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Cheap French Classic: 1960 Panhard PL 17

French car manufacturers have long been renowned for producing quirky and interesting vehicles. The iconic 2CV instantly springs to mind, but the 1960 Panhard PL 17 is another notable example. Its styling is distinctive and features some pretty advanced aerodynamics for the period. It proved effective on the road, but combined with a hardy drivetrain, it allowed the PL 17 to taste motorsport success. Our feature car has been sitting since the 1960s and is a complete classic begging for restoration. Located in Brunswick, Maine, it is listed for sale here on Craigslist. With an asking price of $1,370, it is one of the most affordable project cars I’ve seen for a while. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder T.J. for spotting this beauty for us.

Before we delve too deeply into the overall condition of this Panhard, it is worth noting that it is a complete car. That’s a significant factor to consider because some parts seem to be made from that rare and exotic material called “unobtainium.” The original Blue paint has worn away across the car to reveal the red primer, but the panels are remarkably straight. The glass is free from cracks, and the trim is intact and restorable. That leads us to the more pressing question of rust. The seller is candid that there is some for the buyer to consider, but it may not prove challenging to address. It is visible in the rockers, while the seller indicates that we will also find it in the floors. This latter issue will require careful attention because, unlike body-on-frame cars, the PL 17 is of unibody construction. However, it appears that the braces and other strengthening components are intact. With the company electing to build the floors from flat steel with ribs, a metal fabrication shop may be able to produce replicas at an affordable price. The seller has also contacted a couple of people who own cars that could serve as donors and that could be worth pursuing further.

As was common with French cars from this period, the Panhard’s interior isn’t dripping with luxury features. Someone has installed an aftermarket radio under the dash, but that’s as good as it gets. If potential buyers seek power windows or cruise control, they’ve come to the wrong place. Want air conditioning? Sure, just open a window! The company designed the PL 17 to function as effective family transport, and despite being a relatively small vehicle, it could seat six people in relative comfort. This interior is complete, although a total restoration will be on the cards. Sourcing upholstery could prove challenging, but there are enough pieces remaining that a skilled upholsterer may be able to utilize them as templates to stitch together something new.

Apart from the advanced aerodynamics, we need to lift this Panhard’s hood to appreciate why it is a triumph of engineering. The engine bay houses a twin-cylinder, air-cooled boxer engine with a capacity of 850cc. It may not sound like a powerhouse, but it could still send its impressive 50hp to the front wheels via a four-speed manual transmission. The journey down the ¼ mile would take 21.8 seconds, but this classic would have wound its way beyond 80mph thanks to the sleek body. Most readers will have considered the engine specifications and found themselves underwhelmed. However, it is worth looking at some of its design features to understand why such a tiny engine could produce the power it did. The company built these engines with roller bearings, while the cylinder heads are of hemispherical design for improved efficiency. Valve springs are torsion type, and the valves rotate as they close to improve sealing ability. The company made extensive use of aluminum to reduce weight and improve cooling. It is worth noting that even the pushrods are aluminum but fitted with hardened steel tips. With such an advanced and light package, it is no surprise that The PL 17 filled the first three places in the iconic 1961 Monte Carlo Rally. Our feature car is mechanically complete, and the engine turns freely. Its original owner parked it in a barn during the 1960s with 26,700 genuine miles on the clock. It may require a complete mechanical restoration, although I have heard of owners slotting a more modern motorcycle engine under the hood if they’ve struck trouble locating parts. The seller includes a significant collection of documentation and manuals in digital form to help the buyer on their restoration journey.

This 1960 Panhard PL 17 is unlikely to appeal to every enthusiast, but that is true of virtually any classic car. It is an unusual vehicle, requiring a dedicated individual to return it to its former glory. As the seller rightly points out, there are clubs in North America willing to provide support for owners seeking parts and advice. If their members don’t have what the next owner needs squirreled away in their shed or workshop, they may be able to point them in the right direction. With those thoughts sitting in the back of your mind, could you be tempted to pursue this affordable French classic further?

Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    The French do march to a beat of a different drummer. The company is a real innovator and we have them to thank for innovations seen in current suspension design. The design is very polarizing for sure. Classic French cars a quirky. Question is are you quirky enough to own one. I have learned to embrace the quirkiness of classic Citroen and Peugeot. I still need to stretch my boundaries on this one.

    Like 10
    • Martin Horrocks

      Given that I always agree with your postings, I am a bit surprised that you don´t give Panhard more credit. Citroen owned 25% of Panhard during the 50s, taking over the company entirely in 1964. The last BT24 coupé was a beautiful car.

      Look at the PL17 in a different way and you have a revolutionary pioneer (Alfa sud included takes its template from this). This was a midsized car for Europe at the time, not a 2CV/Beetle competitor but more like a 1.5 litre car, powered by a small sophisticated engine performing just as well as many engines twice the size. Something similar to the latest generation of small but powerful TSFi gas engines.

      As the write up says, the engine delivered reliability as well as performance, and this motor was a class winner at Le Mans in DB and then CD cars until the mid 60s. Factory Panhards and then DBs also punched well above their weight in rallies. Think Saab 96 without the inconvenienece of 2 stroke.and 4 doors.

      The previous model Dyna Z was all aluminium, so the cars got their performance from clever engineering, fwd handling, great aerodynamics, good brakes while delivering the usual French comfort levels.

      This car is worth the money just to look at it. I´m not saying I´d buy it, however….

      Like 5
      • Terrry

        Didn’t Panhard also offer an aluminum-bodied vehicle? I seem to recall they did back in the 50s.

        Like 2
      • Terrry

        It pays for me to read first..yes Panhard did offer an aluminum bodied car.

        Like 3
      • alphasud Member

        I don’t think I was putting this car down at all and I acknowledge the engineering triumphs that found their way into other makes. Technology that can be considered modern even in today’s standards. It’s not that I don’t like the PL17 it’s just not a car I would consider owning. I will own a Citroen DS or SM someday and maybe others because I have come to appreciate good design but the cars also need to feel comfortable in my driving situations.

        Like 1
  2. Moparman Member

    A brief glance at the script on the quarter panel would almost for a moment have one thinking that it spelled “Packard!” :-)

    Like 1
  3. Gary

    A whole lotta ugly goin on here folks, and I like ugly. This thing needs the rear doors welded shut and set on a Alston chassis with a Daimler baby Hemi in it for power.

    Like 1
  4. Terrry

    I’m glad that the seller is candid and mentions that there’s “some rust”. I don’t think I could have figured that out.

    Like 5
  5. Howard A Member

    Gol dang I do declare,,I’d LOVE to drive a nice example of one of these. Yeah, I am a bit out there ( no shmit Sherman). It’s unconventional in almost every way, I mean, look where the ignition key is.( I’m sure it locks the steering, something we never cared about in 1960, heck, GMs didn’t even need a key if left unlocked) It’s almost as if the French said, “nobody will copy OUR designs”,,not that they’d want to, but the French,,you know they are so unpredictable, one minute they are giving you a medal, next, chopping your head off. Be great parts for the, um, 3(?) people in the US that may have one, I can’t help but think, however, some poor schmuck in France is still driving one of these to work. And we thought Chrysler had some wacky designs then.

    Like 5
  6. Derek

    That looks like a really good place to start; the side-on shot shows the gaps as very even and the under-bonnet bodywork looks clean and solid. Engine’ll need a going over, but they’re not difficult to get your head around. The French old-car network is very good; people know people who’re into other things!

    Like 2
  7. JoeJ56

    Wait- the engine is in back but it’s front wheel drive? Oh those wacky Frogs!

    Like 1
    • Martin Horrocks

      No. You just misunderstood something Joe. It is indeed front-engined and fwd.

      Like 4
      • JoeJ56

        Hmm. Guess I’m misinterpreting the pic of the engine compartment.. and over-expecting the wacky factor, having never seen one of these before. Oops.

