There’s just something rather special about French classics. Chic like few others and possessing an ingenuity and quirkiness like no other. There was a time when you could always trust the French to do things their own way.
Which perhaps explains why I just haven’t been able to forget one particular car which I came across more than four months ago. We’re of course well into the outdoor classic car meets by now, but I meet this French charmer while we were still amidst the season of indoor exhibitions. At the time, I was attending Retro Classics in Stuttgart – overflowing of course with Porsche and Mercedes-Benz while also including other major players such as Ferrari. The vast majority of them presented in meticulously concours condition too. Yet, it was a French blue and beautifully curvaceous little rear which stood out and immediately caught my eye. It was certainly different!
I think it’s safe to say, that so was the regular Panhard Dyna – different, that is. It’s also a marque which most of us here at ViaRETRO have a profound appreciation of. After all, different and daring technical solutions combined with clever aerodynamics is always a good thing. However, I’ve always found the aesthetics a little challenging. Admitted, the Panhard 24CT which our International Editor, Anders Bilidt, has been dreaming of for longer than I can recall, is perhaps the exception. But especially the earlier Dyna X is somewhat awkward to look at. I’ve always been obsessed with the proportions of a design being right, and Panhard have more often than not taken some liberties when it came to adhering to those universally approved guidelines for a coherent design.
Granted, they did improve with time. Visually the Dyna Z is a vast improvement over the Dyna X, and I actually rather like the PL17 which was based on the Dyna Z and introduced just as the fifties turned into the sixties. For a four-door saloon of that era and even more so when considering its air-cooled 2-cylinder engine, it was even a relatively rapid car – though not actually a sporty one of course. But then, I’ve never regarded Panhard as a manufacturer of sporty cars anyway. Yet, they do exist! In fact, while not just sporty, the Panhard which I came across in Stuttgart was even an actual race car – and with some truly luscious curves too.
But the honour for those glorious curves belongs to someone else. The body isn’t Panhards own, but was instead created by the French coachbuilder Pichon & Parat and was even sold and distributed by them under the Dolomites name – even if it was entirely based on a Dyna X. It was that beautiful shape which stopped me dead in my tracks four months ago, and which is still with me in my dreams today. The miniscule French racer was displayed on the vast stand of the Dutch dealer Gallery Aaldering, and was as such obviously surrounded by much bigger names and not least much bigger cars.
Even so, the little Panhard stood its ground among all the glamour which surrounded it. With its proud participation in Tour de France along with several other road rallies, the French blue Dolomites probably had more history and heritage than all the rest of the classics combined which were parked around it on the display. Not just that, but the Panhard displayed this history as well as it appeared to have not been restored since its active racing career. To use that much misused word again – it had patina. The real kind of patina.
There is no denying though – it was all the better for its wonderfully authentic patina. The little racer was thoroughly charming, but the many cuts and bruises added attitude and toughness to its character. The mix was fantastic: Raw elegance in that very French cigar-toughened manner. To think that the tiny racer could muster all of that with a mere 851cc…
But you probably don’t want to attempt calculating the price per cubic capacity. The sign in the window said Euro 149,000 – ouch! But with it, you get something which not many others have. Something seriously rare. And of course, potential invites to everything: Le Mans Classic, Goodwood Revival, you name it…