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Forgotten Founders: 1960 Panhard PL17

When most people think of early car manufacturers, they think of Karl Benz and Henry Ford. While both Ford and Benz were essentially influential in getting cars to where they are today, there was a third entity actively producing cars at the same time: Panhard et Levassor, a French company. Although this 1960 PL17 is far from their first designs, it is an important piece of automotive history representing an important but often forgotten company! This unusual French automobile could be yours. Find it here on eBay in California with reserve not met. 

Oddly enough, we have featured this car before. Josh wrote it up three years ago, when it was for sale on eBay previously in Oregon. Wearing the same Oregon license plates that it was in that ad, it has found its way to Hollywood, California where it is now being sold by what appears to be a classic car dealer. The rear-opening doors are very cool, and very French. The interior is in just as terrible shape as it was three years ago and would need absolutely everything repaired, recovered, or replaced. A lot of it appears to be there, if not totally intact, which is good because I imagine finding parts for this car would be a challenge.

The seller states that this car has an 850cc engine, and while that would be correct if this was the original engine, it is not. When this car was for sale in Oregon, it had a VW engine installed in it, and apparently still does. While the original engine was a two-cylinder boxer engine, the Volkswagen engine is a boxer four-cylinder. Power gain would be the assumption, but neither engine puts out much more horsepower than the other (or much horsepower at all!) so the next reasonable guess would be the old engine was beyond repair and a VW engine was small enough to fit.

This is an odd-looking car, but Panhard has some very valuable history and as such this could be a worthy project to the right person. How this car ended up in California for sale again is anyone’s guess, but hopefully the next buyer will give this odd little car the home it deserves! While something this unusual will require patience and perseverance to complete, as well as deep pockets, when restored it will be a beautiful vehicle and certainly turn heads at a show. Would you attempt it?


  1. Dan

    I do love weird cars (I used to own a Messerschmitt/DKW mash up), but dang, this is one ugly car. One mans opinion though!

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  2. 68 custom

    I think the original engine in this one was a two stroke 2 cylinder engine. a guy I knew had one back in the day. slap a big bore VW motor in there and go racing.

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    • Karl Nelson

      Air-cooled, two-cylinder, four-stroke motor. Roller bearing mains, torsion bar valve springs. Amazing engine, really. It may take a while to get there, but that little engine can keep a four-door sedan at 80mph on the freeway.

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  3. Wolfgang Gullich

    These Panhards (pronounced Pan-ar; d is silent) are amazing cars. They have a storied rallye history and were built extremely well. The original 4- stroke 2-cylinder would have been 848cc with 60 hp, whereas the contemporary VW 1200 would only put out 40hp.

    It would be well worth finding an original Panhard engine as they were very advanced (hemi heads, polished ports) and sound incredible at speed, not to mention far more reliable than the VW powerplant.

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  4. Wolfgang Gullich

    These Panhards (pronounced Pan-ar; d is silent) are amazing cars. They have a storied rallye history and were built extremely well. The original 2-cylinder would have been 848cc with 60 hp, whereas the contemporary VW 1200 would only put out 40hp.

    It would be well with finding an original Panhard engine as they were very advanced (hemi heads, polished ports) and sound incredible at speed, not to mention far more reliable than the VW powerplant.

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  5. ccrvtt

    “The French don’t copy anybody, and nobody copies the French.”

    There’s probably a reason for that…

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  6. Sam

    Definitely has character. I heard this was the “backup” car for Columbo.

    I would put a reliable Honda 4 banger and 5 speed in it along with a full interior/exterior restoration. That is if I had unlimited money to match my lack of common sense.

    If you go weird, go all in and have something fun and reliable.

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  7. Todd Fitch Staff

    Sure but does it have a Panhard bar?

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  8. Howard A Member

    See, now my old man would call this a “PanHARD”, like “Renultz”, but would call a Peugeot a “POO-joe”, go figure. It’s like the Panhard designers sat down and said, “let’s make everything as unconventional as we can”. I mean, nothing looks right , to me. I think if you showed up in this, the laughter would quickly be overcome with wonder. And what’s with the 2 generators? I like French cars, but this thing doesn’t make a lick of sense. Here’s another one for Scotty’s vast collection ( and getting vaster,,more vast?) of eclectic automobiles. I think this is so cool, sans the engine, although, clearly, the lesser of two evils over the ring-ding. With the hood (trunk?) open, I can’t tell if it’s coming or going.

