The Panhard PL17 Tigre

The car which won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1961

Howard Watts
By Howard Watts

The Panhard PL17 Tigre is typically French; quirky, Gallic, full of charm and joie de vivre, silly perhaps but maybe romantic. And yet the car is the product of a ruthless French design process which produced a highly efficient transportation machine, designed to carry six adults in comfort with their luggage at high rates of speed whilst consuming the least amount of fuel possible. The same efficiency was also an asset in races and rallies. In the USA magazines boasted that the tough frugal saloon had amassed "over 900 sports car victories", and among more memorable triumphs were a 1-2-3 finish in the 1961 Monte Carlo rally, and three consecutive wins of the Index of Performance at Le Mans from 1950 through 1952. All this from an 850cc twin cylinder engine!

The engine is a sophisticated little jewel. The all-alloy unit is a horizontally opposed, four stroke twin, The crankshaft and connecting rods run in ‘everlasting’ roller bearings (originally invented by Albert Einstein), minimizing friction. The cylinder and head are cast in one piece and the cylinders are lined with cast iron whilst the crankcase is a single casting. In standard form the engine produces a total output of 42 horsepower, the Tigre version making 50 horsepower at 5,300 rpm. Tuned for competition the engine can produce 70 bhp and consequently was able to sustain its performance for 24 hours at Le Mans

Unfortunatly the lady does not come with the Car!
Unfortunatly the lady does not come with the Car!

Panhard was an early pioneer of the science of aerodynamics and the rounded body, styled by Louis Bionier, owes its shape to wind tunnel testing, producing a coefficient of drag of just 0.26 (compared at the time with 0.51 for a Citroen 2CV).

The model’s name was derived from ‘PL’ for ‘Panhard et Levassor’, with the ‘17’ coming from the sum of 5+6+6, being 5CV (fiscal horses, in the French power rating system) plus 6 for the car’s seats, plus 6 for the car’s economy of 6L/100km. Typically French!!

The original sales literature
The original sales literature

Advertisements at the time claimed that the car delivered 40 miles per gallon at a cruising speed of 60 miles per hour, and was capable of 80 miles per hour with 6 adults and luggage on board. The front wheels are driven through a four speed gearbox with column shift with syncromesh on the upper three gears. Although the engine seems busy at low speeds in traffic, whilst cruising at over 70 mph it is silent and effortless

In his 1961 Autosport article the erstwhile road tester, John Bolster, claimed ‘The Panhard is a car of arresting appearance which has personality, character, and a splendid competition background. If it is not particularly refined at low speeds, it makes up for that by its effortless cruising on faster roads and its comfortable ride over indifferent surface……..it will appeal to some people who want a car that is really different’.

However it was not a car that appealed to the British public and the level of import tax did not make the price attractive in comparison to British cars. Right hand drive standard versions were imported by Citroen Cars from 1962 following their take over of Panhard but it is thought only one right hand drive Tigre made it to these shores.

Hence the reason for this article. I now own that single right hand drive Tigre, sourced in Suffolk from an elderly watch maker who was unable to keep the car in roadworthy condition but sold to me on the premise that it is returned to working order and used as it should be. Supplied with a spare engine and many other useful spares it will soon be under the watchful care of our senior mechanic, John-Herbert, with the view that I take it (or the semi lightweight E Type) to the Goodwood Revival meeting in 2019.

Original sales poster
Original sales poster
If you have a similar weird French concoction (or you married the lady in the photo) then I would be happy to talk onions, garlic and the like - call us on 01787 210318 - but remember that I only speak a little 'Franglais'