Innovate and educate
Thank Panhard et Levassor that you drive what you drive
When you think
of the oldest car manufacturers the mind undoubtedly comes up with names such as Daimler, Benz, Peugeot, and perhaps even Opel or Skoda. Would your brain ever conjure up floating letters that spell Panhard et Levassor? Probably not, because it’s hard enough spelling it right, let alone knowing what in the world Panhard et Levassor is. Apart from one of the oldest car companies ever, that is. Nowadays Panhard mostly supplies the French army with armoured vehicles, but after it was founded in 1891, the Parisienne company set out to innovate in the field of automobile construction. Louis Francois René Panhard and Emile Levassor, however, started making cars as early as 1887 powered by Daimler engines, but it was at the time of the company’s official founding that the two partners released a unique model with the engine in the front driving the rear wheels. It sounds familiar and it is— because this pioneering ‘Systeme Panhard’ is to this day one of the most favoured vehicle layouts. Another notable example of Panhard’s design genius is a ubiquitous track rod at the rear axle used on multi-link suspensions, again,
Many of the car features we take for granted today are the result of one pioneering French carmaker
a feature that lives on to this day and is still aptly called the Panhard rod.
The company is also credited as being the first to channel drive through a chain-driven gearbox with a clutch operated by a foot pedal, yet again a standardised feature over a century later, otherwise we’d all be double-clutching with our right arm holding on to a lever mounted on a sideboard, and there would be no concept of heel-and-toe, but only wrist-and-sole.
As if that wasn’t enough, Panhard is also widely believed to be the first to fit its cars with a conventional, round steering wheel, so it’s no surprise that the first documented motor race was won by a Panhard model, another taking second place close behind. (It is said the first motor race took place the moment a second car was produced, but the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux jaunt was the official event.)
The company raked in the profits thanks to its engineering innovations, but after the SecondWorldWar things went a bit south with steel rationing not helping matters. Ever the avant-gardist, Panhard got around the problem by developing the Dyna Z for 1954. Contrary to what you may have been led to believe about the Honda NSX, claimed to be the first full-aluminium production vehicle in history, the all-alloy Dyna Z preceded Honda’s revolutionary sportscar by decades.
There was more success such as the modern and achingly pretty Panhard 24, with an air-cooled flat-twin engine up front and low aerodynamic drag as well as a tubular chassis much stiffer than the competition’s, yet the last Panhard passenger car rolled out of the factory in 1967. Now only military personnel benefit from this company’s engineering prowess, which more than deserves to elevate Panhard into the same automotive hierarchy as Daimler, Benz, Peugeot…