1901 Panhard et Levassor Rear-Entrance Tonneau

The first Panhard rolled out in 1891, and in 1892 this pioneer firm created the mechanical layout nearly all other successful manufacturers would follow: front engine, midships transmission, and driven rear wheels. Called “La Systeme Panhard,” it was the beginning of many innovations this company would bring to automotive development, such as wheel steering and standard pneumatic tires in 1898.

By 1894 they had become prominent competitors in the early city-to-city races, and in 1898 a Panhard won the Paris-Rouen Trial, the Marseilles-Nice, and the Paris-Amsterdam-Paris races. Victory in the grueling Paris-Bordeaux event capped that successful year. The firm took first place in the first Gordon Bennett race in 1900. They finished their year in international competition in 1904 by winning the Gordon Bennett Circuit des Ardennes race in Belgium and the first Vanderbilt Cup Race on Long Island, New York.

This Panhard et Levassor is a rare survivor which has enjoyed its 104 years without any major modifications or alterations.

Factory records indicate that its original owner was Michel Plancard of Toulouse, who took delivery on June 5, 1901. Indeed, it still carries its license plate of “11-T,” indicating it was the eleventh car registered in that district of France.

Stored for decades, it was discovered in the basement of a castle in Carcassonne and in the 1990s it made its way to the United States. The present owner fully restored the Panhard et Levassor except for the rear tonneau upholstery, which remains as-delivered in 1901. The car successfully participated in the 100th anniversary of the London-to-Brighton Commemorative Veteran Car Run in 1996, along with 650 of 850 known surviving cars made before 1905. The owner reported the car able to carry four people at 25-30 mph.

The factory build sheet indicates this Panhard was originally ordered with spark plug ignition rather than the primitive and less reliable “hot tube” ignition. A magneto supplies the spark and a later-model carburetor is installed. This is a handsome example of what is generally acknowledged to be the best of early French automobiles produced at a time when France led the world in automotive sophistication and excellence.

Carl Bomstead

Carl Bomstead - SCM Senior Auction Analyst

Carl has been writing for SCM for 19 years. His first article appeared in the February 1997 issue, and at least one of his articles has appeared in every issue since. When he’s not writing, he serves as a National Director for the Classic Car Club of America and tends to his extensive collection of automobilia. He has been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for the past 20 years, and he also judges at Amelia Island and other major concours. An extensive number of collector cars have passed through his garage, and a 1947 Cadillac 62 Series convertible and a 1968 Intermeccanica Italia are current residents.

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