Panoramic Panhard

The 1936 Panhard X76 Dynamic had one particularly unusual feature: the driver sat in the middle of the front seat

Rene' Panhard and Emile Levassor obtained an 1888 Daimler patent for a V-twin motor, with the idea of using it in a small car. Two prototypes were built, equipped with a front-mounted engine and a gearbox.

Levassor and his team worked on increasingly powerful engines and tested them in races. In 1896, a 4-cylinder engine of 8 horsepower was tested on the Paris-Marseilles-Paris race, and while three Panhard-Levassor cars finished, Levassor was fatally injured in a crash.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the reputation of Panhard-Levassor was at its zenith and the adoption of the Knight sleeve-valve engine further consolidated the fame of the marque. The first valveless engined model was offered to customers in 1910.

In 1936, Panhard launched a very original model, moving away from the chassis of the "Panoramiques" of 1934–35. It was the Dynamic, designed by Bionnier. The Art Deco body caused a sensation, and the level of road performance was high. The car presented here, in the colors of ivory and Bordeaux wine, has traveled less than 1,500 km since its restoration. Its interior is of beige cloth, with carpet of light beige.

Factory records indicate that the car was delivered new in August 1936, painted in gray. It won many prizes in concours d'elegance, including first prize at Automobile Poitiers Elegance in 1997 and Sarlat in 1998, as well as first prize in the concours d'etat of the Ramparts of Angoulême in 1999.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $70,230 at the Artcurial Paris sale on February 19, 2007.

The French have long been known for iconoclastic automobile design, and one of the more stunning examples is the Panhard X76 Dynamic. Combining a complex sleeve-valve engine, cutting-edge aerodynamic styling, and a central driving position, it certainly marked a departure for conservative Panhard.

One of the pioneers of the automobile, Panhard et Levassor built well-engineered, somewhat stately cars for a very serious and well-to-do clientele. "Inventors" in 1892 of what would become the standard of front-engine, transmission, and rear-wheel drive, by the late 1920s they had fallen behind.

In the more challenging marketplace of the early '30s, Panhard began to break out of its earlier mold and introduced the Panoramique models. These featured curved windows at the front corners of the roof where the A-pillar would normally be, for enhanced visibility. Of course, what it actually did was move the blind spot toward the center. As interesting as this was, the company directors felt the need for an even more dramatic statement to hold Panhard's place in a deteriorating market.

Part of that statement came in the form of a return to speed contests, and a Panhard roadster was clocked at a record-setting 133 mph in 1934. Another example of the company's determination was the introduction of the Dynamic in 1936. This sedan offered a choice of three 6-cylinder sleeve-valve engines, fully independent suspension with torsion bars, dual-circuit hydraulic brakes, and a central backbone chassis unit body with dramatic streamlining.

The steering wheel moves again

The Dynamic made the Chrysler Airflow look like a Model A Ford. To take full advantage of the "panoramic" windows, the driver was moved to the center of the car for maximum visibility.

It's hard to imagine what the company's wealthy clientele thought of this car, as the Depression deepened in Europe and the political situation deteriorated with the rise of Nazism. That only 2,500 were sold in the first year of production and a mere 500 more in the next two years tells you everything you need to know.

In the final 1939 examples, the steering wheel was moved back to the left side in an attempt to make the car more appealing, but to no avail. The start of World War II ended the adventure. Panhard survived the 1930s making trucks, buses, and armored military vehicles. Thanks largely to this design, passenger car production became a bit of a sideline.

After WWII, the company realized it needed to go downmarket and launched the Dyna, an air-cooled, 2-cylinder, front-wheel-drive model for the masses. This worked for a time, but by the mid-1950s, the company began to be acquired by Citroën, which took full control in 1964. The last Panhard car left the factory in 1967 and the company survives today as an independent maker of light military vehicles.

Many paint and chrome issues

The car sold by Artcurial was from the first year of production, and was equipped with the mid-range 2.8-liter engine. Although several concours wins in the 1990s were listed for this car, its condition is best described as "decently refurbished," with many paint and chrome issues to deal with to bring it up to concours standards. At least two SCMer dealers were interested in the car, although neither thought the price realized left room for resale profit—which indicates this Dynamic sold for full retail. Admittedly, this is a very thin market.

Support is provided to owners by the French Panhard Club, which has made available some reproduction parts, including rubber and alloy trim. Spares for the sleeve-valve engines are also available, if costly. It's also necessary to modify current spark plugs due to their very deep placement in the block.

The Dynamic has a small but enthusiastic following around the world and the engineering sophistication and performance worthy of such an important marque. Whether you find the styling interesting or frightening, it certainly will provoke conversation in a way in which a contemporary Bugatti sedan will not.

Years Produced: 1936–39

Number Produced: 3,000 approx.

Original List Price: 77,000FF ($3,115)

SCM Valuation: $70,000 (on this date in Paris, anyway) (at time of print)

Chassis #: 200128

Chassis # Location: On plate on right side of firewall

Engine # Location: On right side of block on brass plate

Club Info: Club Panhard & Levassor France 17, rue Pierre Mendès France 60870 Brenouille, France

Web Site: http://www.club-panhard-france.com

Alternatives: 1937 Cord 810 Beverly, 1937 Bugatti T57 Galibier, 1937 Bentley 4 ¼-liter Saloon

Investment Grade: C