        Like 2
    • Bill

      This arrangement results in a better weight distribution. The engine
      sits behind the front axle = lower point of gravity. This means better
      driving dynamics. A feature that American manufacturers (GM Fooo
      Chrysler) did not know for a long time. And not know.
      But you only drive straight ahead…..

      Different requirements cause different solutions.

  8. Steve Clinton

    If there’s one thing the French were good at, it was designing ugly cars.

    Like 2
    • Eric_13cars Eric_13cars Member

      They do seem to have a penchant for at least esoteric designs and unusual technology choices. Then again, look at their leading men…not exactly your classic handsome devils…Jean-Paul Belmondo, Gerard Depardieu. Even some of their female stars were unusual..Jean Moreau or Simone Signoret par example. They must be of the ethos that there’s more to the book than the cover.

      Maybe I’m part French because I find this car strangely appealing.

      Like 3
      • Martin Horrocks

        This applies to nearly everything Gallic!. Whether art, architecture or engineering, the history of innovation from France is incredible, but sometimes difficult to comprehend.

    • Terrry

      If there was anything the French were good at, it was inventing cars..since it was they who built them first. Many automotive terms are French..sedan, coupe, automobile, to name a few..even the word “car” is a French acronym.

      Like 3
    • Gerard Frederick

      Beauty is in the eye of the beholder Steve. What´s a beauty for me maybe a
      n ugly beast for you and that ok, it makes the world a coloful place. Frankly, some of the most gorgeous cars ever were designed and built in France.

      Like 1
  9. Psychofish2

    ‘Its original owner parked it in a barn during the 1960s with 26,700 genuine miles on the clock.’

    Please stop.

    Like 4
  10. DeeBee

    Slim chance of parking next to yourself at Cars and Coffee!

    Like 2
  11. Gerard Frederick

    Old man Panhard was unique in every way, he was a man of honor. He never signed a contract, saying that my handshake is all the guarantee anybody will ever need. His designs, without exception, were simply the work of a genius. It is a shame the make disappeared.

    Like 6
  12. Lee Wells

    It has a forlorn look to the front end

    Like 3
    • Derek

      I’d say quizzical rather than forlorn…

      Like 1
  13. Anthony van Dillen

    very interesting car, had one for 8 years commuting between Maastricht and Eindhoven, about 100 kms comfortable and durable, never a problem. Also had a 2CV delivery 600 cc , but that was slow compared to Panhard.

    Like 1
  14. Terry

    I may be in the minority here, but different doesn’t necessarily mean “ugly”. In good shape, this car probably was handsome indeed. I like some of the french designs. They may look different but not ugly.

    Like 10
  15. Denny N. Member

    I love Maine, but not cars from Maine – know what I mean? ,Rust never sleeps.

  16. CCFisher

    Honestly, I’m surprised your keyboard didn’t explode when. you typed “Cheap French Classic.”

  17. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    I’ve owned a couple of earlier Panhards, and worked on more than a few over the last 50 years. These are surprisingly fast and nimble cars, giving great fuel mileage at the same time.

    One think to keep in mind, the only mechanical weakness under the hood is the carburetor. The carbs were junk from day one, and have no interchange with other vehicles. A friend in New Jersey has a 12,000 mile, all original PL17, but can’t drive it because he’s unable to find a suitable carb that will work.

    Like 1
    • Derek

      Try smaller SUs; I have a pair that were set up for a 652 Lomax hillclimber. It means making cables and mounting stubs up but might be a solution.

      Or motorbike carbs, too.

  18. Paris

    French and Italians are the inventors of automotive technology.
    All the others only use a good merchandising.

    There is another Panhard which stands out from the faceless
    mask of automobiles:
    The Panhard CD GT from 1964 with 580 KG weight with the
    extra tuning package III from Hampe in Paris includes,
    among other things, an increase in displacement to 997 cc,
    two double carburettors, different timing, a special oil pump
    and a longer-ratio gearbox. The engine power increased
    to 70 hp and with a cw value of 0.22, the coupé could be
    accelerated to over 200 km/h. The only who can beat this
    performance is the old TVR Griffith 200 with 160 hp and
    650 KG weight. Efficiency.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18PpYMXAI9A

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