Panhard et Levassor was founded in 1887 and quickly established a reputation for high quality engineering, superior reliability and outstanding performance, attributes that placed the company at the forefront of early motor racing. In 1891, they developed their first all Levassor design, known as the ‘Systeme Panhard’, namely four wheels, radiator at the front, followed by engine, clutch and sliding gearbox with drive to the rear wheels. It is this layout that became the standard for motor vehicle production for the following century and supported the company in winning numerous ‘city to city’ races between 1895 and 1903.
Today, Panhard et Levassors continue to be regarded as one of the finest and most collectible veteran cars. Early motor cars were often produced as one-off prototypes, taking inspiration from other industries and were often referred to as a ‘horseless carriage’. It was the Systeme Panhard which facilitated a design that challenged this and allowed the creation of some of the most attractive and well-proportioned motor vehicles of the period. 2121 is no exception.
Panhard continued to be at the forefront of motor car design and in 1897, they offered their first four-cylinder model, the M4E using the Daimler Phoenix engine, built under licence. This model, the first production four-cylinder motor car, represented another huge leap forward in car design and offered greater power and flexibility over the twin-cylinder alternative. Its complexity was a ground-breaking achievement.
2121 is a highly original example of these hugely impressive and significant M4E four-cylinder motor cars. Up until the early 1980s the car was in France where it was owned by the family of Rochefoucauld, one of the most famous families of the French nobility. The car has on it a name plate, a period legal requirement in France, stating the owner as Comte Jean de la Rochefoucauld of Avenue Marceau 64, Paris. In 1926, Count Jean became the Duc de la Rochefoucauld after his father passed away. He married Edme Frisch de Fels in 1917, a lady who went on to become a Catholic leader in the struggle to gain French women the right to vote and a leading figure in the French literary establishment for more than 6o years. It is unclear whether Comte Jean de la Rochefoucauld purchased the car from new.
In 1983, C. Jacques purchased the car from the Rochefoucauld family in an unrestored, largely complete condition (pictures on file) and imported it into the United Kingdom. At this stage, he hoped the car was an Amsterdam-Paris racing car, but subsequent inspections proved this not to be. Later in 1983, Mark Tidy acquired 2121 and retained her for ten years.
In 1992, notable collector Bill Lake acquired the car and commenced a sympathetic restoration. Bill’s objective was to restore 2121 to how she was in 1900 and he carried out a considerable amount of research on the design and construction of the early Panhard et Levassor motor cars to assist him with the restoration. He commissioned R. Crossthwaite and J. Gardener Ltd to carry out a total rebuild of the gearbox which was installed in the car together with the engine which appeared to have been rebuilt. James E. Pearce was entrusted with the coachwork restoration. Sadly, Bill passed away on 10 April 1995 before this work was complete. David Lake, Bill’s son, let James Pearce complete the agreed work.
In 1996, Tony Dyas (current owner), agreed to purchase 2121 from David Lake. He received the car with coachwork restored but without wings, petrol tank and exhaust system. Included was a tea chest full of original parts to be fitted to the car. Tony together with Geoff Gilks, a retired motor engineer, completed the restoration of 2121 including a total engine rebuild, the fitting of a new crankshaft and conrod assembly, and an upgrade from the original hot tube ignition to trembler coil ignition (all old parts are retained with the car). Tony successfully participated and completed three London to Brighton Runs in 1999, 2000 and 2008. In 1999, Tony received an award for being the first arriving at Brighton of the ‘First Time Participants in the Run’.
2121 is a hugely impressive and significant motor car being largely original and beautifully restored. Early four-cylinder Panhards are incredibly rare, and few cars will have such provenance as this example.