Notes by Jean Panhard

Jean Panhard

When I was born a long time ago, it was in 1913, the automobile industry was about twenty years old and as of the post-war period of 1914, my father, Paul PANHARD, then managing the PANHARD Company and LEVASSOR chaired by my uncle Hippolyte PANHARD, I found myself immersed in the automotive world.
I can thus testify that in my first years while the history of the automobile had just begun, no one disputed that PANHARD and LEVASSOR still called “the doyen of the builders” is the ancestor of the automobile.
Moreover, Gottlieb DAIMLER, father of the light petrol engine, founder of the Daimler AG, which later became Daimler Benz, did not write to Emile LEVASSOR on February 9, 1897, a few weeks before his sudden death. On April 14, 1897, “the development of the question of automobiles is still a little behind in Germany, especially in comparison with this movement in France, of which you have the first and most well-known merit”.

Emile LEVASSOR who had joined in the successful business of Rene PANHARD in 1886, after joining it in 1872, wrote November 12, 1890 to Mr. DENEFFE, engine manufacturer in LIÈGE (Belgium): “We currently have 30 vehicles under construction, already with us the orders arrive ».
On November 22, 1890, he wrote to the same DENEFFE “we are starting to manufacture in series”. The automobile industry is thus well born in FRANCE at PANHARD and LEVASSOR also closely followed by PEUGEOT, the house LES FILS OF PEUGEOT FRÈRES being in business relationship with PANHARD and LEVASSOR for many years.
This was obvious for my uncle, Hippolyte PANHARD (1870 – 1957), the only son of René PANHARD, the founder, who died in 1908, and for my father Paul PANHARD (1881 – 1969) who began his career at PANHARD in 1903 and in became the President following Hippolyte PANHARD in 1940 until 1965, when I was then vice president and general manager of the Dean of Automobile Manufacturers. This world precedence has been confirmed by many historians throughout the twentieth century.


  • Pierre SOUVESTRE, in his history of the automobile (DUNOD, publisher 1907) indicates on page 182 that Gottlieb DAIMLER in 1889, directs more particularly its manufacture towards the oil engine for boats, PANHARD and LEVASSOR, him, undertaking the construction of cars.
    He continues on page 185 “LEVASSOR designed the first homogeneous car really worthy of the name and this qualifier” (indeed, it should not be confused with motor cars and tricycles quadricyles engines, interesting vehicles certainly but which relate to velocipedic techniques). Moreover, the market was not mistaken because this type of vehicle has survived the appearance of the automobile industry. Finally, he states on page 186, “we will see later, the colossal party that the two associates of the Avenue d’Ivry knew to draw from their advance on the potential competitors who were to be for the most part customers (to note that the PEUGEOT house was PANHARD’s first client in engines, PANHARD having provided PEUGEOT until 1896).
    Mr. SOUVESTRE continues: “The wise order of the commercial affairs of the house PANHARD and LEVASSOR will easily provide us with the reasons for its ever increasing extension; the scrupulous technical studies which are continually pursuing them will still be the legitimate justification of their reputation as the first house in the world … in all points of view … “».
  • Jacques ICKX, in his excellent book “Thus was born the automobile” (EDITA – Lausanne and VILO – Paris of 1971), extremely well documented work affirms page 186 “the start of the production of Panhard and Levassor was that of the industry Automobile whose next years will see the first steps.
  • Christian H. Tavard, who writes a history of the automobile in 1984 writes a special issue of Historia where he says that he is not a Panhard and Levassor.
  • Jean-Louis Loubet who writes page 23 in his “History of the French automobile” (edition of Seuil – 1980) “it is precisely this same understanding of progress, coupled with a solid industrial know-how that allowed Panhard and Levassor to enter the car industry first. ” This anteriority had been recognized by the Mercedes-Benz leaders I met in STUTTGART before confirming it during the ceremonies of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the car in January 1986, which I attended in the first row with my wife. I observe that 120 years after these events, people are communicating on this subject by taking a little liberty with the historical truth, and that is why in the evening of my busy life by the automobile adventure, in which my family and I were very involved, I wanted to speak briefly but clearly on this subject also referring the reader to the additional information resulting from the note attached.

