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René Panhard was a qualified engineer whose business, based in Paris, made woodworking tools and built Deutz engines under license. With his partner, Émile Levassor, he experimented with horseless carriages using engines licensed from Daimler. In 1891, Panhard et Levassor offered for sale what was arguably the world's first production car, using a built-under-license Daimler engine. Both Daimler and Benz had made automobiles before Panhard but these had been individual 'prototypes' rather than models intended for series production. Above all, the firm was responsible for bequeathing the automobile world the Système Panhard, which embodied the now familiar layout of a front-mounted engine driving the rear axle via a clutch, gearbox and differential. The modern motor car had been born.
After Emile Levassor's death in 1897, René Panhard re-organised his company as a joint stock corporation to attract wealthy investors, while Commandant Arthur Constantin Krebs succeeded Levassor as technical and production manager. Krebs began work by designing a series of four-cylinder engines with nominal power outputs ranging from 8CV to 20CV. His Paris-Amsterdam racer of 1898 featured a tilted (as opposed to vertical) steering column and this innovation was soon carried over to the production cars. Racing developments continued to influence the production Panhards, which soon featured front-mounted radiators, first seen on the Paris-Bordeaux racer of 1899. Battery/coil ignition and Krebs' own diaphragm carburettor were features of Panhard et Levassor engines by the end of 1901, and during that year he introduced the first power units, known as the Centaure family, to depart from the original Daimler design.
Krebs pressed ahead with developing his new Centaure engines, and in 1902 adopted individual cylinders instead of the previous cast-in-pairs arrangement. A five-bearing crankshaft and three valves per cylinder were advanced features of the Centaure Leger (Lightweight) unit. The Centaure range soon expanded to incorporate three-cylinder engines alongside the existing parallel twins and fours, an early example of modular construction. For 1903 Krebs introduced the Centaure S family of T-head fours with magneto ignition, which ranged in size from a 2.4-litre 10CV up to a 5.3-litre 23CV.
Panhard et Levassor swiftly established a reputation for fine engineering, excellent craftsmanship, superior reliability and outstanding performance, qualities that placed the company at the forefront in early motor sport, notably the great Continental city-to-city races of the time. Little wonder therefore that such notables and sportsmen as the Hon C S Rolls, René de Knyff, Maurice Farman, Léon Girardot and Fernand Charron were associated so closely with the marque. As early as 1898 Charron had driven a Panhard et Levassor to victory in the Paris-Bordeaux race, covering the course at an average speed of 26.9mph, while in 1899 Girardot's 12hp car covered the 201 miles of the Ostend-Paris race to win at an average speed of 32.5mph. Significantly, it was with a Panhard et Levassor that Charles Rolls chose to commence his competitive career, driving one of the French manufacturer's cars on the 1,000 Miles Trial of 1900.
The Panhard et Levassor offered here is the oldest known original 15hp Model KB roadster surviving. It is powered by a 3.3-litre four-cylinder engine, driving via a four-speed gearbox. Manufactured towards the end of 1902, chassis number '6042' was purchased new on 26th January 1903 from the Palais de l'Auto showroom in Paris (see copy of factory sales ledger on file). Its purchaser was Ricardo Soriano, Marquis de Ivanrey, a wealthy Spanish nobleman and entrepreneur, who would later found the short-lived Soriano-Pedroso marque (1919-1924) with fellow aristocrat, the Marquis San Carlos de Pedroso. The name 'Soriano' is also associated with a series of high-performance outboard motors, developed during the late 1920s/early 1930s, and the family firm also manufactured mopeds, pumps, generators, industrial engines and utility outboard motors at its Madrid factory. Soriano paid 17,640 francs for the Panhard, a fortune in those days, which was registered in Madrid as 'M18' – the 18th car registered in the Spanish capital.
The Soriano family kept the Panhard at the factory until 1945 when it was transferred to the Lewin technical collection in Madrid, remaining there until 1975. Its next owner was the Maringa Collection, which kept the car until 2006 when it passed to the current owner in the Netherlands. The Panhard was restored in 1975 and its engine overhauled in 1995. The Marquis de Ivanrey's coat of arms is still in place and the car remains to original specification apart from the paintwork, upholstery, non-standard carburettor and magneto, and the provision of an electric starter. It is worthwhile noting that the drive chains are inscribed 'Panhard & Levassor' so must be very old, if not original. Interestingly, the 'On/Off' switch is not marked 'M/A' ('Marche/Arrête') or 'Stop/Go' but 'AF/AC/DY', presumably to suit the requirements of the Spanish market.
Described as in generally good/excellent condition and offered with Netherlands registration papers, this very important early sporting car from one of France's premier makes has been a regular London-Brighton participant over the years. Unique in its coachwork style and offered for public sale for the very first time, at 111 years old it remains in astoundingly good condition.
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