1903 Panhard et Levassor 7 hp
Year of manufacture1903
Number of seats2
Formerly in The National Motor Museum Collection, regular London to Brighton finisher, offered from a prominent UK Collection
1903 Panhard et Levassor 7hp Type A Rear-entrance Tonneau
Registration no. BS 8571
Chassis no. 5887
René Panhard was a qualified engineer whose business, based in Paris, made woodworking tools and built Deutz engines under license. With his partner, Émile Levassor, he experimented with horseless carriages using engines licensed from Daimler. In 1891, Panhard et Levassor offered for sale what was arguably the world's first production car, using a built-under-license Daimler engine. Both Daimler and Benz had made automobiles before Panhard but these had been individual 'prototypes' rather than models intended for series production. Above all, the firm was responsible for bequeathing the automobile world the Système Panhard, which embodied the now familiar layout of a front-mounted engine driving the rear axle via a clutch, gearbox and differential. The modern motor car had been born.
After Emile Levassor's death in 1897, René Panhard re-organised his company as a joint stock corporation to attract wealthy investors, while Commandant Arthur Constantin Krebs succeeded Levassor as technical and production manager. Krebs began work by designing a series of four-cylinder engines with nominal power outputs ranging from 8CV to 20CV. His Paris-Amsterdam racer of 1898 featured a tilted (as opposed to vertical) steering column and this innovation was soon carried over to the production cars. Racing developments continued to influence the production Panhards, which soon featured front-mounted radiators, first seen on the Paris-Bordeaux racer of 1899. Battery/coil ignition and Krebs' own diaphragm carburettor were features of Panhard et Levassor engines by the end of 1901, and during that year he introduced the first power units, known as the Centaure family, to depart from the original Daimler design.
Krebs pressed ahead with developing his new Centaure engines, and in 1902 adopted individual cylinders instead of the previous cast-in-pairs arrangement. A five-bearing crankshaft and three valves per cylinder were advanced features of the Centaure Leger (Lightweight) unit. The Centaure range soon expanded to incorporate three-cylinder engines alongside the existing parallel twins and fours, an early example of modular construction. For 1903 Krebs introduced the Centaure S family of T-head fours with magneto ignition, which ranged in size from a 2.4-litre 10CV up to a 5.3-litre 23CV.
Panhard et Levassor swiftly established a reputation for fine engineering, excellent craftsmanship, superior reliability and outstanding performance, qualities that placed the company at the forefront in early motor sport, notably the great Continental city-to-city races of the time. Little wonder therefore that such notables and sportsmen as the Hon C S Rolls, René de Knyff, Maurice Farman, Léon Girardot and Fernand Charron were associated so closely with the marque. As early as 1898 Charron had driven a Panhard et Levassor to victory in the Paris-Bordeaux race, covering the course at an average speed of 26.9mph, while in 1899 Girardot's 12hp car covered the 201 miles of the Ostend-Paris race to win at an average speed of 32.5mph. Significantly, it was with a Panhard et Levassor that the Hon. Charles Rolls chose to commence his competitive career, driving one of the French manufacturer's cars on the 1,000 Miles Trial of 1900. Indeed, Rolls became the firm's British agent before establishing his own motor-manufacturing business.
The late John Bolster once described the 7hp Type A thus: 'Lacking the sheer drama of the big four-cylinder Panhards, the two-cylinder car must be regarded as one of the most reliable and best-made machines of the Veteran era. Above all, it will give its ultimate performance only to the man who can feel its sensitive controls and interpret the sound of its engine.'
This car was imported new into the UK by Panhard agent, Harvey du Cros, and it passed via The Imperial Motor Works at Lyndhurst to John Morant of Brockenhurst. It appears that it later reverted to general garage duties back at Lyndhurst Garage where it remained little used between 1928 and 1959, the year that it was re-commissioned for participation in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. Its history became still more distinguished in 1960 when it was purchased at auction by The Montagu Motor Museum at Beaulieu where it was subsequently displayed. During that ownership it became perhaps the most illustrated Panhard et Levassor ever, appearing on museum postcards, table mats, and other souvenirs and being selected for illustration, with Lord Montagu at the wheel, in 'The Pictorial Guide to the Motor Museums at Beaulieu, Brighton and Measham'.
In two-seater form and carrying the registration number 'AA 14', the Panhard participated in numerous London to Brighton Runs, featuring in The Motor magazine (December 1962 edition) and driven by Bill Boddy, editor of Motor Sport, in the 1964 event, which was reported upon in that magazine's December 1964 issue (copy article on file). In the 1970s, the car passed into private ownership and was the subject of further restoration. A few more London to Brighton Runs were completed prior to acquisition by the immediately preceding owner. It was during the latter's ownership that the body's rear section was built, carefully copying an original sister car for accuracy, thus creating rear-entrance tonneau accommodation for four passengers. These 7hp Panhards have an enviable reputation for effortlessly transporting four people to Brighton, taking all hills in their stride.
This car is powered by a Centaure twin-cylinder engine, fuelled by a period Krebs carburettor. Drive is via a three-speeds-and-reverse gearbox with quadrant gear change, while final drive is by twin chains to the rear wheels. An extra oiler has been fitted to the gearbox. Benefiting from reground valves and new valve springs, the engine runs well, the ignition system having been upgraded with Ford Model T trembler coils and a 12-volt battery. All wheels have been rebuilt by wheelright John Tiplady in Suffolk using American oak, and new steel rims supplied by Richard Brothers of Cardiff. The Fowler final drive chains and sprockets were replaced in 2017.
'5887' is presented in turquoise livery with black, deep-buttoned, leather upholstery, that in the front being original. It is handsomely equipped with a centre-mounted Powell & Hanmer acetylene headlamp and Lucas 'King of the Road' oil side and rear lamps. Dashboard furnishings include oil distribution via a Graisseur Comte-Goutte oiling system. The steering wheel incorporates Panhard's own speed controller, working from a rotating shaft in the steering wheel and regulating fuel supply and ignition timing. It is understood that on this particular car this is a later but acceptable modification.
This desirable Veteran motor car is handsomely presented, having a delightful patina that takes years to acquire and no time at all to destroy. '5887' is said to perform exceeding well on the open road, with a quite outstanding turn of speed for a car of this age and horsepower, and has the added advantage of an entry in this year's London-Brighton Veteran Car Run.
A stunning Edwardian motor car from one of France's premier makes, '5887' is offered with a V5C registration document; a Veteran Car Services Dating Certificate No. 2524, issued March 2007; a detailed report from Veteran Car Services Dating Panel dated August 2006; and a copy of the 1963 'Pictorial Guide to the Motor Museums' featuring this car on the front cover.