GREAT RACING MARQUES. xi’ PANHARD ET LEVASSOR.
By E. K. H. KARSLAKE.
Far back in the old heroic days, before most of the cars which are now famous had ever been heard of, the name of Panhard et Levassor enjoyed an unrivalled prestige among every devotee of motor racing. For the first few years of its development, in fact, the history of Panhard may be said to be the history of the motor car. It was in 1889 that M. Levassor got into touch for the first time with Gottlieb Daimler, and from that moment he set about the building of a motor car. Of course,
everyone knows how he invented the gearbox, remarking, ” Brutal, but it works,” as he did so and, in fact, much of his original design has survived till the present day, for he placed the engine in front and drove to the back wheels. By 1894 enough cars had been built to allow a race to be held from Paris to Rouen, and no less than 102 machines set out on the journey. Of these, fifteen arrived at Rouen, with a 4-seater Panhard in third place but as the contest was really to prove that a car could actually do the seventy odd miles from Paris to Rouen, the first prize was divided between the Pan
hard and a Peugeot which had arrived second, as the most roadworthy vehicle.
The Marquis de Dion, who had come in first on his 4-seater steam car, had to be content with second prize, although it was admitted that “his interesting steam tractor . . . is incomparably fast, especially when going up hill,” and had, in fact, averaged over 7 m.p.h. for seventy miles. The marquis, therefore, decided to organise a pure speed test for the following year, and the course was chosen as a journey to Bordeaux and back. This time no less than thirty-one firms entered cars, and among them was one specially built for the race by Panhard Levassor with 4i h.p. engine. The start was at Versailles on rith June, 1895, and 48 hours 48 minutes afterwards, Levassor was back in Paris, his victorious
Panhard having covered the 732 miles at 14.9 , in the first real motor race ever run. In 1896 another great race was organised, this time from Paris to Marseilles and back. The 4 h.p. Panhard was again entered. M. Levassor, however, while travelling at high speed (about 20 m.p.h.) struck an obstacle, which had the effect of wrenching the steering
tiller out of his hands, his car turned over, and its designer-driver was killed. The race, however, was won by Alayade, driving another 4 h.p. Panhard, who averaged 15.9 m.p.h. for the 1,077 miles.
Panhard having thus won every race that had been held, it was the turn of the others, and in 1897 no important victories fell to their lot. In March of 1898, however, a race was held from Marseilles to Nice, and marked the first successful appearance of Charron and the 8 h.p. Panhard. This car had a 4-cylinder engine with a bore and stroke of 8o X 120 (2402 c.c.) and its b.h.p. of 8 forms an interesting comparison with 200 odd h.p. which would be obtained from a racing engine of equal size nowadays. Its average speed for the 148 miles of the race was 21.4 m.p.h. ; speeds were going up!
In May was run the Paris-Bordeaux race, over the road which had been the scene of the triumph of Levassor three years before. Again the winner was the 8 h.p. Panhard,. but this time its driver was the Chevalier Rene de Knyff, who is still at the head of the great French firm, and President of the Automobile Club de Prance, and who then averaged 23.5 m.p.h. over the 359 miles to Bordeaux.
In July came the race from Paris to Amsterdam and back, and victory fell once more to Charron on the 8 h.p. Panhard, while the motoring world literally stood aghast at his average of 27.3 m.p.h. for 902 miles. Since the Paris-Marseilles race, M. Mayade had also been killed by the tiller of his car being wrenched from his hands, and Charron’s Panhard, for the first time in racing history, was fitted with wheel steering.
The 1899 season opened with the Paris-Rouen-Paris race, an event which was won by Girardot on a 6 h.p. Panhard, whose average of 30.25 m.p.h. showed a considerable increase on the 7 m.p.h. set up by the Marquis de Dion on the same road over half the distance only five years before. Then, in May, came the great event of the year, the second Paris-Bordeaux race, and another victory fell to Charron. Engines were growing larger now, and the famous driver’s Panhard developed 16 h.p., while the average for the race was increased to 30.3 m.p.h. The 16 h.p. Panhard had made a successful debut, and de Knyff followed it up by winning two more races on the same type of car. The Spa-Bastogne-Spa race in. Belgium he won at 24.5 m.p.h., and in the Tour de France race he averaged no less than 30.8 m.p.h. for 1,377 miles. Before the year was out, however, Girardot was to show that much could still be done with his 12 h.p. Panhard, by dead-heating with. a 16 h.p. Mors in the Paris-Ostend race at 32.5 m.p.h., and winning Paris-Boulogne at 33.5 m.p.h. In 1899 a great argument had taken place between Mr. Winton and M. Charron as to the respective merits of American and French cars, and Mr. Gordon Bennet had decided to give a cup for which cars of all nationalities could compete in a race. The course chosen was Paris-Lyons and the race was run in June, 1900. The Wmton car was a single-cylinder machine with tiller Steering; while Charron, in spite of the fact that de Knyff had won the circuit du Sudouest and the NiceMarseilles races earlier in the year on the now famous
16 h.p. Panhard, used a new monster 24 h.p. machine. The result of the race was a foregone conclusion, and Charron arrived at Lyons having averaged 38.6 m.p.h. for 354 miles, although his back-axle was badly bent and his mechanic was holding the friction-driven waterpump against the flywheel.
