The motoring landscape of post-war Europe underwent a profound transformation as economies recovered and the demand for affordable, efficient cars surged. By the 1950s, the concept of the “people’s car” had become pivotal in major motoring nations, largely influenced by the remarkable success of the Volkswagen Beetle. As the 1960s commenced, the burgeoning middle class sought affordable cars that transcended basic transportation. Uniquely, the French approached this challenge in their own way.
Panhard, a traditionally esteemed name in French motoring, entered the scene with the Dyna Z and its successor, the PL 17. Comparable in size to the VW Beetle, the PL 17 accommodated four passengers and showcased ingenious engineering beneath its sleek, aerodynamic exterior.
Despite its displacement of only 849cc for taxation purposes, it outperformed the 4-cylinder Beetle in power and achieved a higher top speed. Initially featuring aluminum bodywork, Panhard’s manufacturing costs led to bankruptcy, enabling Citroen to take over. Even with later steel models, the cars remained lightweight at just 1,775 lbs.
The air-cooled boxer twin, impressively well-engineered, boasted hemispherical combustion chambers, a roller-bearing crank, and torsion valve springs. Thanks to its streamlined and lightweight design, the PL 17 could reach speeds exceeding 80 mph in standard form. In a remarkable achievement in 1961, Panhard PL 17s secured all three podium positions at the Monte Carlo Rally—an extraordinary feat for an 850cc French family saloon!