From 1950-64, Panhard & Levassor rekindled a sporting tradition dating back to 1895 and Emile Levassor’s victory in Paris-Bordeaux-Paris, the world’s first motor race, and continued in Grand Prix until 1908. During these 15 years, the firm took part either directly, or through its clients, in international competitions by exploiting the qualities of its new, aircooled, twin-cylinder engine designed to equip the new Dyna series from 1946. The engine’s excellent performance caught the eye of makers and performance-tuners of small-engine racing cars, along with amateur drivers. That’s how the Champigny-based firm DB (founded by Charles Deutsch and Rene’ Bonnet) adopted the Panhard engine at the end of 1949.
From 1950-53, Panhard were represented in competition only by clients to whom they sold mechanical components and chassis, which they prepared in line with current regulations. Their clients proved increasingly active, accumulating victories both domestically and internationally.
As a result of the fine results by cars with Panhard engines, the factory became further involved in 1953 by creating an official team under Rene’ Panhard. A Panhard, with Riffard bodywork, won the index of performance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, inciting the factory to create a properly structured racing department. In 1954, a DB-Panhard won the 750-cc class at Le Mans, and the Coupe Biennale. Co-operation with DB was stepped up. DB entered four cars for Le Mans in 1955. Following the fatal accident at that year’s race, Panhard renewed its cooperation with Monopole, while simultaneously pursuing its 1954 agreement with DB. The Panhard-Monopole acted as an official team from 1956 to 1958, when Monopole pulled out of racing. Panhard turned to DB, creating the official team known as Panhard-DB from 1959-62.
In January 1962, however, Panhard learned in the press that Charles Deutsch and Rene’ Bonnet had split up, and that Bonnet had gone over to Renault engines. Panhard promptly contacted Charles Deutsch with a view to constructing cars for the next Le Mans, the one event on the calendar that Panhard could not afford to miss. Charles Deutsch had indeed been making plans for a Grand Turismo car with a Panhard engine. Panhard gave the green light at the end of January, and a technical team set to work urgently to produce five prototypes (chassis numbers 101-105) with coachbuilders Chappe & Gessalin involved in manufacturing the laminated plastic bodywork and Panhard supplying the mechanical elements.
Three cars took part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1962 (Chassis numbers 103, 104, and 105). Chassis 105 then took part in hill climbs fitted with a 954-cc engine. On September 16, during the Tour de France Automobile, this car—fitted with a specially prepared 702-cc engine and with modifications to the streamlining— touched 129 mph. The car is presented in its 1962 factory configuration, with its 848-cc engine with two inverted double-barrel carburetors. This is a magnificent opportunity to acquire one of the amazingly fast Panhards, which, during a difficult period for French motorsport, ensured the Marseillaise resounded after top international events.
|Vehicle:||1962 Panhard CD Le Mans coupe|
|Number Produced:||5 (3 ran Le Mans)|
|Original List Price:||N/A|
|Chassis Number Location:||Cockpit left side of center|
|Engine Number Location:||Top on Flywheel end|
|Club Info:||Les Amis De Panhard|
|Alternatives:||1961 Lotus Elite, 1960 Alpine A108, 1959 Fiat Abarth 750 Zagato|
This car, Lot 133 at the Artcurial Le Mans Classic auction on July 9, 2010, sold for $206,375.
Anyone who thinks that the French are not a nationalistic, proud, and competitive people hasn’t been paying attention to history. Being home to Le Mans, one of the world’s oldest racing venues, and certainly its premier endurance race, has long been a source of immense pride, but it also has been the cause of considerable frustration.
Between 1951 and 1972, no French car was even a serious contender for the overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Though it was understandable, since French industry concentrated on small and economical cars that it could sell to the ordinary consumer in the early postwar years rather than high-horsepower bolides for the aristocracy, it still was a challenge to Gallic pride. Winning is not always to the swift, however, and where there is a will it seems there is always a way.
In the specific instance of Le Mans, the opportunity to win presented itself in two relatively obscure awards, the Index of Performance and the Index of Thermal Efficiency.
A French strategy for Le Mans victories
The Index of Performance has its roots in the very early history of Le Mans, which started out as an endurance test for production cars. The idea was to give an award based on how far a car went during the race compared to an arbitrary standard set for a car of that engine displacement. So, a small car that did far better than expected could win over a larger, faster car that only did a little better than expected.
The Index of Thermal efficiency came along a bit later and requires a degree in French logic to understand, but basically it considers how much thermal energy was used to move the weight of the competitor’s car for the distance travelled during the race.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the French fundamentally owned these categories at Le Mans (and sometimes at Sebring) because they favored small-displacement, highly aerodynamic cars that were fast for their size rather than being absolutely fast. This is something the French seemed to do very well.
However, all this was not accomplished without a certain amount of bureaucratic assistance. In 1962 (the year our subject car raced) Lotus tried to enter two of their new Lotus 23s (one with 1,000-cc and one with 750-cc engines) that would have been serious competitors. They were summarily rejected by scrutineering because the front wheels used four mounting studs while the rear used six, thus the required spare wouldn’t fit both ends.
When Lotus fixed the problem by changing the rear to four studs, it was rejected as clearly unsafe, since it must have been designed for six for a reason. Lotus stormed away and didn’t return to Le Mans as a factory until 1997.
Italy contested for these awards with the Fiat Abarths, but the teams were chaotic and the cars undependable so they never presented a serious challenge.
The two trophies were thus essentially guaranteed to the French. Jacques Grelley, who drove for Panhard DB in those years, explains that their cars would race hard for the first 12 hours, at which point a decision would be made about who would soldier on for the Performance trophy and who would back off to claim the thermal efficiency one.
A joy to race
The cars themselves were wonderful, if unequivocally French, with a twocylinder engine ahead of the wheels driving a 4-speed, front-drive transaxle. The bodies were as small and aerodynamic as possible to keep weight and drag to a minimum, and the interior made Spartan seem luxurious. But the package was very effective for the purpose.
The 850-cc engine made about 70 hp and the car weighed 1,350 pounds, for a horsepower to weight ratio of 1:20, but they could run 120 mph down the (prechicane) Mulsanne straight and drove the rest of the track basically floored, so they weren’t slow by any means.
And they won their class at Le Mans, which is no small deal when it comes to collector value. I’m told they are a joy to race, particularly in the rain.
All of this adds up to a very collectible automobile, albeit for an enthusiast with a specific set of passions, with Le Mans, French, and weird being essential to the mix. The market is small and highly specific, but so is the supply, with the result that values have been relatively well established and constant for some time now.
Cars with Le Mans history are worth about twice those without it, and I have been told of several similar Le Mans racers having sold privately for roughly equivalent values to what this one returned.
I have no idea who bought the car, but I expect that it will remain in its homeland as a treasured and at least occasionally vintage raced example of a very unique Le Mans phenomenon: A racer that could win a major trophy by finishing the race effectively seven hours (633 miles) behind the overall winner. It is a great car for the right collector and I’d say it is fairly bought.