Jean Panhard was a car maker who maintained his family firm’s reputation for engineering excellence into the post-war period

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Jean Panhard, who has died aged 101, played a vital role in ensuring the survival of his family firm which, as Panhard et Levassor, had marketed the first production cars to the public in 1891.

The French company, founded by Jean’s great-uncle Réné Panhard and Emile Levassor in 1887, had rewritten the automobile design rule-book, putting the engine at the front, and, for the first time, transmitting power through a system of gears.

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In 1894 Evelyn Ellis, driving a Panhard et Levassor vehicle, became the first man to drive a car on British soil, making the journey from Micheldever station in Hampshire to his home at Datchet, Berkshire, thus helping to persuade the government of the day to scrap the requirement for a man with a red flag to walk in front of any self-propelled vehicle (up to now usually farm vehicles powered by steam traction engines) on a public road.


In 1900 Panhard et Levassor was still the most important car manufacturer and exporter in the world, and the firm maintained its reputation for engineering excellence into the 20th century. A Panhard roadster set a world speed record of 133mph in 1934. Panhard cars excelled on the racetrack too, winning a famous victory in the 1893 Paris-Nice-Paris race and going on to win a further 1,500 races, including the Index of Performance Award in the Le Mans 24 Hour race on no fewer than 10 occasions.

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