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    • Sam

      Maybe the Panhard guys were “down-sized” from Citroen….unconventional to the nth degree.

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    • tugdoc

      Pics. of this remind me of the post war Japanese tin toy cars. You know the ones with faces painted on the windows!

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    • Ross W. Lovell

      Greetings All,

      I think they fitted an alternator and it was just easier to leave the generator in place for ease of belt routing, otherwise they might have needed an idler pulley.

      Love the car. Personally, I’d probably put a Subaru in it, while I love VW’s pancake four, especially with a turbo, I like the ability to have AC and having tried that on a VW, you give too much HP away with it on, whereas the Subie has the extra HP.

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    • peter

      It has a generator and alternator – not two generators. The extra alternator was most likely fitted to change from 6-volts to 12-volts and with higher amperage output. The generator (about at the middle of the engine) had to be left in place as the fan for the air cooling is bolted on the other end.

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  9. RobM

    Panhards had 2 cylinder, 4-stroke engines with torsion bar valve springs. They were high performing engines. Many Panhard sedans lost their engines to Deutsch-Bonnet sports cars raced in SCCA. This car needs a heart transplant.

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  10. Ben T. Spanner

    Deutch-Bonnet Lemans Coupe (Best rhyming car name) was a very small aerodynamic coupe with cast wheels including brake drums cast into the wheel. They won an index of performance at LeMans, but so did Crosley.

    160 inches long, 1430 lbs dry.

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    • James HGF

      A Crosley, “Le Biplace Torpedo” was prepared and entered in the 1951 Le Mans 24 hour race to contest the index of performance, but failed to finish. Crosley did win the first Sebring 6 hour race in 1950 which was run an index of performance classification.

      “Crosley at Le Mans 1951” including Stan Mott’s great illustration from original Road & Track article:


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  11. JJS

    The pictures on eBay show a strange fabrication on the hood.
    Can’t believe there is a reserve. The owner should be happy anyone is even interested that old heap. I suspect a decent PL17 could be found in Europe and brought stateside for less than what it will take to restore this car, if that is even possible. Maybe the seller is hoping for the opposite, that someone in Europe wants this one for parts.

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  12. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    A friend of mine bought a 10,000 mile all original and beautiful 1959 PL-17 about 3 years ago at one of the big car auctions, and I believe he paid about $5k. For a beautiful low mileage vehicle. The downside is getting spare parts. Some are easy, but he had serious problems finding any carb repair kits or even rebuildable carbs.

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    Put it out of its misery and crush it.

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  14. Paul B

    The engines are advanced indeed but not the most reliable in the world. A bit fragile, as are the 4-speed overdrive gearboxes. They are actually quite beautiful when not in the sorry condition of the heap under discussion, and even the best photos never do them justice. Labor of love, this one and all others, for those who are interested. I’ve had one for 20 years or so, and others have owned them for even longer. Yes, it would be better to find a good one in the US or Europe, buy and enjoy.

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  15. dr fine

    The scoop on the hood has a flap on the underside that appears to have a Corvair type metal bellows thermostat rigged to open it at high temperature.

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  16. Howie B.

    This car has been around for several years and no one who knows PL17’s would ever buy this one. It has been for sale for over 3 years!! Here it is from 2015!

    I had one and they are awesome!

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  17. Ian

    I had a ride in a standard one of these a few years back by its understanding keeper. After a few minutes warm up (and four people in it) we were more than keeping up with modern traffic. It’s very capable-parts are about-and rumour has it Citroen bought Panhard to stop this model outselling the DS. They have a narrow but very strong following here in Europe. Like a lot of older cars – someone loves them..and at less than 1000cc won’t mess up Ca smog levels !

