1898 Panhard-Levassor M4E 8HP

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Understood To Be The Oldest Intact Racing Car Extant


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United KingdomLocation: United Kingdom United KingdomTitle/Tax Status: United Kingdom


159 years ago, the Locomotive Act of 1865 stipulated that any self-propelled road vehicle in the United Kingdom had to be preceded by a person walking 60 yards ahead, waving a red flag to warn other road users of the vehicle's approach. This legislation had been introduced to protect the investments of the powers that be horses, carriages and trains! The law was amended in 1878, removing the need for a flag but still requiring a person to walk ahead. In 1896, the requirement was abolished, and in celebration, The inaugural Emancipation Run from London to Brighton took place.

It will come as little surprise that the development of the ‘self-propelled road vehicle’ had motored ahead on the continent. France in particular had seen huge advancements and, in fact, the worlds oldest car manufacturer, the now 213 year old Peugeot (est. 1810) marque stems from the Eastern part of the country.


The origins of Panhard (et) Levassor can be traced back to 1800, but at that time, the Panhard name was little more than a carriage-builder. Founder Francois Panhard passed his carpentry business to his son Louis in the 1860s, and whilst working in the manufacture of woodworking machines, Louis met Emile Levassor.

The business started initially making gas and oil engines under licences from another advancing technologist, Daimler thanks to Belgian lawyer, Edouard Sarazin. The company was officially named Panhard et Levassor in 1888 and their first car was released two years later in the form of a back-to-back horseless carriage powered by a Daimler licenced V2.

Two years later, the first car to complete the journey from Paris to Versailles was a Panhard et Levassor, and just a couple of months later, the same car would journey to Etretat on the north coast over the course of two days at an average speed of 10km/h. Panhard and Levassor were innovators and pioneers in their field, and the efforts they made to develop a long standing and efficient driving principles.

‘Systeme Panhard’ has been regarded as the proprietary layout of the front-engine placement and rear wheel drive configuration, one certainly made famous by Panhard et Levassor, if not the first example. Innovations aplenty, the first racing car to be fitted with a steering wheel instead of a tiller would be that of Alfred Vacheron’s…Panhard Levassor.

The very first car to land in Britain did so in 1895. A keen and inveterate traveller, the Hon Evelyn Ellis purchased a Panhard et Levassor from Paris and had the car transported to the UK. The drive from Micheldever Station to his home in Datchet cemented the 56-mile drive as the first in the UK to be powered by petrol, a pioneering journey inextricably linked to Panhard et Levassor name and helped to abolish the Locomotive Act of 1865. Ellis would remain an ambassador of the car as we know it, and move on to a directorship at Daimler.

Whilst Ellis’ Panhard had been that of a back-to-back, four-seater, this M4E is very different.

Competition Prowess

The first motor contest is that of the 1894 Paris-Rouen organised by Parisian magazine, Le Petit Journal. The motivations for competition at the time were to promote the efficiency, safety and ease of use of the motor vehicle, and were judged as such. First place was awarded jointly to Peugeot and Panhard et Levassor as they were determined to have entered vehicles ‘closest to the ideal’.

The following year, the racers returned, this time for the much more challenging Paris-Bordeaux-Paris, a race that saw the first Emile Levassor cross the line first. Piloting his Panhard -Levassor 1205cc, he finished nearly six hours ahead of second place! Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to win, as the competition had been designed for four-seaters. Competition spirit was one of the key drivers behind the Panhard brand. Endurance races gave brands the opportunity to demonstrate their vehicle's breadth of abilities. Panhard was regularly in the top spot, and their successes in stages over 100km are unrivalled.


The automobile presented here is an 1898 Panhard Levassor M4E 8 HP, a 4-cylinder front-engined, ‘Voiture de Course’. A ‘works-prepared’ factory racing car and understood to be the earliest surviving intact racing car in the world.

The M4E is one of the first cars to amalgamate each of Panhard’s innovations. This example exists as the earliest surviving 4-cylinder race car, one of the first race car with a steering wheel, pneumatic tyres instead of the preceding solid items, a front mounted radiator and aluminium gearbox castings.

