In­no­vate and ed­u­cate

Wheels - - Contents -

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…

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