History of Panhard and Levassor until 1939
Panhard, from Breton birth, came to Paris towards 1800 as
a saddler. He then became a coach-builder. His son, Adrien
Panhard, took up his business and turned towards traking
and carrenting where he made a fortune. In 1867, Adrien's
eldest son, René, a former student at the Ecole Centrale,
associated with Jean-Louis Périn who made tool machines
for working wood.
years later, he settled avenue d'Ivry and took a third associate,
his class mate Emile Levassor. Besides tool machines for
working wood, the firm started in 1876 making gas-engines
under licence from Otto and Langen, then, ten years later,
jeavy-oil engines under licence from Daimler. After the
death on Périn, the firm took the name of Panhard
and Levassor and in 1888 - 9 these engines were set on "horseless"
vehicles. In 1891, a series of successful adjustments and
trials on road encouraged René Panhard and Emile
Levassor to start manufacturing and sellinf the first standard
model cars in the world.
oldest trade mark achieved great success in car races, especially
Paris-Bordeaux-Paris in 1895, and in 1900, it was still
the most important car-manufacturer and exporter in the
world. After Levassor's death in 1897, René Panhard
opened up the capital of his firm and Arthur Krebs became
its manager. The latter, who remained at the head of the
firm till 1915, helped consolidating its reputation for
fenuine quality, its financial foundation and the position
of its top-range models, especially with the choice of valveless
engines which were going to equip all the card till 1939.
When Krebs left, Paul Panhard, René's nephew, took
command of the firm.
1919, after tehe war during which the firm took part actively
into the effort required from modern industries, the firm
located avenue d'Ivry preferred to maintain its traditions
which up to that time had made it successful : a production
of ten cars a day or so, vaveless engines and luxury and
sports cars" often with customised coach-work. It also
added the manufacturing of petrol, diesel or gas-producing
lorries, rail-car or plane engines and a few lightly-armoured
vehicles for the Army but keeping at the same time the manufacturing
of tool machines for working wood. Doing so, it failed to
operate the turning-point towards making more popular cars
unlike its three rivals, Renault, Citroën and Peugeot,
qhose mass production represented three quarters of the
touring cars produced in France.
the years 1920, the Panhard cars were equipped whith 4,6
and 8 cylinder engines of 10 to 35 HP. In the thirties appeared
the 6-DS and the 8-DS engines with 6 and 8 cylinder of 20
to 29 HP. Then, in 1933, the "Panoramique" and
finally in 1936 the "Dynamic" which had been designed
by Louis Delagarde for the mechanical part and by Louis
Bionier for the coach-body, both responsible for car development.
Adding to the production of beautiful cars, the trade-mark
won world records on closed-circuit with machines driven
by Eyston and Ortmans.
the consequences of the world crisis which was reaching
France from 1932, together with the increase of financial
charges in 1936, put a heavy burden on Panhard & Levassor.
After a strike in November 1936 the firm was nearly ruined
and it had to restrict to a new strategic business plan
where the Stake markets (machine-gun cars, military lorries,
buses for transport in Paris and in province, engines for
the National railways) ensured the main part of its activities,
while only 3 touring cars were produced a day.
old firm's winning cards remained considerable : ample and
qulified workmanship, important industrial means in Paris,
Reims and Orléans, a group of faithful customers,
a strong trade-mark image, the arrival in 1937 of Jean Panhard,
a young polytechnician, ready to help his father Paul. However
Panhard & Levassor were to undergo the trial of the
Second World War in rather difficult conditions.
text is a summary of part of Claude-Alain SARRE's book :
Les Panhard et Levassor : une aventure collective,
published in October 2000 by E.T.A.I., 20 rue de la Saussière.
92641 Boulogne Billancourt Cedex, 01.46.99.24.24 E-mail
: draeger@ iway.fr (192 pages, 56 photos)