I for Individuality

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Road Impressions of the Panhard 24CT

I for individuality is kinder to Citroën, of whom Panhard-Levassor are a subsidiary, than writing P for peculiar, although that is how many owners of conventional cars would describe this eye-catching 848-c.c. air-cooled twin-cylinder coupé. Not that this condemns it. Indeed, the main appeal of this latest Panhard model is individuality, allied to an appearance which turns many heads. Passers-by may be under the impression this is a new pocket-size Ferrari or Maserati or some other exotic make. Alas, the driver has no such illusions as he endeavours to overtake the faster family saloons, for even though the horizontally-opposed engine is in Tigre tune, and thus develops 60 (gross) b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m., in a car weighing nearly 16½ cwt. at the kerb this does not manufacture Maserati-class acceleration.

However, do not stop reading, in the mistaken impression that this unusual little Panhard is sluggish. Its o.h.v. engine with those torsion-bar valve springs, although endowed with but one Zenith carburetter and having a these-days modest c.r. of 8.0 to 1, contrives to take this 2+2 coupé over a s.s. ¼-mile in 22½ sec., gets it up to 60 m.p.h. from initial clutch engagement in about the same amount of elapsed time, and will wind up to the equivalent of over 70.m.p.h. in 3rd gear and to 90 m.p.h. in the 4.52-to-1 top cog, sounding rather like a small cabin aeroplane coming in to land.

The fact is that this is another car which, emanating from France, is not unsurprisingly at its best on unrestricted open roads. In such conditions the Panhard 24CT, which will be in the news this month when a special supercharged CD version competes at Le Mans, will cruise effortlessly at anything up to almost its maximum speed. It is when traffic or road conditions call for frequent gear-changing that the thing becomes a bore—the otherwise very smooth engine changing into a lumpy, audible, clattering flat-twin, from which better acceleration is desirable, and the gear-change itself having the drawbacks of a floppy, curved central floor-lever calling for considerable, precise movements across the gate and with synchromesh that is too easily beaten, so that all but very slow changes cause a crunch, yet the gears are notchy to engage. Reverse is easy to find, through 2nd, after the lever has been depressed. The action of the clutch pedal, rather than the clutch itself, was sticky.

What it lacks in urge the Panhard makes up for by very safe cornering and road-holding, abetted by its Michelin “X” tyres and big cast-alloy drum brakes which anchor it effectively if an emergency intrudes, even if they are rather heavy and insensitive.

The Panhard corners oddly, yet effectively, pulled round by its front-wheel drive, the accurate rack-and-pinion steering being notably high-geared (2 7/16 turns, lock-to-lock), transmitting some return motion and being heavy for parking, otherwise light but a bit vague. The small wheel, leather-padded on its single spoke, is oval—and my stomach isn’t all that over-developed! Once the driver becomes better acquainted with the 24CT, making full use of its rather jerky but adhesive cornering, with a tendency to lean at the rear end, good average speeds over winding roads, are the rule rather than the exception, If the throttle has to be eased understeer changes to a lurchy oversteer, hence the sometimes queer cornering line. The ride tends to be fifty, which can offset directional stability slightly.

The Panhard coupé’s biggest selling point, however, is its sheer individuality and good looks. It is also comfortable and fully-equipped for an 850-c.c. automobile.

The body lines are as satisfactory as those of the previous CD coupé were ugly. Although the mechanical specification is that of the Panhard PL47 saloon—upper and lower transverse leaf-spring front suspension and triple transverse torsion-bars for the dead V-beam back axle, all-synchromesh 4-speed gearbox, Lockheed servo-assisted brakes and 145 x 380 Michelin “X” tyres—the wheelbase is nearly a foot shorter, at 7 ft. 6 in.

The body has a low roof-line and recessed dual headlamps. The separate front seats are fairly comfortable but rather spongy to sit upon and not only have adjustable squabs and a quick-release action to enable the whole seat to slide forward for access to the back bench, after which it automatically resumes its former setting, but three height-settings for front and rear of the cushions, the latter refinement rather negatived because of the height of the seat, which is lower, I gather, in current models. The back seat is really only for well-behaved children or luggage, the back folding down to form a better luggage platform.

The interior luxury matches the tone and appearance of this Panhard. There is copious crash-padding but no provision for safety-harness. The carpets are easily removed and are laid over sponge rubber. Upholstery, however, is in plastic, although it might be mistaken for the leather I prefer. The wide doors, which lack effective “keeps,” have pockets, rather masked, however, by shallow but well placed arm-rests. There is a rather crudely-lockable deep illuminated cubby-hole in the crackle-finish facia, which has hooded Jaeger 110-m.p.h. speedometer and Jaeger tachometer and a smaller clock. The tachometer is straked to indicate that 6,000 r.p.m. shouldn’t be habitually exceeded, but indicates to 8,000 r.p.m., and is also straked to remind the driver not to let the engine lag at under 1,500 r.p.m.not, as a wag suggested, to show that you were going round the dial a second time, to 15,000 r.p.m.! The short needles are clear and steady. Instrumentation includes an ammeter, and an essence gauge marked 0, ½, 1, and twin stalks control, on the left, lighting by the usual Citroën twist-knob and sideways movement, also the horn, on the right non-self-cancelling direction-indicators and daylight flasher. Such identification as there is, is in French; all dials are separately hooded.

