I’ve been wanting to write about this car ever since I started posting on CC, and finally the day has come. As I reported earlier, I went to a classic car meet in France recently and, as expected, bagged a bunch of CCs. I secretly hoped that a Panhard 24 would be there. I was wrong: there were two!
First and foremost, there was this beautiful gray 24 B, built in March 1966. And boy did I go to town on that (in a purely photographic sense, of course). The intermittent sunshine and lack of other cars parked right next to it allowed me to take as many snaps as I wanted. But that was not the end of it.
As I was leaving the premises, I peeked inside one of the many old buildings (these used to be military barracks), and found this blue 24 CT, probably of the same vintage, though it could be a ’67. Conditions were less ideal in there for pictures, and the car clearly had had a bad frontal collision a while back, but how could I pass it up?
The Panhard 24 is my favourite post-war French car, hands down. I will endeavour to tell you why, but I hope the pictures will do at least some of the talking. This is kind of a present I’m making for myself (I’m turning 40 today!), so I hope you will indulge me in reading this passionate Panhard puff-piece.
From an esthetic standpoint, there’s nothing to add or subtract from the 24’s incredible shape, to my eyes. There is lots to be said from a technical and historical perspective, though. So here’s 25-plus years of obsessive reading about the last Panhard, condensed into about 2500 words.
The Panhard 24 was the old firm’s last throw of the dice. When development work started in earnest in late 1959, Citroën was already more or less in control of Panhard, whose Parisian factory was already producing 2CV vans, alongside the PL 17 range. Said PL 17 was a refreshed version of the 1954-59 Panhard Dyna Z, so the firm knew that a new car would be needed in due course.
But Citroën were adamant: no new Panhard 4-door saloon. Paul and Jean Panhard, respectively Chairman and CEO of the marque, wisely suggested a 2-door coupé – something a bit left-field that would not pose a threat to Citroën. Thanks to the Panhard father and son team’s relentless pressure, “Projet V527” was green-lit and Louis Bionier, designer of all production Panhards since the late ‘20s, got to work on the new model.
Bionier was not alone. The small Panhard design team included René Ducassou-Péhau and André Jouan for the 2-D renderings, as well as clay model specialists.
There were many designs attempted throughout 1960-61, with several features that never made it past the drawing board, such as reverse-canted rear windscreens and roof-mounted fins.
The Corvair influence was visible from the get-go, particularly in the elegant and simple molded beltline with a chrome accent running from one headlamp all the way to the other, which was present in all the design studies. The flat roof also smacks of GM…
This was not just about looks, though. There was a lot of method and careful calculation to the Panhard coupé – it had to be roomy enough for Jean Panhard’s 6’ 6’’ frame, for one. All the clay models made were painstakingly tested and refined to improve their aerodynamics and bring the centre of gravity forward.
Until quite late, the Corvairesque beltline was matched by a wraparound bumper that ran the entire length of the car, offering protection to the sides as well as the ends of the vehicle. This was pretty forward thinking for the early ‘60s, anticipating the kind of side-cladding that would become prevalent only two decades hence.
Here is a full-size clay from 1962. The overall styling was pretty much gelled at this point, with only detailing work needed on the grille, the bumpers and the hood.
Interior styling was also given a lot of thought. A symmetric design was favoured from the start, to facilitate the creation of a RHD version.
Despite Citroën forbidding the creation of body variants, the Panhard design team tried out several drawings and clays. The convertible was virtually production-ready, but deemed too expensive to be viable. The wagon and 4-door were non-starters, to the eternal dismay of the few remaining Panhardistes.
Technically, the Panhard 24 was a direct descendant of the PL 17. An air-cooled 848cc boxer twin, driving the front wheels, was mated to a 4-speed gearbox, now all-synchromesh. The suspension was also similar to previous Panhards: two parallel sets of transverse leafs in the front and torsion bars / beam axle at the rear. The brakes used patented aluminium finned drums tested on the DB racers at Le Mans.
A flat platform formed the base of the very rigid internal monocoque structure, which did not require the added strength of the roof, so that the planned convertible could be readily made on the cheap. Said roof was still innovative though, perched atop four slim steel pillars anchored deep within the monocoque.