This successful 24 h.p. model gained another victory at the beginning of 19oi, when Maurice Farman won the Grand Prix de Pau by averaging 46.1 m.p.h. for 206 miles. But for the Gordon Bennet Cup, which was run in coniunction with that year’s Paris-Bordeaux race, they decided to build something even bigger, and the famous 40 h.p. Panhard was produced, and again the great French firm was victorious. This year the successful driver was Girardot, who was the only competitor to finish, and who averaged 37.3 m.p.h.
The great race of the year, however, was Paris-Berlin, in which ioo cars took part, including several of the 40 h.p. Panbards. All the way between the two capitals, from Paris to Aix-la-Chapelle, from Aix to Hanover and from Hanover to Berlin, a great race had been fought out between Fournier, on a 6o h.p. Mors and Girardot, de Knyff and Maurice Farman on the Panhards. Finally, Fournier arrived first in Berlin, with Girardot a close second ; but as he moved off from the finishing line for the triumphal procession into the town, one of his driving chains broke, and of all the races which have been merely won, Paris-Berlin came the nearest to a win for Panhard. The race also marked the debut of Charles Jarrott, who at his first appearance on a racing car, piloted his 40 h.p. Panhard into eighth place. In the course of the Paris-Berlin race, several accidents had occured, and the French Government began to look on motor racing with disfavour. Finally, however, it was persuaded to organise one itself round the Nord province, on condition that the cars used alchohol prepared in France instead of petrol. For this race de Knyff had an entirely new car, with a 70 h.p. engine of
x6o x 170 mms. bore and stroke (13,678 c.c.) which was built exceptionally low for a racing car of the time. The other drivers had the 40 h.p. model, and in the race de Knyff was put out of the running by a slipping clutch, leaving Maurice Farman, on one of the 40 h.p. cars, to finish first at an average speed of 45 m.p.h. for 541 miles, with Charles Jarrott on a similar car second.
As a fitting sequel to the Paris-Berlin race of the year before, the big race of 1902 was staged on the Paris-Vienna road. With it was combined the GordonBennet Cup race, the competitors in which had to go only as far as Innsbruck. France as the holder of the cup, was challenged only by England, which was represented by S. F. Edge on a Napier and Sir Herbert Austin on a Wolseley. The French team included de Knyff on a 70 h.p. Panhard, and a number of other Panhards were entered in the race to Vienna. By the time Belfort had been reached, de Knyff and Edge were the only two of the Gordon-Bennet competitors left in, while de Knyff had a substantial lead. When only 20 kilometres from Innsbruck, however, he was put out of the running by a broken differential casing sleeve, leaving Edge to win the cup for England. Fastest time to Vienna was made by Marcel Renault on a little 16 h.p. car ; but in the big car class, Henry Farman was first on a 70 h.p. Panhard. Some details of these cars may be of interest. In order to obtain lightness, the frames were of wood, with steel strengthening plates ; there was a single transverse spring in front, and semielliptics at the back. The work of lightening the chassis had been so well carried out, that in spite of their I3-litre engines, they were actually lighter than the 40 h.p. model which had preceded them. There was one more victory in store for Panhard before the year was out. In July was organised the first Circuit des Ardennes Race over a closed circuit— an innovation in racing. The firm did not enter officially for this event, but several drivers entered their
own cars and among them Charles J arrott, who after a splendid race finsihed first on the 70 h.p. car he had driven in the Paris-Vienna race, averaging 54.3 m.p.h. for 320 miles.
