how the oldest French brand was killed by Citroën

René Panhard, the grandson of a saddler and later a coachman, studied at the Ecole Centrale. In 1867, as a partner in Périn, Panhard et compagnie, he invited his fellow student from the Ecole Centrale, Emile Levassor, who became a shareholder in the company.

From 1875, the company became interested in gas engines, and later Gottlieb Daimler’s oil engine. In 1886, the company received the name “Panhard et Levassor”. In 1891, Emile Levassor developed the first patent for the marque, which launched its first five cars in November 1891.

The automobile industry was just born.

Good luck at the top

Panhard et Levassor then achieved their most brilliant success in 1895, particularly in the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris motor races. After the death of Emile Levassor in 1897 (as a result of a racing accident), Rene Panhard began to reduce the races and opened his own racing capital. the company he entrusted to the management of Arthur Krebs.

The latter remained at the head of the business until 1915, strengthening the manufacturer’s reputation for quality and seriousness, financial base and top-class accommodation of models, especially the selection of installed valveless engines. To all makes of cars up to 1939.

The war effort

During the 1914-1918 conflict, the Panhard & Levassor marque participated in the war effort and remained one of the main suppliers of the army.

From 1919, the house on avenue Ivri preferred to preserve the traditions that had succeeded until then: production was limited to about ten cars a day, luxury and sports cars with bodywork designed by Louis Bionier. This adds to the production of gasoline, diesel or gas-powered trucks, cars or engines for aircraft.

In 1929, the brand patented the Panhard bar: an anti-roll stabilizer bar that is still used in the rear suspension of many rigid-axle vehicles.

Two small windows added between the windshield and the door pillar were designed to improve the driver’s visibility. Photo Osenat

Make way for aerodynamics

In the 1920s, Panhards were equipped with 4-, 6-, and 8-cylinder engines ranging from 10 to 35 horsepower. The 1930s saw the arrival of 6- and 8-cylinder 6-CS, 6-DS and 8-DS with 13 to 29 hp.

In the early 1930s, car manufacturers were concerned about the aerodynamics of their models. In 1934, the brand evolved with the “Panoramic” body. Two very strongly curved small windows on either side of the windshield provide full visibility without blind spots.

It was the brand’s golden age, which continued with the Dynamic in 1936.

Exuberant style and failure

Dynamic is an extremely modern car: a self-supporting steel body, two-circuit hydraulic brakes, four-wheel torsion bar suspension, independent front, panoramic windows and, of course, a six-cylinder valveless engine.

The introduction of the speaker took place in May 1936, in the midst of the strikes associated with the advent of the Popular Front. It’s a time when bourgeois customers look for discretion and therefore forget about the car.

The Dynamic would later become a commercial failure, selling 2,600 cars over 4 years.

In 1953, the Dyna Z finally became Panhard's last sedan.  Pl 17 Dyna Z. Photo Archives uses Panhard's platform and engine

In 1953, the Dyna Z finally became Panhard’s last sedan. Pl 17 Dyna Z. Photo Archives uses Panhard’s platform and engine

Popular buildings

After the Second World War, the Pons Plan defined a list of manufacturers authorized to resume operations according to a narrow schedule, where each manufacturer was allocated one type of production: popular, mid-range car, etc.

The Panhard et Levassor brand becomes Panhard and should be suitable for creating more affordable cars. To overcome the limitations, the brand uses aluminum, especially for the bodies of the Dyna X and the first Dyna Z.

All models are powered by air-cooled flat-twin engines that benefit from remarkable efficiency.

New models, but little distribution

In 1953, Panhard introduced the Dyna Z: a ​​very streamlined four-door sedan with an aluminum and magnesium alloy body. Manufactured by bodybuilder Chausson, it offers 0.26 Cx. Then steel will be used. 139,632 cars find buyers in 5 years.

Place in PL 17 in 1959 (for Panhard & Levassor and total of 5 Cv + 6 places + 6 liters per 100 km). Modernized front and rear, the center section comes from the Dyna Z. More than 166,000 PL 17s were produced. The PL 17 would even win the Monte Carlo Rally in 1961. The Break model was also produced in very small quantities.

PL 17 in all its glory.  It comes from the Dyna Z with a modernized front and rear.  It was sold only in Belgium and France.  Image Archive Panhard

PL 17 in all its glory. It comes from the Dyna Z with a modernized front and rear. It was sold only in Belgium and France. Image Archive Panhard

Citroën rescue

In 1955, Panhard turned to Citroen (which took a 25% stake) to overcome its difficulties with a reduced range and distribution limited to France and Belgium. In addition, delicately maintained mechanics will cause discomfort.

In 1958, Citroen increased to 45% of the capital. However, Panhard continued to build new cars such as the 4-seater Panhard 24 BT (24 Hours of Le Mans) coupé, of which 28,651 were produced between 1963 and 1967. A shorter 24 CT version was also born.

They were characterized by thin masts for visibility and a self-supporting body that ensured optimal road maintenance.

Execution by Citroën

In 1965, Citroen bought all the shares and became the owner of Panhard. At that time, new projects were ready: a convertible, a four-door sedan, a wagon…

Citroën began by selling Panhards through its own dealerships, but held back on investment to study new engines and models to compete with its range. It will use avenue d’Ivry chains to produce 2 CV vans.

Sales collapsed very quickly and production was discontinued in 1967. The Panhard brand is still owned by Stellantis.

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