Note completed writing February 5, 2010, 120 years after the debut of PANHARD and LEVASSOR in the automobile adventure.


  • Honorary President of the Automobile Club de France </ li>
  • Honorary President of the Chambre Syndicale des Automobiles Automobiles </ li>
  • Honorary President of the Mondial de l’Automobile </ li>

The existence of prototypes is often confused with that of mass production, which, moreover, does not have to be confused with the production of the chain, which was initiated much later by Henri FORD (1907). The first series of American automobiles having been realized besides not by Ford but by Oldsmobile since 1901.

No one would dare argue that CUGNOT, who built a self-propelled machine for military use in 1769, is the forerunner of the automobile industry. The same is true of a whole series of inventors, many of whom were French, such as Delamarre Debouteville, Lenoir, etc. Admittedly, Carl BENZ had made some tricycles in 1886 but it is clear that these promising tests were not followed by a real manufacture of tricycles or quadricycles in series, Jacques ICKX noting in his book that in 1890, Carl BENZ was without customers, three of his five tricycles were out of order … (page 171).

It should also be noted that confusion is very often made between tricycles – quadricycles which belong to the velocipedic genre and real cars. In his book on the history of the automobile, SOUVESTRE distinguishes well the quadricycle of the real automobile.

The most important changes that have given the PANHARD and LEVASSOR vehicles the first face of the automobile are:
– 1 °) the vibrations and the distortions of the quadricycle caused bad mechanical effects, that is why LEVASSOR opted for the chassis solution which is much more rigid.
– 2 °) Ignition by burners functioned irregularly, this is why LEVASSOR has developed ignition by incandescence, patent filed by PANHARD and LEVASSOR, August 24, 1891.
– 3 °) the vehicle was poorly balanced with its engine in the center, LEVASSOR distributed the mechanical parts in line with engine at the front on a second chassis and lowered the center of gravity of the vehicle. Tricycles and quadricycles belonged well to the bicycle family even though they were powered by a light petrol engine.

The engineer, Emile DURANDEL wrote in May 1892 in the magazine “The official of the Automobile”: “One of the best system with petrol engines, the system Daimler manufactured by the House PANHARD and LEVASSOR comes by the intelligent velocipedic engineer son of PEUGEOT FRÈRES, Mr. RIGOULOT, to be applied to cycling and may well be here a beginning of small revolutions in the world of cyclists.

René PANHARD, a well-established manufacturer of machine tools (woodworking machines and since 1874, atmospheric engines – patent Otto and Langen, firm in which Gottlieb DAIMLER then worked was convinced that individual transport would be a social revolution and vaporists (Bollée, Serpollet and Dion) had no future.

His associate Emile LEVASSOR, centralist like him, was more difficult to convince, he would have preferred to develop the house PANHARD & amp; LEVASSOR by selling only engines to people who would venture into car building.
But pushed by his wife and by René PANHARD, his partner, who put at his disposal all the necessary human and financial means, he worked in 1890 to the development of the first PANHARD automobile and it is after tests that lasted about 18 months and the development of a glow ignition system of the Daimler-licensed PANHARD engine, which they decided to launch for the first time in the world, a series of thirty real cars, the first six of which were delivered in 1891. These cars were the result of technical developments made by PANHARD alone, (chassis front engine, ignition, clutch, transmission, differential and drive the rear wheels by chain).

Armand PEUGEOT, also Central, was also embarking on this great adventure by ordering his engines at PANHARD but adopting the quadricycle solution, a technique with which he was more familiar, the house LES FILS DE PEUGEOT FRERES being notably major manufacturers of cycles. As such, Armand PEUGEOT manufactured three steam tricycles for Mr. SERPOLLET in 1890.

