Curbside Classic: Panhard Dyna Junior Roadster – How Did You End Up Here Like This?

[This is the CC that inspired the Panhard History, so it makes sense to re-run it now too. This is obviously not the Clue CC; thanks to impeccable weather, it’s delayed. Time for summer reruns; don’t forget, I used to work in tv]

I never fail to be amazed at what I run into. If someone had told me I’d find a Panhard at a used car lot in Springfield, I would have laughed; never mind being dubious that anyone in Eugene’s cross-river neighbor even knows what a Panhard is. But there it was, right under my nose, on Main Street. In fact, it’s so rare that I didn’t really recognize it at first.

I’d caught a glimpse of it once before, in the back of a typical used car lot. Given its location, size, shape, and paint job, I initially thought it was some kind of amusement park ride car, or a former Shriner-mobile. Or at best, some kind of garage-built sports car special from the fifties. I drove on, but made a mental note, and on my next sojourn to the inspiration for Homer Simpson’s hometown, I decided it was worth a quick stop and closer look. What I found totally blew me away: a Dyna Junior Roadster.

The first thing we need to do to put this pathetically mutilated cutie in perspective is to take a look at it in its proper glory:

Not exactly a Porsche 356, and that smiley face only goes so far in lightening a rather blunt front end. It’s rather curious, given how different it looks from the rest of the Panhard Dyna sedans of its time.

A companion illustrated history of Panhard follows this Curbside Classic, which will help put this Dyna Junior into proper historical perspective. The Dyna series was a brilliant and advanced line of ultra-lightweight cars with air-cooled two-cylinder boxer engines driving the front wheels. It first appeared in 1946, and even major parts of the body were built out of aluminum. They quickly established a reputation for surprising performance given its tiny engine and yet roomy bodies.

The Junior Roadster, also called X87 in some references, first appeared in 1952, with a 750 cc twin and 38 hp. Later version were increased to 850 cc and 42 hp. And there are references to a supercharged version with 62 hp. Given its weight of barely 1400 lbs, this resulted in a remarkably sprightly car for the times, with a top speed of seventy five and yielding some 45 mpg. Variations on the Junior with coupe and more aerodynamic bodies were regular fixtures for years at Le Mans.

Beginning with the 1953 race, where a Panhard won the Index of Performance award, DB Panhard coupes went on to a long string of victories and high placed finishes in that category where engine size is factored into the outcome. And the little Roadsters like this one were popular on the sports car circuit where the aerodynamic benefits of the special DB coupe bodies were not as critical.

Here’s one lifting up its rear wheel, a common FWD trait, while taking the inside line on a track.

This Dyna Junior has given up all its vital front end components, including the suspension. A crude flat rigid axle was welded into place to hold the non steering front wheels on. For what purpose? To live out its final days as a used car sign?

What’s curious from this only picture of a Junior’s engine compartment that I found is that the little twin here has no fan or cooling shroud. Every Dyna engine I’ve ever seen pictures of has a distinctive blower in an aluminum housing at the front, and ducting to carry the air effectively over the cylinder fins. It may be that this particular Junior was modified, possible for racing, where the fan would rob it of power, and there would be enough airflow from the steady higher speed to keep it cool like a motorcycle engine.

The total production of Juniors is placed by one source at 3,937 units. How many came to the US is a good question; it wasn’t likely more than a handful. Panhards were probably imported on a very small scale to the US in the fifties, probably at Citroen dealers. Citroen eventually took over Panhard, and they shared a similar love of air-cooled boxer twins, but in its latter years the Panhard became more upscale than the Citroen twins, and its final model, the 24 from 1963, was a remarkable little coupe with strong Corvair styling influence but still powered by the boxer twin. Despite its handsome body and lively performance, it just became too much of a stretch for the substantial money Panhard was asking, and Panhard was shuttered in 1967.

This Junior has obviously been heavily gutted and turned into a pathetic little billboard. I talked to the owner who said it came with a whole barn full of cars he bought cheap some years ago. And it turns out I wasn’t the first to recognize it for what it was: someone actually paid him $700 a few years back, on behalf of a friend in the Midwest. But perhaps the current condition was unknown to the final buyer, or who knows why, but they never came back to pick it up. So this Panhard is a good little earner so far, and I’m sure the owner would be more than happy to sell it again. And again.

Restoring this car would be quite the challenge, given that its whole front suspension and running gear is gone, and, and a Jeep steering wheel sprouts uselessly out of the speedometer’s former home. The wheel is normally way to the left, allowing cozy three-across seating on a bench. It’s a wreck, no doubt about it. And its ended up in an odd circumstance. But here it is, living out its days, after a fashion. Anyone out there need a project?