1908 PANHARD-LEVASSOR TYPE Q 50HP RACING CAR
Chassis No. 15698
Engine No. 15698
French Racing Blue with black leather seats
Engine: four cylinder, T-head, 145 x 160mm bore & stroke, 10,568cc (645ci.); Gearbox: multi-plate clutch, four-speed with reverse, final drive by side chains; Suspension: semi- elliptic springs front and rear; Brakes: on rear wheels and transmission; wooden wheels with 33 x 5 tires (originally 920 x 120 front, 935 x 135 rear); Chassis: wood & flitch plate, wheelbase 2.70 metres. Right hand drive.
The French firm of Panhard-Levassor was not only there at the dawn of motoring, but was also in at the very beginning of motor racing. By 1900 its cars had won more races than all the other contesting makes put together and the firm's order books were so full that there was a 12 month-plus delay before delivery of a new motor car could be met.
Despite this, Panhard-Levassor continued to go motor racing into the early years of the twentieth century. At a time when other manufacturers had caught up with the premier position that Panhard-Levassor had established and the company's racing cars were considered by the pundits to be past their best, these luminaries were confounded when the American George Heath won both the 1904 Circuit des Ardennes and Vanderbilt Cup races at the wheel of a 90 hp Panhard-Levassor. As a native of Long Island, Paris resident Heath must have really cherished this latter victory on his home turf. His second place in the 1905 running of the Vanderbilt Cup was nearly as sweet for him as it was gratifying for Panhard-Levassor. The same combination was sixth in the first French Grand Prix in 1906 and Heath's bringing to the finishing line the first of the Panhard-Levassor team in ninth place in the 1908 French Grand Prix, while not being as good as the winning days, was respectable enough in a field consisting of the best makes of the period.
With its reputation so firmly established, Panhard-Levassor no longer needed to go motor racing to create an interest in its cars. Indeed the company could almost certainly have abandoned this expensive activity prior to 1908 since the production cars sold steadily to discerning buyers and profits were such that substantial dividends were paid year after year to the company's shareholders.
In 1908 the firm offered a range of models to the public. Successful though they had been, the two and three-cylinder cars had gone from the catalogue and the well-proven 15 horsepower four-cylinder car was the smallest model available. Other four-cylinder cars were of 18, 25, and 35 horsepower, plus the substantial 50 hp Type Q that displaced 10½ litres.
The Type Q was introduced in 1904 and followed standard Panhard-Levassor practice. The engine had copper water-jacketed individual cylinders bolted to an aluminum crankcase, cast iron cylinder heads, with ignition by high-tension magneto. A combined gearbox and differential unit with final drive by side chains was used and the chassis was of wood reinforced with steel flitch-plates. In almost every respect the production cars matched the specification of the firm's successful 70 and 90 horsepower racing cars, although these had larger engines of 13½ and 15½ litres respectively. At a time when such a sound car as the four-cylinder 15hp Panhard-Levassor sold for 11,500 French Francs, the Type Q chassis was seriously expensive at 25,000 Francs. This figure was only exceeded on the French market by a handful of other cars.
The Panhard-Levassor production records show that this car, fitted with a T40 engine Number 15698 of 50 chevaux (horsepower) and a type KJ gearbox, left the factory on the 13th April 1908 as a tested chassis to the order of the Palais de l'Automobile, 218 Boulevard Pereire, Paris. This agency had been selling automobiles since the turn of the century and received a 10 discount on the catalogued price. In March the Palais had ordered that the chassis be fitted with la mise en marche autoarique, that is, a self-starter, and the agency paid an additional 680 Francs for this. The self-starter was not electric but pneumatic and when not required for starting could be used to inflate the inner tubes of the tires. Such systems whereby an engine driven pump compressed air in a reservoir from which pipes ran to each cylinder were not noted for their reliability and were generally removed from the vehicles to which they were fitted within a short period of time.
At some point around 1909 the chassis was fitted with two seat competition style bodywork. A letter on file, written by the present owner, confirms that the Panhard was purchased new in Paris by don Pedro Suinaga, a young and wealthy Mexican motor racing enthusiast. He subsequently hired professional driver Augustine Casaux who steered the car to many successes in numerous speed trials. Casaux was a close friend of the present owner's family as both families came from Jalapa, Capital of the State of Veracruz. Though we are unable to discern the exact chain of ownership, we are told that the Panhard then came into the ownership of a Mexico City Convent. At this point the body had two seats added to the rear. The car was then discovered by the late and last owner sometime in the 1940s. It then underwent its first restoration in Mexico which brought the car back to its racing configuration.
The Panhard-Levassor remained in this condition until the late 1980s when the owner commissioned a frame-off, no expense spared restoration by highly regarded specialist Mr. Jan Voboril. In returning the car to its original race configuration Mr. Voboril utilized as many of the original parts as possible including much of the hardware and instruments. Following the restoration the car was shown at Pebble Beach in 1993 where it was awarded a First in Class judging against stiff competition. Since then the Panhard has been on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum and remained in storage and under care and shows to be in excellent overall condition.
At this point only one other Type Q 50hp is known to survive, that being a lovely 1905 Touring Car which is currently part of a respected collection. With the roar of the 50 horsepower surrounding the driver and the double chain drive gears spinning, there can be truly nothing as exhilarating. This Panhard is eligible for all Horseless Carriage and Veteran Motor Car Club events, as well as being a welcome entrant at numerous concours and vintage racing events including speed trials and hill climbs throughout the world.