Competing in the inaugural Paris-Amsterdam-Paris race of the same year, four of the first six places were taken by Panhard’s M4E including 1st having lead from the start, making this model the first racing car to travel internationally during a race. Panhard entered around 7 ‘works’ cars into the 1898 event, and whilst 6 of the 15 finishers were the M4E, this example remains the sole survivor. This example is understood to be 6th place finisher in the event, completing the 1,400 km run in 33 hours, 45 minutes and 57 seconds.

Factory records highlight the car was not sold until 1899 as the marque retained all of their entrants after the race, fearful of others learning from their successes. The factory ledger notes the sale to Mr Louis Laveissiere of Paris on 25/3/99 (1899!) for significant sum of 14,500 Francs. By comparison, the service also noted, was a mere 40 Francs. The specification was noted as a ‘Voiture de Course’, Paris-Amsterdam chassis with an 8hp engine, employing good use of aluminium, Michelin pneumatic tyres and a heating coil radiator. Around the time of sale, Panhard reconfigured the car as a four-seater. The front bench seat was moved to the rearward, with an additional bench added in front and a discount is noted in the factory ledger, likely for reusing original elements. The M4E returned to the factory in July and November of 1899 for service works.

As with many of the cars built around the turn of the century, limited records were kept. Whilst technology moved on rapidly, some cars remained in long term ownership by large wealthy families. Testament to the care at the time, this example survived.

For much of its life, this M4E resided within the collection of Bernard de Lassée, the former president of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) and Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA). An avid collector and connoisseur, this example along with countless other historically significant vehicles would reside within his own collection near Lourdes, before his founding of the Musee de Chatellerault. After Lassée’s death in 1991, many of his cars were purchased by the city of Chatellerault to remain on display. This M4E however, was purchased by Dutch collector. Four years later in 1995, this example was sourced on behalf of its most recent long term custodian by respected Panhard expert Tim Moore. Understanding the car could be available and with the knowledge of its relatively unknown early competition history, a deal was struck that would see the car imported into the UK.

Upon arrival in the UK and with a desire to take part in the London to Brighton Run, a decision was made to go through the car comprehensively. The M4E presented well for a car that was at the time, 97 years old, but having never been fully restored there was work to be done. The restoration was fully documented and included dismantling the car and engine before being rebuilt. During the works, notable details of the Paris-Amsterdam-Paris racers were noted including the crank case and gearbox casings in Aluminium, the king-pins feature uprated ball races and the chassis is 800mm wide as per the drawings of the original 8 hp entrants. Exhaustive efforts by the long-term custodian amended the implied build date from the 1899 date in the factory ledger supplied when registering the car, to 1898 ahead of the Paris-Amsterdam-Paris race.

During the restoration, the M4E was returned to its original two-seat configuration. Opposing its rebodying in 1899, in 1995 the rear seat was moved back to the front, retaining its original bonnet and original basket at the rear.

Shortly after completion, this example competed in the 1996 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run centenary celebration. It was the first car to arrive in Brighton by 25 minutes; a staggering feat when considering the event is open to cars built up to 1904 and that in that time, power output for cars had doubled from the M4E. This example subsequently competed for two more consecutive years, finishing 1st on both occasions. Since then, this example has graced the lawns of Goodwood Cartier Style et Luxe, The Windsor Concours and the London Concours.

Whilst the Panhard Levassor name is one few remember today, it was without doubt one of the leading manufacturers at the start of the 20th century. Through great successes and acclaim racing in France, between 1895 to 1900 Panhard et Levassor became the most important car manufacturer and exporter in the world. Owner of several examples was none other than Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce Motorcars, who was the authorised dealer and importer for the UK. His victory of a 1,000 mile reliability trial 1900 in a Panhard, no doubt spurring on the creation and execution of his own marque in following years.

This incredible example, very much understood to be the oldest surviving intact factory racing car in the world is available to view at our showrooms outside London immediately.


  • Panhard-Levassor M4E 8HP 'Voiture de Course'
  • The oldest surviving racing car extant
  • The sole remaining Paris-Amsterdam-Paris Racer
  • The winner of the 1996 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run Centenary by 25 minutes
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