1899 CLÉMENT-PANHARD VOITURE LÉGÈRE TYPE VCP TWO-SEATER
Registration No. Not Registered.
Car No. 117
Engine No. 171
Red and black with varnished wood mudguards and yellow wheels.
Engine: single-cylinder, 789 cc, with automatic inlet valve and water-cooled head; Gears: 3-speed; Suspension: full-elliptic rear, front none; Pneumatic tyres; Brakes: transmission and handbrake. Right hand drive.
As motoring got into its stride in France in the latter part of the 1890's it was realised that there was a need to fill the gap between the larger, powerful, expensive motor cars and motor tricycles. Léon Bollée had demonstrated a possible way forward with his voiturette (i.e. small car) for which he coined the name, and others soon followed.
The great firm of Panhard-Levassor joined the throng with a light car designed by its technical and production manager - Major Arthur Krebs. Panhard-Levassor could not produce enough of their large cars to satisfy demand and so licensed the manufacture of their voiture légère to one of their directors, Adolphe Clément. With a background in the cycle industry, he was in the process of building an extensive new works at Levallois-Perret for the making of bicycles, motor cycles and small cars.
Following the 1898 Paris motor show The Autocar commented on the 24th December of that year: The hit of the show .... appeared to be the introduction by Panhard and Levassor of a new type of light carriage, certainly a very handsomely-finished vehicle, and selling at £180, and it is not be be wondered at that, with the name the firm possesses, it should have taken orders for 300 vehicles before the completion and exhibition of the first.... The motor used is the Krebs, which largely resembles a De Dion motor placed horizontally. Still, in competition with other vehicles which are catering for the cheaper classes of the trade in the French markets, the new type will undoubtedly have a big run....
The layout of the vehicle is distinctive. It has a tubular chassis-frame with an inclined single-cylinder engine of 4 hp mounted at the back, the cylinder head to the rear. Drive is through an open, constant-mesh gear train, with transmission to the rear wheels by side chains. The centre-pivot steering controlled by a wheel is a somewhat idiosyncratic feature, but it works well enough in practice, as does the transmission brake augmented by a hand brake working on the pneumatic tyres.
Despite the hub caps reading: Voiture Légère Clément Licence Panhard-Levassor, the make was generally known as Clément-Panhard and the cars were initially sold in Britain by the Motor Vehicle Company of S F Edge. Later the agency was taken up by the Scottish Daimler agents: Stirling-Panhard or Clément-Sterlings. Stirling built their own bodies on the cars which were significantly different from the French machines.
Recent investigation into the make indicates that full scale production commenced in 1899 with car number 101, and continued until 1902 when the planned production of some 500 cars had been achieved and the design was somewhat outdated. This car carries the lowest known Car Number of any surviving Clément-Panhard and appears to date from the first year of production.
It is a well-restored example of a significant light motor car which united two important manufacturers: Panhard-Levassor and Clément. This car was at one time part of the famous Malartre collection at Rochetaillée, Lyons, and from inspection it would seem that the only variance from the original specification is the change from hot-tube to electric ignition, which was a later option anyway.
Furthermore, it should only take basic recommissioning to put it back into good running order. Once this is done the car will be able to join other surviving examples in participating in Veteran events and annually travelling steadily from London to Brighton.