In 1890, PANHARD sold him a two-cylinder engine to equip a quadricycle and on September 11, 1890, LEVASSOR wrote to Daimler asking him to come to Paris to see the four-seater car developed by PANHARD & amp; LEVASSOR and the quadricycle that PEUGEOT had just sent to PANHARD for tuning because it did not work well at all.

This quadricycle PEUGEOT, the first manufactured by this illustrious house, was finally sold by PANHARD on June 9, 1891 to a Swedish after it had been repaired by PANHARD. In fact, Armand PEUGEOT had opted for the quadricycle solution of the same type as that developed by Daimler, whom he met in the presence of Emile LEVASSOR at the end of 1888 in Valentigney. During this presentation meeting of Armand PEUGEOT to Gottlieb DAIMLER by Emile LEVASSOR, Gottlieb DAIMLER came with a prototype quadricycle whose performance was very poor, the vehicle failing to climb the coast by more than 3%!

However, inspired by this model, the engineer RIGOULOT from LES FILS DE PEUGEOT FRÈRES realizes in 1891, a powerful quadricycle since he went from Valentigney to PANHARD in Paris in early September 1891 so as to submit to his friend Emile LEVASSOR, its realization. The latter found it quite successful. Messrs. RIGOULOT and DORIOT were then able to accompany the Paris – Brest – Paris bike race organized by Le Petit Journal.

This accompaniment took place safely and also allowed them to return to Valentigney after having accomplished more than 2000 kilometers without notorious incident outside a broken clutch which was repaired. The relations PANHARD and LEVASSOR and PEUGEOT were narrow and confident, between engineers, they sent each other plans, moved to some and to others to share their experiences. So much so that Emile LEVASSOR will go as far as to intervene by letter of October 27th, 1892 near Gottlieb DAIMLER so that Armand PEUGEOT can sell his own cars in Alsace where he had family (Alsace was then annexed to the Germany).

Emile LEVASSOR wrote to his friend Gottlieb DAIMLER: “On our side, we have a lot of activity, we already have several cars in circulation, all of them giving very good results, we have, in addition, orders for the next season and especially many
inquiries. On the other hand, the house PEUGEOT, which has now been very successful in its tests, wants to go ahead, accordingly and this is the main purpose of this letter, the house PEUGEOT asked me if it could deliver in Alsace etc. ”
In summary, the three musketeers of the automobile, PANHARD and LEVASSOR, Armand PEUGEOT and Gottlieb DAIMLER had an interest in sticking together to impose on the market their achievements (engines, quadricycles, automobiles) and this, to a nascent clientele both in FRANCE than in GERMANY. This of course explains the nature of their close and confident relationships.

To conclude this note of historical reminders, FRANCE can be proud to be the cradle of the automobile industry with PANHARD and LEVASSOR and Armand PEUGEOT who “started” immediately behind PANHARD. To date, the PSA PEUGEOT CITROËN Group is the oldest current manufacturer in the world, it is also owner of the brand Doyenne PANHARD and LEVASSOR by CITROËN interposed following the merger of PANHARD with CITROËN in 1965.

As such, the PANHARD archives belong to him, they are deposited at the National Museum of the Automobile Schlumpf collection in Mulhouse and historians can refer to it as it was done for the establishment of this historical note. It is not possible to conclude this brief historical note without paying a very special homage to Emile LEVASSOR, who was recognized by Gottlieb DAIMLER, the greatest pioneer of the automobile industry, to such an extent that a monument was erected. to his memory in 1907 in Paris – Porte Maillot and this, to immortalize in the eyes of the general public, the memory of the one who was the REAL FATHER OF THE AUTOMOBILE.

February 5, 2010,
To be attached to the communication of Mr Jean PANHARD.

& Nbsp;

Jean Panhard passed away on July 16, 2014. </ em>

An event gathering more than 100 vehicles of the mark had been organized in his commune to celebrate his 100 years (see the article devoted to this subject in the section “past activities”) </ em>

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