S. F. Edge having won the Gordon Bennet Cup in 1902, the 1903 race had to be organised by the British club, and a course was selected in Ireland. The French team for the race included de Knyff and Henry Farman on Panhards, and they had to compete against cars from England, Germany and the United States. In the course of the race, all the French drivers dropped out except de Knyff, and he was left in to fight out the finish against Jenatzy on the Mercedes, and after a magnificent race, the latter just got home first with de Knyff in second place ; and once more the cup was lost to Prance.
The Panhard et Levassor firm, however, had their consolation in that year’s Circuit des Ardennes race, which was run over the same course in Belgium as in 1902, and which was won by the Baron Pierre de Crawhez who on a 70 h.p. Panhard averaged 54.5 m.p.h. for the 320 miles, and whose time varied from Jarrott’s of the year before by less than one minute. The next year the race was run again, and this time it was George Heath who secured the third consecutive win for Panhard. For the 1904 race the distance had been increased 370 miles, but Heath on his go h.p. Panhard raised the average for it to 57 m.p.h.
It was the same driver and car who gained for Panhard their last great win in the classic races ; and curiously enough it was far away from France that the last triumph of the great French firm was played. In 1904 the first race for the American Vanderbilt. cup was run in Florida, and Heath proved the victor, averaging 52.2 m.p.h. for 284 miles. For ten years, Panhard et Levassor had dominated the racing world ; but henceforward their winning day seemed to have passed, and it was other younger firms who snatched the honours. In 1904 and 1905, no Panhards had been chosen to represent France in the Gordon Bennet Cup races ;
but in 1906 came the first Grand Prix, and once more the name of Panhard figured on the entry list of the classic race of the year. Three 130 h.p. Panhards were entered with George Heath, Tait and Teste as their drivers. These cars had 4-cylinder engines of 185 x 170 mms. bore and stroke (18,286 c.c.) and had the highest powerweight ratio in the race. Transmission was by a 4-speed gearbox, and shaft drive instead of chains ; another advanced feature was the use of a high-tension magneto. None of the Panhards, however, succeeded. in figuring very prominently in the race, Heath being the only one of the team to finish.
The next year three cars of the same type were entered, with Heath, le Bien and Duternple as drivers, in the Grand Prix which was over the Dieppe course, but none succeeded in finishing. In 1908 the bore of the competing cars was limited to 155 mms., and the Panhard engines were therefore 155 x 170 mms. (12,836 c.c.). Three cars started, with Heath, Henry Farman and Cissae as their drivers, but on the ninth lap, Cissae’s car overturned and its driver was killed, while on the next lap Farman was forced to retire. Heath was the only member of the team to finish, driving his Panhard into ninth place.
The German grand slam in this race was so much felt in France that for three years no Grand Prix was held. When it was started again, many of the old-tinie champions simply did not come back. Panhard et Levassor have never figured again in the great long-distance races, and a year or two ago their name had almost faded from the memory of motor racing enthusiasts. The rest of the story takes the form of a rather curious epilogue. Soon after Panhard gave up racing, Mr. Charles Y. Knight arrived in Europe with his invention of the sleeve valve. The device was taken up by Daimler in England, Minerva in Belgium and by Panhard et Levassor in France ; and due to its adoption the character of Panhard cars changed rather to closed body type of chassis. After the war, however, experiments were made with light steel sleeves, and it was found that with them almost equal engine efficiency could be obtained as with poppet valves. The result of this was the marketing of the 28-80 h.p. sports Panhard, with a 4-cylinder sleeve valve engine of 105 x 140 mms. (4,849 c.c.). In 1925, M. Ortmans On a specially prepared edition of this model, proceeded to attack the hour record, and succeeded in covering over 115 miles in the time, also annexing the world’s record for 50 and roo kilometres and 50 and Rio miles. In the spring of 1926 he again appeared, this time with the standard straight-eight Panhard of 85 x 140 mms. (6,355 c.c.), and succeeded in bettering his own figures
for 50 kilometres, 50 miles and Ioo kilometres, and a few days later for Ioo miles, while he raised the hour record to 120.24 m.p.h. and succeeded in lapping Montlhery at 126.1 m.p.h.
The 50-mile and kilometre records, however, were recaptured by Eldridge, and in October, therefore, Breten brought out the 8-cylinder again and recaptured them at 129.6 m.p.h. and 128.6 m.p.h., respectively ; at the same time he captured the 5 miles and io kilometre records on the 4-cylinder car. Thus it was proved that the standard cars are still efficient that are produced by the firm which in the early days could hoist the flag of victory at the conclusion of almost every race.