HomePick of the DayPick of the Day: Panhard was among the automotive pioneers

Pick of the Day: Panhard was among the automotive pioneers

1961 Panhard PL17 heralds the historic French brand


The Pick of the Day is a 1961 Panhard PL17, and the Lavergne, Tennessee-based dealership advertising the vehicle on ClassicCars.com notes that “if you didn’t already know the 1961 Panhard PL17, now’s the time to dig a little deeper.”

 “Panhard is French in all the best ways,” The dealer continues. “The company was part of the pre-war era where the country was the epicenter of automotive design and engineering. But the post-war cars like this PL17 sedan was all about showcasing a streamlined economy car. 

“The profile feels like pure French art as the overhangs on the front and rear flirt with symmetry. And the aluminum bumpers and wheel covers fell like a nod to earlier alloy-bodied Panhards. 

“So when there’s a car that’s both unique and has a lot of history, it’s desirable to find one as complete as this example.”

Panhard was among the automotive pioneers

Louis Panhard, along with son Adrien and cousin Joseph, was among the automobile pioneers, and with yet another, Emile Levassor, his former classmate at the Central School of the Arts and Manufacturing, launched Ste Panhard & Levassor in Paris in 1890 and the following year became the first to produce motorcars in a series, albeit at first of just four identical vehicles.

Those vehicles, with four wheels, the engine mounted in front but driving the rear wheels, would become the standard in automotive architecture. A few years later, the company introduced the Panhard rod, a suspension link that prevented an axle’s lateral movement.

Panhard would produce its last passenger car in 1967, when it was absorbed into Citroen. 

The PL17, more-streamlined successor to the Panhard Dyna Z, was in production from 1959 through 1965, and was offered as a 4-door sedan, a convertible and as a station wagon. The PL name was a tribute to the company’s original name, Panhard et Levassor, and the 17 came from adding the car’s 5CV French horsepower rating, its 6 seats and its fuel-economy figure of 6 liters per 100 kilometers traveled (39 mpg).

“The suicide front doors with everything hinging on the B-pillar certainly will make you a hit at car shows,” the seller dealer notes. “It will attract people over just to get a better view inside. 

“The two-tone red with stylized white insert on the bench seats and flowing across the door panel is the correct pattern. It’s just another reminder of the art of French cars. In fact, the symmetry of the steering wheel and full instrumentation pod is an elegantly simple design where everything is brought together in one central area. And you feel like the ignition was purposely placed under the steering wheel just for balance and harmony. 

“The clean dash gives this a surprisingly spacious nature for a small car, and that shows how the French put an emphasis on comfortable driving. Many pieces have the feeling of originality, for better or worse, but there are a lot of people who will get excited for such a complete example like this.

 “Panhard loved engineering,” the dealer notes. “After all, you should at least know them from the Panhard Rod suspension design. And the engine bay really showcases that kind of cleverness. It’s an 848cc flat-two motor. This twin cylinder boxer is the kind of thing you may expect in a European motorcycle, but they were able to extract a few more horsepower than Volkswagen did from the Beetle (and VW had double the cylinders and almost 50 percent more displacement!). 

“It’s that kind of uniqueness that makes a running and driving example like this so alluring. As a front-engine, front-wheel drive car it has the ideal layout for efficiently moving the power to the pavement. In fact, you’ll enjoy telling people you have a 1961 model because that was the year the Panhards used their traction advantage to win the full podium at the Monte Carlo Rally. 

“It’s not an overall speed demon, but instead, the fun is about getting the most out of the motor and fully utilizing the unique column-mounted four-speed manual transmission. And as you take this one into the higher rev ranges, the air-cooled powerhouse has a terrific tone that has hints of the best European motorbikes. It has the expected small car nimbleness, and the ride feels a bit more comfortable than expected. In other words, the total experience is uniquely French.”

The 1961 Panhard PL17 is offered for $13,995. To view this vehicle on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. What a pleasure to see this! My family bought a light green PL17 in 1961 for summer travel in Europe, then to ship home. After ‘teething troubles’ upon delivery in Paris causing several days’ repeated visits to the dealer (“where did your mother learn to curse like that?”) on the Champs Elysée and ultimate collapse in front of the Gare du Nord at rush hour, my father, Lindsay Lafford, fixed it by solidly replugging one of two spark plug leads that had been loose. It worked well for many thousand kilometers, carrying 5 of us and too much luggage all over France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Britain on family visits. One of only a few hundred imported to the U.S. that autumn, it was very difficult to keep it running when things started going wrong. But we loved it—very advanced in its design and more spacious than a Beetle, with its flat floor (no drive train hump) and more.

    • Thank you for sharing this wonderful family story, and I was honored to have met your father, a wonderful and talented gentleman. — Larry

      • Thanks for your kind words, Larry. Lindsay Lafford was definitely a ‘car guy,’ starting with a 3-wheeled Morgan in about 1931, then an old Morris Cowley, 4 MGs in Hong Kong, followed by a long series of American vehicles (including a Kaiser and a Studebaker), punctuated by the Panhard, an Opel, a Fiat and a VW Vanagon (all brought home from European adventures) to a series of hybrids, beginning with a 2-seater Insight in 2000. He was a born ‘early adopter.’ There’s a list, with comments, on his website: Lord-of-Ridley.com as well as clips of his music and wonderful old photos. Dad’s meeting with you was a high spot of his centennial era for him. All the Laffords and Welbons have dominant car genes. Your friendship means a lot to Peter and to us all!

  2. OXYMORON- Jumbo Shrimp, Military Intelligence>>> French Mechanical.
    Other than wines, cuisine and Bridgette Bardot—–the French are not at the top of the game. Far from it.

    Unless you were French why oh why would you buy this international nightmare on wheels?
    It does have p.good styling– hang a picture on the wall.

    A quick search for parts on eBay… hahahaha.
    Hey…Good idea- buy and sell the parts to the other 14 “unique” owners.

    • The French are the most civilized country in the world, the first modern democracy, the best food, art, Etc. This car is for folks with sophisticated tastes only. Sorry Chemo Sabe.

  3. The way this car is designed it doesn’t know if it’s coming or going. There’s better ways to spend 14K than on this sad example of a vehicle.


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