There is very full heating and ventilation, even to rear-window demisting, although there is no booster, so road speed affects the volume. Control of the latter is otherwise by a simple horizontal-quadrant knob in the middle of the facia and an ingenious rotating panel-indicator above, endowed with plan-views of the car, six in all, with portions shaded in red to show to which area heat is being diverted—which should keep most infants quiet for most of the journey. Swivelling aircraft-type ventilators each end of the facia provide truly refreshing cold-air streams.

Two groups of facia press-buttons, unlabelled, provide for, left, n/s. parking lamp and roof light (which shines on to the aforesaid rotary heat-distribution indicator), right, 2 speed wipers and the o/s. parking lamp. The wipers have a very ingenious, slightly maddening cross-over action. There are warning lights only for ignition and indicators, an ash-tray, a cigar-lighter, a bonnet-release knob and, under the steering column, choke and battery-cut-out knobs. The last-named is a good casual-thief deterrent, apart from being a safeguard against overnight battery deflation—I confess it caught me out and I imagined the battery really was “flat.” The knob is labelled “B,” the choke “S,” there is no positive indication that it has broken the circuit, and I failed to heed the handbook’s coupe-circuit général; anyway, the knobs are reversed from the handbook instructions on r.h.d. cars! The electric clock is ill-suited to such a master-switch, of course. There is rheostat control of instrument lighting, varied by a knob obviously intended to be operated by putting one’s hand through the steering wheel.

The hand-brake is a pull-and-twist affair for the right hand, up under the scuttle, but is not too desperately inaccessible. There are soft, swivelling anti-dazzle visors, madame’s having a vanity mirror with its own rather unnecessary little lamp to illuminate her compact. There are two more interior lamps in the back compartment. There is a wide-view mirror of the dangerous “diminishing” type.

Certainly the flamboyant interior and that terrible steering-column nacelle which used to frighten me out of Panhard-Levassors of recent times have gone, to great advantage. The interior of the 24CT coupé is tasteful and comfortable. A modest “PL” badge adorns the steering-wheel spoke.

The Panhard’s exterior shape is the equal of specialist styling, as I hope our illustrations prove—although not everyone was in agreement. The finned brake-drums protrude through the wheels as elaborate trims; the number-plates have curiously corrugated letters and numerals and are sensibly high-set. The rear side-windows, frameless on their lower edges, open as extractor vents. The bonnet is forward-hinged and self-supporting and releasing. The stepped but roomy boot has a lid which has to be unlocked by key (one key serves all locks plus the starter), after which it springs up automatically. The spare wheel is in a tray beneath, easily released and re-locked, although it sometimes fell on its own when the boot-lid was lifted, and then began to open on the road, which is dangerous and could result in loss of the spare wheel. In the end it refused to knit at all and we had to put the wheel inside the car! I understand that on later cars the catch has been improved.

The engine, with its two ducted 84.8 x 75 mm. cylinders, is beset by a maze of pipes and cables, nor is the USL 12-volt battery entirely accessible. However, the bent-wire clip-stick and the sparking plugs are easily removable. Ignition is by Ducellier distributor, and the Cibie dual headlamps are behind a single panel, deeply recessed in the front wing—what happens in snow?

The fuel gauge is so vague that I felt I had to refuel after about 200 miles. In fact, the range was 281 miles; the tank is said to contain 9¼ gallons and fuel consumption of premium petrol averaged 32.7 m.p.g. No oil was used in 480 miles. There is no starting handle and 20 points call for the grease-gun every 2,000 miles, which calls for a keen owner! The fuel filler is a locked flap on the n/s. rear of the body.

A very good safety provision is red lamps in the trailing edges of the doors, which light automatically. The interior door releases are in the form of slides set up under the arm-rests, and the external handles are well recessed. The doors are unexpectedly “tinny” to slam and soft plasticine appears to have been used to seal the roof guttering. A very acceptable feature is that the car is draught-free with the windows down.

The emphasis is very definitely on individuality but even extreme individualists, unless they are abnormally wealthy, may regret that in England this good-looking, unconventional f.w.d. Panhard-Levassor costs £1,329 14s. 7d., of which purchase tax accounts for nearly £230. It is handled here by the Panhard Division of Citroën Cars Ltd. of Slough. Bucks.W. B.

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