A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters

Panhard-Levassor Motoring, On the Brighton Run

This year’s Veteran Car Commemoration Run was a particularly enjoyable occasion, for me at any rate, because it took place in dry weather over remarkably traffic-free roads (the policing of almost the entire route being beyond reproach, except in Brighton itself, and even here we encountered no real obstruction) and because I was able to re-make acquaintance with the Montagu Motor Museum’s 1903 7-h.p. 1.6-litre twin-cylinder Centaure-engined Panhard-Levassor, as nice a veteran on which to make the annual pilgrimage to the seaside as one could wish to enjoy, and one with a racing ancestry. (I drove this car in the 1964 Run, so technical details about it appear in Motor Sport for December of that year.)

A brief “driving lesson” from Louis Giron on the preceding Wednesday and it seemed that nothing could go amiss. It would be straightforward, you might think, to book a room at the Cumberland so as to awake on the Sunday morning close to the starting place and where Lord Montagu’s party takes breakfast at a suitably early hour prior to mounting their various veterans. If you think that, you know nothing of this famous London hotel. For, my office having booked such a room and confirmed the requirement in writing, I arrived to discover that no such accommodation was available. A considerable party of Italian visitors, who had booked various rooms three months before their arrival, and paid for them, were in the same predicament. These days, it seems, visitors are so plentiful that the big hotels do not need to trouble about service—we are to them just lucrative room numbers, to treat as they please.

At all events, after standing about for an hour at various reception desks, I was found a room elsewhere, paying handsomely for the privilege of humping my own luggage and being kept awake most of what remained of the night by the unceasing roar of London’s traffic and the power of the central heating system. A call in the morning consists of a curt telephone call, with no enquiry as to whether tea or papers would be appreciated. For the substantial charges they make (B. & B. = 93s.) these days the Cumberland offered me little in the name of service to be proud of. Personally, I would recommend visitors either to stay outside the Metropolis or to patronise the smaller, cosier hotels.

However, I digress. Soon all was forgotten as I was joined by Michael Ware and we set off for the always exciting start of the Veteran Car Run in the faithful Panhard-Levassor. Our group, leaving at 8.25 a.m., included John Bolster’s Panhard-Levassor, which required a push-start. Our’s commenced very easily on the handle and thereafter, until triumphant arrival on the Madeira Drive at around 12 noon, the engine never stopped—even when we changed drivers, stopped at a garage to service not the car but ourselves, and, nearing our objective, to put some more oil in one of the dashboard lubricators in the hope of curing an alarming engine knock which had become evident at about this time on the 1964 run, we kept the engine running. This it does very smoothly, albeit with the customary vibration when running light.

When I took my first spell at the wheel I found the positions of the three speeds on the quadrant of the long r.h. gear-lever elusive. But soon the knack was re-acquired and the accomplishment of a completely smooth and silent swap from 3rd to middle speed became a joy to anticipate—especially as the Panhard prefers the latter gear to top unless the road is particularly level and open. Even so, only two hills brought us into the lowest speed and on the first of these prudence in traffic, as we followed a curved-dash Oldsmobile, dictated the final downward change.

I think Michael Ware would agree with me that, docile and willing as this Panhard-Levassor is, our task was made much easier because the twist-grips incorporated in the steering wheel which once operated ignition advance and throttle have been rendered inoperative, a foot accelerator being substituted for the latter control. As for brakes, the piano-type foot-brake steadies the car but, as Michael demonstrated in one traffic “situation”, the push-on r.h. brake-lever, if it is in very close and therefore sometimes awkward proximity to the gear-lever, provides surprisingly good retardation in an emergency. Naturally, the steering, small wood-rimmed wheel on near-vertical column, is exceedingly direct and the bench seat on which driver and co-driver perch is inclined to feel hard. Otherwise, I can think of fewer nicer motor-cars on which to assay a run to Brighton on a fine winter Sunday morning.

The engine picks up slowly but feels essentially reliable, and with the highest speed engaged the Panhard bowls along quietly and with a fine lolloping enthusiasm, at perhaps all of 30 m.p.h. It carries, beneath the seat, sufficient fuel for the distance, never boils, and ascends the gradients which confront one strongly. With the present fixed ignition there is not much to do except steer, change speed, and occasionally speed lubricants on their way by screwing down a greaser and pressing down the plunger of an oil-feed with large glass bowl and a motorcycle-type drip-feed.

Under the clear road conditions of 1969 the Run was, for us, no bother at all, but a great many of our fellow motorists appeared to be in trouble this time, our sympathy going out to Cdr. Erskine-Gray, whose 1902 Argyll had a flat tyre on the o/s rear wheel quite early in the day.

Clearly the Panhard-Levassor is (was) a very superior sort of automobile and one of which others, particularly the courageous riders of tricycles and forecars, and the crews of the very slow vehicles such as the various Benz primitives and Fotheringham Parker’s 1890 Lutzmann Victoria, displaying its BRDC badge, which were overtook easily at its stately gait, must surely be somewhat envious? Although of course the Panhard, in its turn, was quickly left behind by such superb motor-cars as Peter Hampton’s 1903 Sixty Mercedes, Gregory’s 1904 Darracq and L. A. Jackson’s 1903 De Dietrich racer. The example we drove enabled us to appear at Lord Montagu’s excellent cocktail party at the Royal Albion in ample time and, using a Ford Capri 3000 GT thereafter, we were home in Hampshire around the time that the last veteran was due to clock-in on Brighton front, which is four o’clock. This in spite of the fact that on the road from Hove to Petworth many drivers of modern cars were progressing more slowly than many of the faster veterans, presumably practising for some forthcoming Slow Race, at which they should gain high honours!

Everything went so smoothly, under RAC and VCC control, with the Police co-operating splendidly and National Benzoic laying on their traditional hospitality, that the success of the 1970 Run is assured.—W. B.