1899 Clement-Panhard Voiture Legere Type VCP

As motoring got into its stride in France in the latter part of the 1890s, it was realized that there was a need to fill the gap between the larger, powerful, expensive motor cars and motor tricycles. The great firm of Panhard-Levassor joined the throng with a light car. Panhard-Levassor could not produce enough of these cars to satisfy demand and so licensed the manufacture of their Voiture Légère to one of their directors, Adolphe Clément, resulting in the Clément-Panhard pictured here.

Its layout is distinctive, with a tubular chassis frame having an inclined single-cylinder engine of 4 horsepower mounted at the back, the cylinder head to the rear. Drive is through an open, constant-mesh gear train, with transmission to the rear wheels by side chains. The center-pivot steering controlled by a wheel is a somewhat idiosyncratic feature, but it works well enough in practice, as does the transmission brake augmented by a hand brake working on solid tires.

Full-scale production of the Clément-Panhard commenced in 1899 with car number 101, and continued until 1902 when the planned production of some 500 cars had been achieved. This car, carrying one of the lowest car numbers of any surviving Clément-Panhard, appears to date from the first year of production.

Copies of the extensive personal file collated over this car’s life go with it, and confirm its history and origins. Chassis number 141 was sold new in France to a nobleman, and then came into the possession of a Colonel Thornhill of Drogheda, Ireland. By the very early 1900s the Clément had been registered as “IY 45,” the first car in Drogheda, and was owned by Dr. J. Parr. It has remained within the Parr family and descendents ever since.

The car was sympathetically restored in the mid-1950s, and completed the London-to-Brighton Run in 1956. Since then, it has been regularly turned over, topped up with oil and occasionally run.

The voiturette’s condition has mellowed with age, and there is no disguising its patinated presentation. Cosmetically, it would benefit from repainting the fenders, and other details, but is intact. Beneath the seating area is a purpose-built tray containing all of the necessary spares one requires for a run.
It has been observed that the car has a slight list to port, but careful examination of archive photos suggests this is not a new affliction, and would not necessarily require attention. Mechanically, the engine is free, and gears appear to operate. Nonetheless, the car should be fully recommissioned to put it back into running order.