Car Show Capsule: 1965 Panhard 24 BT – Sculptural, Sepulchral

Our second entry in this so-called French Coupé Week is not, according to its maker, a coupé as such. The “B” in Panhard 24 BT stands for berline (saloon/sedan). So I’m kind of stretching definitions a bit here. The same way Panhard stretched the 24 CT to turn it into a two-door saloon, I guess.

I’ve written pretty extensively about the Panhard in general and the 24 in particular, so I’ll keep the historical info real short here. Panhard, a true pioneer of the automobile, first their first petrol-powered car in 1890, using a Daimler-licensed engine. The marque soon became very well established, evolving towards luxury cars in the inter-war period.

After 1945, they completely changed tack and started producing pretty advanced small FWD designs, powered by a sophisticated and sporty air-cooled flat-twin. Though very successful on the track and pretty decent in terms of sales, the little Panhards could not make up for the firm’s awkward positioning. It was too large to be a specialty carmaker, yet too small to survive on its own. From 1955, there was a rapprochement with Citroën.

By the early ‘60s, the bigger carmaker was almost completely in control of its junior partner. In a last roll of the dice, Panhard went for a coupé and called it the 24 CT, launching it in the spring of 1963. There was unanimous praise for the car’s looks, devised entirely in-house by Louis Bionnier, Panhard’s designer since the ‘20s.

But under this fancy new dress, the 24 was not much different from its predecessors. In terms of dynamics, that was fine – the suspension (leaf sprung at front, torsion bars in the rear) was still competitive and disc brakes became part of the package for MY 1965. But the 850cc twin, though still impressive for its size with 60hp (gross), was getting on a bit.

In an attempt to help people forget the car’s aging underpinnings, Panhard chucked style and neat comfort-oriented trinkets throughout the cabin. From the HVAC system to the seat adjustments, from safety lights on the doors to an outside temperature thermometer, the higher-trimmed 24s were pretty swanky for their size. Alas, build quality was very hit-and-miss…

The stretched berline variant was added to the range for MY 1965 as the four-door 17s were pensioned off. A true saloon was vetoed by Citroën, so this would have to do. It didn’t – Panhard’s main market was domestic, and the French don’t really like two-doors when they can get four. Sales steadily fell through 1966 and Citroën pulled the plug in the summer of 1967.

I have a pretty vivid memory of discovering the 24 in a classic car magazine (remember those?) when I was about 12. It was a blue BT like this one, in fact. I was immediately hooked by everything — the stunningly modern looks, the high-performance (but tiny) twin, the clever and stylish interior, the whole tragic swan-song feel of the narrative…

I imagine there must be one or two in Japan, but I’m not holding my breath. They built about 28,500 of these, pretty much evenly split between short and long wheelbase models, but very few ventured outside Western Europe. Luckily, this one was present at the event I attended in France last summer, so we can properly pay our respects to the last Panhard once again. Why are the pretty ones always so deadly?


Related posts:


Car Show Classic(s): 1966 Panhard 24 B (and CT) – Be Still, My Beating Twin, by T87

Automotive History: Panhard – Back To The Future, by PN

Automotive History: French Deadly Sins (First Batch) – 1954-65 Panhard Dyna Z / PL 17: Faustian Bargain, by T87

Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: 1964 Panhard 24CT – Stunning, by PN