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  18. Ken Nelson Member

    This car was advertised out of Oregon I think about 1-2 yrs ago. I bought a Dyna Z12 from the same seller, but the Dyna is original – not bastardized with a Vdub engine! Others mention parts are hard to find – there are plenty on ebay.fr where you can use Babelfish or other translation programs to talk with the sellers. Better site is Le Boncoin, which is sort of a French Craigslist. I’ve been buying Panhard & Citroen parts for yrs off ebay.fr and only had a bad experience once, due to sloppy packaging of some lights by the seller. Great thing about Panhards, as with Citroens, they changed very little over their history. From ’54, when they started their jellybean (my opinion!) series of 4 door sedans, from the earliest Z1 (all aluminum 4 door body in white weighing a grand total of 220 lbs!) to the last ’67 24BT coupes with the engine tweaked to 60 with same displacement, used basically the same drivetrain – engine, gearbox, driveshafts, & electricals, not to mention ALL glass, & same brakes except for ’54 thru about ’57, which had 135-400 mm tires, then switched to 145-15 in. tires thru ’67. But they do have their weak spots – crankshaft being one of them. Zero fuses, so electrics can burn up easily. Lots of early plastic trim which goes to hell in sun/heat. And the worst possible design re working on/removing/installing the instrument pod – it’s put in thru the firewall side when it BEGS to go in from the front! Whoever designed that arrangement should’ve been shot by the French Foreign Legion! I do believe I now understand why they were shut down by Citroen.

    BTW, Panhard-Lavassor was the VERY FIRST true production car co. in the world – they started making cars in 1890 using a Daimler license to build their own engines, stuck them in their carts, and by 1891 had built 26 cars, and sold a bunch of extra engines to Peugeot. AND the hotrodders owe homage to Panhard for their trusty ROD, whether they realize that or not. Further, the special rollerbearing on the conrod was designed by Leonardo – yes, THAT Leonardo – who drew it around 1480.

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  19. Ken Nelson Member

    One more addition: Anyone interested in learning more about these very interesting cars should get the fairly new history written by one David Beare of the UK. I believe it’s titled “Panhard, the history of the flat twins”. Came out about 3 yrs ago. It’s about 1 in. thick, 8 1/2 x 11 size – really massive – and published by Stinkwheel Press – with a publisher named that, you know you have to have it (there is real history behind the name – buy it). David has done a superb research job, it’s a fun read, lots of humor, VERY interesting development story, and copious informative detail – worth every British Quid (pound Sterling), or whatever you have to pay for it. The book will bring any reader totally up to date on this underdog car.

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  20. Ken Nelson Member

    68 custom, all the 4 door sedans, starting in ’54, had the 40 hp, 850 cc engine, which could pull the jellybean 5 seater cars to 90 mph, giving 40 mpg at normal speeds. A longtime french friend told me recently he often got 100 mph out of his sedan. Try that with a 4 cylinder Bug standard engine! The later Tigre engine, same displacement, put out 50 hp, and the last series cars, the 24CT/BT coupes got 60 hp out of the same basic engine with larger intake pipes and hotter cam. I’ve had my ’66 24BT at 90+ on I-94 near Ann Arbor Mi,. and it’s good for 100. Bug engines do not belong anywhere near this car – just my not humble opinion.

    PS – Don Racine of Mini Mania routinely ran a one-off open wheel car, the Aardvark, all over the W. coast, special chassis, highly tweaked Panhard powertrain bumped to 90 hp after he learned how to keep them together by blowing up most of the spare engines on the W. coast. He either wins or DNFs – 3 yrs ago at Sears Point I asked him how he did – missed a shift and there went another engine! To keep the one piece crankcase together, the racers weld a 3/8 in. thick alum plate over the front crank hole, and use 1/4 in. steel reinforcement on back case hole. When you’re running 13:1 compression on this small Hemi, the power wants to tear the crankcase in half. Greatest racing photo I’ve ever seen was one of the late Tony Rodriguez ahead of a 12 cylinder Maserati at Laguna Seca in his Devin-Panhard. The Maser could catch him on the straights, but he’d leave the Italian behind in the corners and he never got beaten by that car.

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