When the car was presented to the press on 24 June 1963, Jean Panhard was told by Jean-Pierre Peugeot: “How fortunate you are to have such talented designers. We’re forced to go ask the Italians!” Everyone agreed that the Panhard 24 was sublime. Initially, there were two models: the 24 C had the “normal” (42 hp DIN) engine, and the more deluxe 24 CT came with the 50 hp “Tigre” version. The two cars were externally similar, but the 24 C had a simplified interior and dashboard.
The main problem was the engine. Panhard were forbidden to continue developing a 1200cc civilian version of their “X4” (essentially two flat-twins mated in the middle, like a radial engine), so they had to make do with the old twin, which was starting to show its age. It was also pretty loud and caused the car to vibrate at certain rpms, dancing around under the 24’s hood. The car was relatively quick for its displacement, which led many to criticize the absence of disc brakes.
In the immediate term, it was imperative to broaden the range a bit. The 17 (they dropped the “PL” after the 24’s introduction) saloon was on its last legs, and Panhard needed something more family-friendly than the little 2+2 they had just launched. The only solution was to stretch the platform – but keep the 2-door structure.
And thus here we come to our main CC, the 24 B – as in “Berline.” Introduced at the Paris Motor Show in October 1964, the 24 B and BT stretched the wheelbase by 25cm, clearly visible by the car’s larger rear windows. If anything, this improved the car’s looks even more.
The 24 C was put to pasture, but the CT got a slightly re-tuned and higher-revving engine, allowing it to reach 160 kph (a hair under 100 mph). To match this rather impressive feat, Panhard fitted it with four disc brakes. These were also used on the BT, which inherited the initial CT’s engine. Extra weight meant that the 24 BT could only claim 145 kph, but it still became the range’s top seller from model year 1965. These top speeds are the result of the 24’s slippery shape more than anything. In acceleration, we’re still dealing with an 850cc twin: 0 to 100 kph in 21 seconds for the 24 CT. Not too bad, but far from spectacular…
Our 24 B made do with the 42 hp twin and the drum brakes, topping out at about 135 kph. It also carried over the 24 C’s more simplified interior and strip speedo, inherited from the 17 saloon. Those were out of production by January 1965, after which only the 24 carried Panhard’s name. That year, Citroën finally absorbed Panhard, taking over complete control. By July, a second constructor’s plate marked “André Citroën S.A.” was put next to the Panhard one. The end wasn’t nigh – it was there.
For model year 1966, few things changed. The 24 CT received new wheels with oval cooling holes, which we can see on the blue car, but otherwise, things stayed pretty much the same – including the terrific six-dial dash. The lack of a new body variant pushed Panhard towards the only solution they had left: de-contenting.
The 24 BA was created to enable Panhard to sell the 24 under 10,000 Francs. They cut out everything they could: the seats were simplified in the extreme, as was the dash. Externally, the chrome strip that ran around the car’s sides and rear went away, as did the air vents under the front bumper. They needn’t have bothered though: the 24 BA was such a penalty box that nobody wanted one. Only 160 units were built, all in 1966.
Sales were falling off a cliff. In 1963, Panhard built around 35,000 cars across three ranges (PL 17, CD, 24). By 1965, they were managing less than half of that. And the trend for 1966 only seemed to confirm that the buying public was wary of Panhard’s obvious ill-health.
Nobody wants to buy a new car whose maker is going out of business. A self-fulfilling prophecy, of course, but also a hard reality felt by countless carmakers in trouble over the decades. Exports were minimal – the only countries where the 24 made any significant sales were Benelux and Italy. A number were also assembled in Uruguay, for some reason, using a locally-made GRP body.
The Panhard 24’s sales went down to less than 4000 units in 1967. During the summer, Citroën issued a communiqué about its production forecast for 1968. Buried within lay a single sentence that read: “The production of the Panhard 24 is terminated.” The last car officially produced, a light blue 24 B, came out of the factory in July, though a few were only registered months later.
