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Hanging on to a 1908 GP Panhard – Levassor

1908 GP Panhard – Levassor. Riding Shot Gunn.

report by Tim Gunn:

In April 2012 I was asked to take an Edwardian ladies’ bicycle to a secret location in the depths of the Norfolk countryside for a photo-shoot. I often get requests to provide bicycles for such occasions; however, this time I had advance warning it was going to be special. I had no idea how special it would be.

Photographer, Nick Clements; the founder of Men’s File magazine had been asked by Fiskens to produce a set of period style images of a very special car. The location was to be a beautiful watermill in Norfolk which resembled the roads of northern France without having to go there.

I drove up to the location to be duly greeted by some familiar faces and a car which I had watched being driven with vigour for as long as I could remember. The 1908 GP Panhard-Levassor; the well known Edwardian beast was to find a new custodian and it was only fitting for the machine to be photographed in a way it had become accustomed to during its life. Nick Clements has a unique eye for photographing period scenes and particularly those of Henri Lartigue; the famous French photographer whose stretched images of Edwardian racing at speed are iconic. The idea for part of the day was to create similar images for the Panhard.

So well sorted is the Panhard, that after a pre-starting procedure and a flick of the starting handle, the Panhard bursts into live, the throttle is blipped and 12.8 Litres of torque rock the car from side to side. Mick had apparently already found a location about 2 miles away to take some images, but Mick’s photographer needed to be hanging out the boot of his car and that car needed a driver. After some discussion, Mick said he would drive it, but the Panhard needed a passenger and Mick suggested me.

At that point, I found myself in the passenger seat of a legendary car and sitting next to the equivalent to the present day Edwardian Michael Schumacher. Everyone was ready to go and we followed the photographer’s car along the single track lane. Before we get to the main road, I’m told to make sure I’m hanging on. By then we have light drizzle and this is the point when I discover why my driver still keeps breaking the hill record at Prescott Speed Hill Climb.

Down with the throttle and the previously suggested advice of 'hanging on' is taken up; the light drizzle now feels like needles and when we get to our destination, I feel like I've just jumped out of a plane. The shear grunt and acceleration of the machine is nothing you can describe in words, only that it is like being scared witless and totally confident at the same time.

Photographs taken, it is time for some lunch and over a ham sandwich and packet of ironically name crisps, my driver proudly shows me his new wrist watch in the style of a rev counter. But Nick was keen to get on with creating the Lartigue style images and had brought with him an entire wardrobe of period style clothing and a makeup artist. I had bought with me a pair of original long leather Edwardian driving coats and we rapidly found ourselves being kitted out as period racing driver and riding mechanic.

Not one for going slow, the first couple runs past Nick in the Panhard; were apparently too fast, and Nick could not catch us. Like a boy being told to go the naughty step, my Edwardian driver tells me he doesn’t do fashion stuff, but we then spend the afternoon driving slowly past Nick to the get the images and FAST in between. As the afternoon went on, it gradually became more difficult to ‘hang on’ and I began to appreciate those drivers and more so; the riding mechanics in the day who sat at speed on gravel roads for up to 9 hours on these pioneer racing beasts.

The resulting images from the day are a masterpeice, but the star of the day was the machine which brought us all together. The 1908 Grand Prix Panhard-Lavasser.  

( special thanks to: Fiskens - Mick Walsh - Nick Clements - Mark Walker – James Mitchell and Julian Balme)



#2 2014-07-15 16:19
The first time I met The Men's File was when they were taking photos for their "Best dressed" competition at the Goodwood Revival.
Some pictures:

Kind regards,

(yes, I am in one those photos)
#1 Robin Batchelor 2014-07-15 10:50
Whenever I see this car, I recall Mark Walker's story in VSCC Bulletin 267 (Spring 2010) describing his repair of the Panhard's magneto gear which had stripped its teeth whilst in France. We can all learn from his never-say-die approach as he repaired it in a nearby village using a file, hacksaw, hammer, nails ( for rivets) and bits of scrap.

Pictures here...

and story here...

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