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History of the Clément Panhard

The story of the history of the Clément Panhard is not straightforward, it involves several companies and personalities of the early automobile industry.

The best place to start is with the history of Panhard et Levassor company, then inventor Arthur Krebs and finally Gustave Adolphe Clément

The Origins of Panhard et Levassor

The origins of Panhard et Levassor date back to around 1845. At that time Jean-Louis Périn (1815-c1886) had a small woodworking workshop in Paris, he decided to move the company away from actual carpentry and into the design and manufacture of wood band saws. Between 1850 and 1867 the company grew from eight mechanics to sixty. 

In 1864, after graduating from École Centrale Paris (a prestigious university specialising in engineering and science) René Panhard (1841-1908) joined the firm and contributed to its growth. So much so that in 1867 the company changed its name to Périn & Cie.

By the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), Périn & Cie was one of the largest machine factories in Paris, employing about 110 workers.

By 1872 Jean-Louis Périn was already planning for his retirement, and René Panhard wanted someone to help him drive the company forward. So in 1872 Émile Levassor (1843-1897) joined the company after studying engineering and graduating from the same university as René Panhard.  


At the end of 1872, Jean-Louis Périn sold a portion of his company to René Panhard and Émile Levassor, with the new ownership structure Panhard 60%, Périn 30% and Levassor 10%. Levassor’s parents gave him a loan for him to buy his share of the business and the company also got a new name, Périn-Panhard & Cie.

The company started to build Otto engines......

In 1889, the company started to mount these engines on ‘horseless carriages’ and after some refinements they built a cabriolet with the Daimler V-twin power unit installed in the centre of the vehicle. Later in the same year, they finally decided on a front-engine design for the mark 2. This layout of the motor car became known as the “Le systême Panhard.

From 1875 onwards, the company manufactured gas engines at a new location on Avenue d'Ivry in a suburb of Paris.

After the death of Jean-Louis Périn company underwent another metamorphosis. In 1887 Émile Levassor was approached by his friend Edouard Sarazin (1839-1887) who was a friend and business contact of Gottlieb Daimler (1838-1900) and Wilhelm Maybach (1846-1929). Sarazin, as a lawyer, had acquired the rights to market Daimler products in France and wanted Périn-Panhard & Cie to build Daimler's petrol engines and cars.

Before an agreement could be signed, Édouard Sarazin died. On his deathbed, he told his wife, "In your own interests, and for the good of our children, I recommend that you maintain the business connection with Daimler. His invention is entirely trustworthy, and it will have a future, the magnitude of which we cannot begin to imagine today." He also insisted that she maintain the relationship with Levassor and Panhard.


Louise Sarazin (1847-1916) did as her husband suggested and with the blessing of Gottlieb Daimler finalised the agreement and secured a XX percent commission on all Daimler engines sold in France.

The company also changed its name, this time to Panhard et Levassor.


The company built and sold the first Daimler car in...

In May 1890 Emile Levassor married Mme. Louise Sarazin, the widow of Edouard Sarazin,

Levassor continued to tinker, moving the engine to the front with real-wheel drive

when taking part in the 1896 Paris–Marseille–Paris race

In 1897 Émile Levassor died as a result of injuries he has sustained when taking part in the 1896 Paris–Marseille–Paris race

In 1897, Émile Levassor died and Panhard et Levassor became a limited company – “Société Anonyme des Anciens Établissements Panhard et Levassor” (Limited Company of the Old Establishments Panhard and Levassor). It was during this time that Arthur Krebs manager became at Panhard et Levassor, and remained so until 1915.

In January 1899 Mme. Sarazin sued Panhard et Levassor over a dispute over rights to the engines and René Panhard backed her. When she lost, René Panhard resigned as XXX from the board.

Adolphe Clement had joined the Board of Directors of Panhard et Levassor in 1897, and after René Panhard’s departure became Chairman. He remained as chairman until Jan 1903 when he resigned due to the conflict of interests with his other business activities.

 did in a race

Krebs comes onboard

An excellent history of the company can be found on website.  

Commandant Arthur Constantin Krebs

At the heart of the story of Clement Panhard story is Arthur Constantin Krebs (1850–1935) an astonishingly versatile engineer who was equally at home designing airships, submarines and automobiles.


From an early age, he was obsessed with engineering and wanted to attend XYZ, however, the Franco-Prussian War meant that he ended up in the military.


In 1884 Krebs, along with Charles Renard, piloted the world's first fully controlled free-flight in the French Army airship La France.


Commandant Krebs

LaFranceAirship 1884.jpeg

French Army airship La France

In 1888 Krebs completed the design of the Gymnote, one of the world's first all-electric submarines (sixteen days after Spaniard Isaac Peral launched his vessel). Early experiments were done by Henri Dupuy de Lôme, but after his death, by Gustave Zédé and Arthur Krebs, who completed the project.

