Panhard & Levassor

 In Cars

Panhard & Levassor together with Peugeot are the progenitors of the modern petrol-engined automobile.
While Daimler submitted the engines, Emile Levassor developed the cars and components in the 1890s. Following his death in 1897, Arthur Krebs, commander of the Paris fire department has been hired.
His creativity and determination allowed the company to continue on the path drawn up by his predecessor: that of technical progress and quality. Under his leadership, the model range was developed and production followed an upward curve.
Panhard & Levassor has been a supporter of early sporting events. By the turn of the 20th century it became a dominant force in motorsport – challenged only by Mors.
When the Gordon Bennett Cup was announced in 1900 Panhard & Levassor had a wide range of two- and four-cylinder models available.


The first Gordon-Bennett Cup in June, 1900 saw the first appearance of the Panhard & Levassor 24 CV model, the most powerful member of the Phoenix (Phénix) range. This was a 110×140 mm, four-cylinder unit, code named M4I. Only six such cars were produced in 1900, which were destined for the Paris-Toulouse race in July. The 24 CV featured a new four-speed gearbox, code named KC, designed by Krebs. Its reinforced wooden chassis supported semi-elliptical spring suspensions.
The Phoenix range, which was produced in bigger quantities from 1896 featured two-, later four-cylinder engines. The 1900 racing car featured a steering wheel, which gradually replaced the tiller. It also featured different sized tires at the front and at the back.


The first batch of the new Krebs-designed Centaure engine was made in 1901 and it powered the racing cars at the Paris-Berlin and Paris-Bordeaux races. The engine adopted individual cylinders instead of the previous cast-in-pairs arrangement. The individual cylinders were cast with very thin walls and were surrounded by a copper cooling jacket. The walls of the cylinders were so thin that tie rods had to be fitted on the valve side to prevent the cylinder head from twisting under the forces of valve actuation. Only the exhaust valve was mechanically controlled, and for intake there were three small automatic intake valves in each cylinder, located in a cylindrical body above the exhaust valve. This was done to keep the mass inertia of the valves low but at the same time to achieve a large inlet cross section.

The 40-hp Gordon Bennett racer was the racing variant of the 30-hp O4L engine, with 130 x 140 mm, resulting in a cylinder capacity of 7.433 litres. It also had automatic intake valves, battery and coil ignition, drip-feed lubrication, 4 speeds, a leather cone clutch, and chain drive. Lastly, a reinforced wooden chassis and semi-elliptical spring suspensions completed the picture.


For the 1902 season the power of the Centaure engine was increased to a claimed 50 hp, but, in reality, 70 hp had already been developed at 950 rpm, and the engine was able to rev higher.
The crankshaft was quite thin and therefore had five bearings. The engine including the flywheel weighed 310 kg. The entire chassis with engine, axles, wheels and transmission weighed approximately 600 kg.
Rene de Knyff piloted the 70 CV model, but dropped out due to mechanical problems.


For the 1903 season, the 70 CV Panhards became 80 CV (90 hp) while retaining an engine with identical dimensions although deeply revised (T-shaped cylinder heads and controlled valves). The radiator is now integrated into the grille and, for the first time, the cars abandon the reinforced wooden frame for a pressed steel element.

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