Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mad French Cars

The weird, but wonderful, Panhard CD.
This car is all my friend Tom has bubbled on about since we got back from Le Mans earlier in the month. Before I took Tom to this year's Le Mans Classic, he wasn't much of a car fan. He was just coming along for the ride, doing something a bit different, enjoying a break. When we left the Le Mans Classic, he had a new love in his life. (His previous love was beer, by all accounts, so this probably isn't a bad swap.)

The Panhard CD. Tom is now, officially, a petrol-head.

True to form, he had to pick a real odd one. This crazy, 850cc, two-stroke French saloon was actually entered in the Le Mans GT class, back in the '60s. It never had a prayer, of course, much as it looked rather silly in the glorious re-enactment, but nevertheless, it's a pretty special piece of engineering. It had all manor of technical innovations, unique at the time and not seen again for another decade, before becoming common-place in modern racing.

Sadly, so few CDs were made that the few remaining in good condition are worth a king's ransome. Since Tom is not a king, he'll be left gazing wistfully from a distance at the object of his desire. There is, however, some good news for Tom. Panhard also made a model called the Panhard 24, which is positively cheap in comparison. You can pick up a lovely 24 for just a few thousand quid, which is an absolute bargain for a truly unique car, especially here in the UK.

I love French engineering of that period. In fact, it was Clarkson who once bemoaned the way French car companies have ceased to make "big, mad cars", mostly in reference to the myriad of big Citroens launched in the '60s, '70s and '80s (some of which are still favourites of mine). It's nice to see Citroen weren't acting alone. Panhard were also doing plenty in the "big, mad" stakes.

If you're interested, here is the UK club (there may be others):

Ps - we stayed in this bed and breakfast, about a 45 minute drive from Le Mans, and it was simply stunning - highly recommended: http://www.manoirdesforges.fr/