Commandant Krebs

The Panhard and Levassor automobiles Around 1894, the first automobiles powered by gasoline engines appeared. Automotive locomotion having already struck my imagination from the point of view of its application to the Fire Service, I obtained a small engine from the Panhard & Levassor company to study its operation and built a small one in the Fire Brigade workshop . experimental car whose gear changes were achieved by magnetic clutches. I had imagined this arrangement to avoid the brutal shocks suffered by the gears when changing gears, a solution which seemed barbaric to me.Top of page

Krebs cart 1896

At the beginning of 1897 , I showed my completed and working car to Mr. Levassor. He was deeply struck by this and asked me to allow him to put several of them under construction in his workshops and to kindly follow their manufacture. Two months later, Mr. Levassor died suddenly. His partner, Mr. Panhard, transformed his association into a Société Anonyme and asked me to take over its management. The automobile industry was in its infancy, its future was not in doubt and Maison Panhard & Levassor held the lead. Encouraged by the success of my previous work and my personal tastes, I did not hesitate to accept and abandon the military career to enter industry.

Gustave Adolphe Clément

Having made a fortune in bicycles and pneumatic tires Adolphe Clément began building Clément and Gladiator cars in 1898. At a factory in Levallois, France he built 2 1/4hp rear-engine Clément voiturettes and a mechanical nightmare called Clément-Panhard! The Clément Panhard was designed by airship pioneer Commandant Krebs (a director of Panhard & Levassor company).

The design was made under license in Scotland as Stirling-Panhard or Clément Stirling by Stirlings of Edinburgh.

More conventional cars were introduced in 1901. After Clément signed away the rights to the Clément marque in 1903, cars bearing his name were made by the new owners in Gladiator factory. He had to change his name to Clément-Bayard - the Chevalier Bayard was a medieval hero.

Adolphe Clément

Grand Album Illustre De L'Industrie Automobile

The following comes from "Grand Album Illustre De L'Industrie Automobile" and the article was written in French English and German.


Guessing from the English version it must have been translated directly from the French.

There are three volumes covering the years 1900, 1901, 1902. These annuals may never have been on general sale, but could have been presentation souvenirs printed at the time of the annual Paris Salon, undoubtedly at that time the most important motor shows in the world.

The first third, in each case is an annual review, in French, of the motoring scene in France, with one or more photographs of people, cars, races, etc., on virtually every page. Then follows the Salon review, each make being covered by photographs or line drawings on one page, with the facing page carrying descriptions or maker's information, the text being in three vertical columns in French, English and German respectively.

     There exists in masculine striving, in the industrial production of our days, culminating points, marked stages, quite visible which seem to unite years of work, of hope, of energy which form a vast platform from which the observing mind discovers the totals of the past and looks forward to the future which the past has prepared for it.

     Whoever has seen the Clément factories, will get a very exact idea of what we state. Clément's factories are a synthesis of the past, a marvellous resume of what can best be conceived, the most perfect as also the most gigantic and nothing will be produced in the far future which is not already there in the germ, in this grandiose conception of work of this immense palace of labour, where all was foreseen for utilizing immediately the complete endeavour, for the very minimum saving of time, for the perfect realization of all the principles of political economy.

     Who is not capable of closing a ground with walls, elevating on this ground certain works, placing in these a certain number of workpeople, to place in it any particular steam machine, to feed it and to blindly distribute its force here and there and everywhere, to buy materials, to shape and use them up and begin again in each year. Who is not capable of that?

     But it is something different, to construct for workpeople using none but machine tools, large well lighted and ventilated factories where the hours of work are carefully thought out, where they are happy of the  labour accomplished day by day, to cause to pass over all these people the effort, the powerful breath of a perfect machine, which spreads out everywhere its gifts of modern industrial existence, to supply to thousand of square metres a real life transmitted by uncountable machine bands, by perfect machinery working smoothly, with docility and without stoppage, without error, to produce one's sell from the most insignificant detail  up to the most complicated gear, to owe nothing to any one besides, to store in vast caves combustibles purchased long in advance at lowest rates, to keep ready its out put to satisfy all demands, to seek them out, to cause them to come from every point, to find for ever the consumer; this then is the wonderful work which is accomplished day by day in the most perfect factory existing in the world - that of Clément, at Levallois-Perret, at the very gates of Paris.

     The light carriage was not existent when M. Clément determined to construct one which would be at the same time a practical carriage. By an audacious but intelligent order of commercial idea he acquired the reproduction and exclusive construction of the Panhard et Levassor patents (for this carriage) which are known all the world over, and he did not delay long producing the little wonder of which we herewith give a drawing.


     The light Clément carnage which will from now on traverse the routes of the entire universe is propelled by a 4hp motor the lighting is produced by an incandescent tube.

Body Styles

In the old days, cars were often sold as bare chassis, the new owner would then take them to a coachbuilder to have a body fitted.  At first, the styles followed on from the horse-carriages and took their names from that trade, thus .....

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