Saturday, August 20, 2011

1960 Panhard PL 17 Tigre

"HERE, at last, is the one car in the world which fulfills all of today's motoring needs . . . the new PANHARD PL 17! Striking a perfect balance between big-car comfort, small-car economy, and sports-car performance, the PL 17 is a unique car whose pure, timeless aerodynamic style forecasts the ultimate shape of the motor car. And PANHARD'S perfected front-wheel drive permits absolutely flat floors front and rear, providing unequalled comfort for six passengers . . . and a kind of safety unknown in rear-drive cars, the PANHARD being pulled around curves rather than pushed! On parkway or plaza, the PANHARD look says 'prestige', the PANHARD record of 950 racing victories says 'performance', and the time-honored PANHARD name says 'perfection'. This, then, is PANHARD PL 17 . . . the one truly compact car in the world today – with a host of features taken from tomorrow!"

Already when new, the french Panhard PL 17 was a rare sight even in the country where it came from. Imagine our surprise when this odd-looking Panhard crossed our way in Cuba, looking like a UFO, and not just because of its design. Not as well-known as Citroen, Peugeot or Renault, Panhard et Levassor, named after it's founders in 1886, was perhaps the most innovative and eccentric french carmaker. Already in 1876, 10 years before their own company was even existing, the two messieurs from Paris had manufactured their first internal combustion engine, followed by the first french motor car in 1890, which makes Panhard et Levassor the oldest french car manufacturer. Over the years, Panhard influenced the automotive world through inventions like the Panhard-rod, or the package-layout that most cars followed in the subsequent decades: engine in front, clutch, transmission and drivetrain behind. What sounds logical today, was quite revolutionary in the early days of the automobile. And, being a truly french company, Panhard continuously fostered eccentric technical solutions such as the use of sleeve-valve engines in their cars.

Most automobiles in prewar Europe were built for the rich people, and being one of the most luxurious french car makers, Panhard, in fact, was a kind of french Packard, known for massive and eccentric luxury cars. Things should change dramatically after the war, though: France was busy with reconstrucion work, and under a new socialist government the carmakers had to build small and medium sized vehicles if they wanted to get ahold of the necessary supplies. Even under these stringent conditions, Panhard managed to develop their own bizarre technical solutions: the new Dyna, introduced in 1947, sported a full aluminium body, an air-cooled 610cc "Hemi" 2-cylinder boxer engine with integral cylinder heads and hemispherical combustion chambers, and a torsion bar suspension at the rear axle. With just 560 kg of weight, thanks to the aluminium body, the car was very agile. Over the next years, the Dyna grew in dimension and weight. Steel panels replaced the aluminium body, but a steady increase in engine power always ensured that the Panhard was a quick car.

The PL 17, introduced in 1960 and built through 1965, was essentially a Dyna with a new front- and rearend. With a drag coefficient of cw=0,26, the car was very aerodynamic, even by today's standards. An "aerodynamic" looking Porsche 356, in comparison, could only reach a cw=0,36. Panhard's eccentric styling was topped by an equally eccentric optional semi-automatic transmission which utilized electromagnetic powder as a clutch. In 1961, Panhard's PL 17 scored first, second and third places in the renowned Rally Monte Carlo, showing that the lightweight construction was competitive among a field of much more powerful cars. Perhaps, this inherent eccentricity was a reason for Panhard's demise, too. Although being economic, spacious and comfortable, Panhards weren't very reliable. And their quirky design was polarizing to say the least, which made them attractive for some, but scared off the majority of customers in this rather conservative segment.

Citroen had held a 25% share since 1955 and fully assimilated Panhard in 1965. For a brief period, the cars were now sold through Citroen dealerships. In 1967, when Citroen needed more production capacities, it stopped the production of Panhard cars, save for military vehicles that haven't been a part of the Citroen deal.

1 Kommentare:

Dan Palatnik said...

What a rare sight indeed. Cuba is full of surprises.