CC For Sale: 1961 Panhard PL 17–Own Your Own Flying Saucer

“A ’61 Plymouth and a Volkswagen Beetle had a baby, and . . .”  No, wait–that’s silly.  But this car is silly.  Or is it an inspired stroke of genius?  Either way, it’s the cutest thing on four wheels next to the Austin Healy Sprite.


I first became aware of these around 1978 when I was putting together a scrapbook of 1950s & ’60s car pictures from old magazine ads.  I was intrigued by the shape, but I never saw a Panhard in all my years of car spotting.  (By the way, let’s get the pronunciation right:  it’s Pan-AR, with a slight breath of h at the end.)   Then just yesterday I found this very original example on eBay, and for the first time I got a close look at all the fascinating details.

Oh, that is so cute!  Just for comparison, this Panhard is 180″ long, 65″ wide, and 55″ high, with a 101″ wheelbase.  So about the size of a Corvair, but 5″ narrower, with a 7″ shorter wheelbase.

Yes, it has a face.  We know the stylists must have designed it that way on purpose!  What does that tell you?

It’s like Janus–happy (or surprised?) up front . . .

. . . grim-looking in back.  The white finish seems to have a pinkish tint to it, adding to the charm.

That’s what the wheel cover looks like.  Good luck finding another if you lose it.

That instrument panel is just–otherworldly!  Like it melted into that shape and froze.  It looks like what I’d expect to see in a flying saucer.  The accelerator is designed like a shoe print!  (Makes sense, I suppose).  Clutch and brake are strange rounded triangle shapes.

Maybe the IP was made by Fisher Price or Mattel?

Everything about this car is artistic avant-garde.  The upholstery is crafted in this interesting wave pattern.

Back seat looks like a comfortable place to be.

This view shows how narrow this car is.  But for two people up front, I think it’s just fine.

An aftermarket radio.  Finally, a familiar-looking piece of design I can relate to!

Emergency brake is at your right hand, like the 1951-55 Kaisers.  That’s a “four-on-the-tree” manual transmission.

Door panels have sewn pockets.  Ivory handles look so delicate–are they celluloid or metal?  They must be durable;  they’re not broken!

You could fit a few things in there.  Will need new trunk rubber.

This, believe it or not, is the engine!  What kind of engine?  A 2 cylinder boxer type, air-cooled;   52 cubic inches, 40 horsepower, overhead valves.

And . . . transverse-mounted leaf springs in front, with what appears to be driveshafts to each wheel (front wheel drive).  The car has rack & pinion steering also.

Torsion bars in the rear, mounted crosswise, 3 per side, according to my sources.*

*If I’m wrong on any of these technical details, please comment or correct them.


Body plate.

So let’s say good-bye to our little friend.  What’s it like to drive a 1800 lb. car with what is essentially a motorcycle engine and a body mounted on such exotic suspension?  I don’t know, but I’m sure someone out there does.  And how many were exported to the U.S.?

Tom & Ray Magliozzi (a.k.a. “Click & Clack, The Tappet Brothers”) once said, “Never buy a French car–unless you are in France!”  Well, I can say this–if you do buy it, you will instantly become the center of attention no matter where you go– and, I’d reckon, you’ll have a lot fun at the same time (until you break down!)  Beret optional.  (Do the French still wear those things?)