard et Levassor’s last pre-War car was the unusually styled monocoque Dynamic series, first introduced in 1936. For the Dynamic, Panhard et Levassor’s in-house designer Louis Bionier came up with a Streamline Moderne design, featuring front and rear wheel spats, two or three windscreen wipers and the split A-pillars with curved glass inserts he pioneered on the earlier Panoramique.
The headlights were integrated into the front wings, with headlamp surrounds that mimicked the shape of the front grille.
1939 Panhard et Levassor Dynamic 140 Type X8 – Nemor2
The Dynamic was the first French luxury car to feature a steel body, electrically welded together and constructed as a monocoque, without a separate chassis.
A four-door, nine-seat, saloon/sedan version was offered, with a long passenger cabin, but no boot. A four-door saloon/sedan was also available with a shorter passenger cabin and with a protruding boot.
The car was wide enough to allowing three-abreast seating and on early cars, Panhard et Levassor positioned the steering wheel in the middle of the front seat. That made sense at a time when France was swapping from right hand drive to left hand drive. However, the market-place found the central steering wheel an innovation too far and from 1939 the Dynamic had a conventionally positioned steering wheel.
1938 Panhard et Levassor Dynamic interior – Dave 7
Aside from the central seating position, the Dynamic was also ahead of its time in having independent wishbone front suspension, with the upper elements of the front suspension mounted directly onto the engine.
There were also two-seater coupé versions, a cabriolet version and a six-window Limousine with partition.
During World War II, Panhard et Levassor was supposedly aiding the occupying Germans, but confused its captors with a paperwork barrage, so very little was actually manufactured. Instead, the engineers devoted their time to drawing up a post-War vehicle range.
After World War II the company was renamed Panhard and produced light cars that it thought would be more appropriate than luxury vehicles in the post-War years.
1951 Panhard Dyna X – Guillaume 27
As Land Rover did, Panhard exploited the availability of aluminium panels, by designing its front-wheel-drive Dyna X around aluminium chassis and bodywork. Unfortunately, cost calculations by Jean Panhard, the inheriting son and managing director of the firm, didn’t accurately factor-in the extra cost of aluminium vs steel.
The Dyna Xwent into production in 1948, powered by a 24hp 610cc flat-twin engine, with torsion-bar valve springs. (Panhard’s aversion to valve coil springs continued.) This modest output had to propel a very light, 550kg car, so performance was good and improved further when the engine was increased to 745cc, with 32hp, in 1950 and 850cc in 1952, with 40hp on tap.
The use of aluminium pushed the firm close to bankruptcy and a hurried engineering job resulted in a steel body/chassis. Thus, the Dyna Z, from September 1955 and the successor PL 17 bodies were steel.
1952 Panhard Dyna Allemano
Panhard-based Monopole racing cars received unofficial support from Panhard, as did DB and other clients, using it to good effect in winning the ‘Index of Performance’ class at Le Mans in 1950, 1951, and 1952.
1955 DB Panhard HBR – Rex Gray
In the latter half of the 1950s and the early 1960s, the Deutsch Bonnet racers – ‘DB Panhard’ – picked up this mantle and went on to dominate the ‘Index of Performance’ as well as small-engine racing classes.
1953 Panhard Dyna Z3 – Ton1
Drawing inspiration from the Panhard Dynavia concept, the styling of the Dyna Z was distinctively smooth and rounded, with an emphasis on aerodynamics and an overall minimalist design. Weight went up to 710kg, but so did engine power, up to 50hp.
1964 Panhard PL17 – Guillaume 27
In 1959, the PL17 replaced the Dyna Z, with the same engine, now producing up to 60hp.
The 24CT was a 1963 2+2 seater and the 24BT had a longer wheelbase and space for four. Still, the old engine soldiered on.
1967 Panhard 24BT LWB – Mr Choppers
However, increased competition adversely affected Panhard sales and, by 1967, Citroen increased its progressive ownership of Panhard into a complete takeover of the Panhard car business.
Panhard had been producing military vehicles since before World War II and that side of the business continues today. As of 2012, Panhard is owned by Renault Trucks Defense, a division of Volvo AB.