The CP Nel Museum in Baron van Reede Street, Oudtshoorn, is home to two remarkable vehicles. On entering the transport section of the museum and having passed the Voortrekker wagon on display, one is confronted with an exhibit that will, if you are a vintage and veteran vehicle enthusiast, take your breath away.

A 1902 Panhard Levassor motor car – complete in almost every respect and authentic in every way, down to the dust on the wooden spoked wheels – is on display.

Not all old cars are Vintage and Veteran vehicles. The first category, the Veteran or Edwardian Motor Carriage, would encompass vehicles from the 1890’s to 1910. The next category, Vintage, covers the period up to and including 1930. Vehicles made after that date will be classified as Post Vintage. These categories are recognised worldwide. In South Africa SAVVA is the body that can authenticate your precious relic.The 1902 Panhard Levassor that is on display in the CP Nel Museum.

The Panhard Levassor on display at the CP Nel Museum is a unique vehicle. Firstly because it is completely original,
having escaped the attention of well-meaning restorers. Vehicle restoration is a no-no these days. One wishes to strive for authenticity and this is what we have with this vehicle. The car, number 674 off the production line, is a Type N. The body number is 6832. In those far-off days it was common practice to purchase a vehicle and receive just the running chassis. You then approached a body specialist. You chose a body style to suit the purpose for which the vehicle was
to be used from a design catalogue. In this case the body would have been made at the Panhard Levassor factory.

The car on display has a twin cylinder engine and is in fact the German made Benz motor from the yet to become Merceds Benz factory. It is surprising to find a German made engine in a French car of that period, but love and marriage played a part in this deal. Levassor, Panhard’s partner, married the widow of the engine designer and with his new bride came the rights to the use of the patents on the motor and so these were put to good use. The car has a five speed gearbox and no independent electrical system. Batteries had not yet been invented. The electricity needed to provide the spark, is generated by a magneto, running off the engine. The headlamps, made of durable brass, used carbide to provide a glowing gas flame.

On occasions a candle would have been placed in the holder provided. Top speed is a sedate 7 mph (11 kmph). The only brake is a handbrake mounted next to the gear lever and working only on the rear wheels. The power from the engine reaches the rear wheels via two large chains, similar to that found on a bicycle! What does the future hold? The plans for this vehicle are of interest to all who live and work in Oudtshoorn. The Museum Fundraising Committee is keen to raise the necessary funds to get the vehicle on the road again. The first venture is to display the car at the George Motor Show on Saturday, 11 February. The car will also be on display during the KKNK. It is hoped that enough money can be raised via these opportunities to enable a team of enthusiasts to get the car running again.

When this becomes a reality, the final step will be to make the Panhard Levassor part of a living motor display. The car will be run once per month for a distance of one kilometer in Baron van Reede Street. It is also hoped to run the car at the London to Brighton run in England which is held in November of each year!

What happened to Panhard Levassor? Panhard was left as the sole shareholder and during World War 1 he built armoured cars. In the period 1957 to 1959 you could have purchased a Dyna Panhard in Cape Town. This 4 cylinder horizontally opposed, air-cooled motor car was moderately successful in the club motor races of the time. Panhard finally disappeared in 1960 when it became part of the Citroen empire. To this day a member of the Panhard family holds a seat on the Citroen Board.

What you may ask is the value of such a car. A reliable method of obtaining values is to search the records of the specialist auction firms, Christies of London being one such firm. At the prestigious Pebble Beach Motor Show held in California during 2002, a car of similar design and in condition four, fetched a remarkable R1.67 million at the present conversion rate of R6.20 to the US$! Should you wish to have more information about this project or perhaps be keen to become involved in the project please contact Pierre Nel, Chairperson of the Museum Fundraising Committee, on 0732540522 or William Gould on 0724950056.

Our thanks to the members of the George Old Car Club for their help with the transport of the car to the show and back to Oudtshoorn.

• The Museum also houses a second interesting car, a 1905 Schaatz.

Article by: William Gould