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1896 PANHARD-LEVASSOR
1896 Panhard-Levassor
Private Omnibus 6 hp

1898 PANHARD-LEVASSOR RACING
1898 Panhard-Levassor racing
two-seater 8 hp "Paris Amsterdam"
(first to Brighton 1996/1997/1998
and Goodwood Festival of Speed 2002)

 1898 PANHARD-LEVASSOR
1898 Panhard-Levassor
rear-entrance tonneau 6 hp

1902 PANHARD-LEVASSOR
1902 Panhard-Levassor
rear-entrance tonneau 7 hp

1904 Panhard-Levassor 15HP rear entrance tonneau
1904 Panhard-Levassor 15 hp rear entrance tonneau

PANHARD-LEVASSOR

The Panhard-Levassor firm had a history going back to the 1840s. In those days the firm of Perin et Pauwels made furniture, and then woodworking machinery. Rene Panhard became a partner in this enterprise in 1867, the name changing to Perin et Panhard and the range of engineering activities expanded. Emile Levassor joined in 1872, both he and Panhard having had technical educations. After Perin's death in 1886 the firm was renamed Panhard et Levassor.

P&L gained engine building experience by making Deutz stationary gas engines in the 1870's, and in 1888 the firm made a limited number of German Daimler petrol engines (see Mercedes) under licence to validate the French patents. To make a profit these engines had to be sold, and Levassor found a buyer in Armand Peugeot (see Peugeot) the first two being delivered in March 1890. At this time P&L did not intend to make motorcars, but when the first Peugeot arrived in the P&L workshops in August, the latter firm had a change of mind.

In addition to being among the first motorcar manufacturers in the world, P&L achieved a permanent place in the history of motoring when Levassor in 1891 devised the 'systeme Panhard'. This placed the v-twin engine at the front of the chassis, driving through a clutch to a set of sliding gears (not yet in a box) with final drive to the back axle by chain. The systeme was so successful that other makers copied the layout, and apart from the use of shaft final drive (see Renault),it formed the pattern for motorcars for many decades ahead. The only major change came in 1895 when Levassor developed in conjunction with Daimler the 'Phenix' engine, a vertical twin cylinder in-line engine, with a four-cylinder version appearing in 1896.

The numerous successes of Panhard-Levassor cars in early motoring competitions,especially that of Levassor in finishing first in the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race (in just over two days of continuous driving,at an average speed of 15mph) caught the public imagination and for those who could afford it , a Panhard-Levassor was the car to have. Up to the early 1900s such was the demand for P&L cars that there was a significant waiting list for new ones, and the company was paying its shareholders a 50% dividend each year. Therefore only gradually did it change its winning formula.

Emile Levassor died in 1897, perhaps as a result of an accident in the 1896 Paris-Marseille-Paris race when his car overturned, but Rene Panhard and his two sons managed the firm well and employed good staff at all levels of the business. When the firm merged with Citroen in 1965 there was still Panhard family members on the board.


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