It’s not like there were no plans to continue using the 24’s best assets – its gorgeous aerodynamic body. Some folks within the Citroën design bureau were dismayed by this waste of talent and attempted an interesting experiment: modifying a 24 CT body to fit a shortened DS platform. I snapped this car back in 2012, at the ICCCR in England. I’ll just let the placard below fill you in on the details…
Citroën CEO Pierre Bercot was not keen on the idea. He saw Panhard as a mere subcontractor and had much more interest in the firm’s successful military vehicles branch. One final experiment was done circa 1969, mating the 24-DS’s body with a triple-carbed Maserati V6, with two wing-mounted radiators. The result was quite a bit faster than the production SM that came soon after.
Were it not for Citroën’s deliberate sabotage of Panhard, a full 24 range might have been created, possibly powered by a 4-cyl. engine. This would have plugged the gaping hole that lay in the middle of the Citroën range, which consisted of tiny 2CV derivatives on the one hand and the 2-litre DS on the other. Instead, Citroën spent a fortune devising their own mid-range car, the “Projet F,” which ran into huge problems and finally had to be abandoned in 1967, just as Panhard production was coming to a close.
The designers and engineers who created the 24 were integrated into the Citroën team, as were the rest of Panhard’s workforce. Their initial job was the creation of the Citroën Dyane – an anagram of Dyna owned by Panhard. It was yet another 2CV clone, done quickly and cheaply, launched in 1967 with a (misguided) view to replace the 2CV. Many consider the Citroën GS to be the one car that carried Panhard’s spirit, as the old firm’s men had a lot to do with its design.
The GS was a good car in many ways, but it was no Panhard 24. Citroën made many mistakes in the ‘60s and ‘70s, culminating in the Wankel-engined GS Birotor that broke the company’s back and drove it into bankruptcy, only to be salvaged by Peugeot. Other mistakes include the “Projet F,” the purchase of Maserati, the politically short-sighted tie-up with Fiat. But the worst by far was the waste of talent that was the Panhard 24.
Citroën did use a few features from the 24, nonetheless. Panhard had designed a very smart system for the 24’s front seats, which enabled the driver and passenger to set not just the the seat back’s inclination, but also seat base’s height, pitch and distance from the wheel. This gave the driver a choice of 1764 configurations. This innovative feature was also found on the bigger Citroëns of the ‘70s.
Another obvious influence was the 24’s quad-headlamp (plus turn signal) set-up, made in cooperation with Cibié. As soon as he saw the Panhard coupé, Citroën chief designer Flaminio Bertoni tried to adapt something like it on the DS. Bertoni died before he could complete this facelift, but his team, now lead by Robert Opron, carried on with the work, which was finalized in 1967. In the meantime, as we can see above, coachbuilder Pichon-Parat used the 24’s headlamps on a few DS specials in the mid-‘60s.
So what’s it like to own a Panhard 24? According to many, these cars have several good points, including terrific handling, effective (though hard) disc brakes, unparalleled visibility, good interior appointments and ventilation, low fuel consumption (around 7 litres / 100km, or 33 mpg US), excellent access to all the oily bits. It is relatively cheap to buy and run. Having had the chance to ride in one, I can also attest that it is very comfortable and not as loud as expected.
On the downside, one can point to the fragility of the highly-stressed engine (which can only be repaired by specialists). The car lacks torque and hates going uphill. The drum brakes are barely able to do the job, the steering is rather heavy and the 24’s inconsistent build quality means that some cars can take a lot of sorting out. Plus there are a multitude of hidden rust traps, as per many cars of the ‘60s.
Developed on a shoestring budget, hamstrung by its parent company, built within an ancient factory and sold by dealers who usually didn’t care for it, the 24 had a difficult life. Panhard still managed to make over 28,000 of them, including about 2000 of the 24 B. But the star product, available throughout the model’s production, was undoubtedly the 24 CT, which accounts for half of the aforementioned total.
So let’s close with a last gander at that poor 24 CT, whose front end had a bad encounter with some sort of stubborn and pernicious obstacle. Bet it was a Citroën.