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MONOPOLE - PANHARD - MONOPOLE - PANHARD
BATTLING FOR FRENCH BLUE

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The Monopole Panhard X85 of Jean de Montrémy (at the wheel) and Pierre Hémard at the 1953 Le Mans race. This car had won the Performance Index for the 3rd consecutive time the year before, driven by Jean Hémard-Eugène Dussous (Photo : Dominique Gasnerie)




In the context of the immediate after WWII period, with an economic situation calling for drastic energy savings, Panhard decided upon the development of a small capacity but highly efficient engine. In charge of the project, engineer Louis Delagarde came up with a superb air-cooled flat twin-cylinder engine with a number of technical originalities, that he will be constantly further improving for 20 years. The first 610cc version achieved in 1946 was mounted on the new Dyna X (1). Later on, it will equip all new Dyna series, with a capacity increased to 745cc and 851cc.

Given its technology innovations and remarkable performances, makers and performance-tuners of small-engine racing cars, as well as gentlemen drivers, immediately perceived its potential and many decided to adopt the Panhard engine, either alone or together with chassis, for preparing their own racing cars. became regular Panhard clients. On their side, Panhard were rather pleased with this indirect involvement in car racing, the more so as those clients proved very dynamic and successful with their French blue cars, in France and abroad, a rather good publicity for Panhard.

Among those early clients, a few played a major role in small-engined sports car racing history :
DB (Charles Deutsch and René Bonnet), a car maker based in Champigny (Eastern Paris area), as from 1949, Monopole, based in Poissy (Western Paris area), often referred also as Monopole-Poissy, headedc by Jean de Montrémy, and a few independent enthusiasts like, among others, garagists Pierre and Robert Chancel or Roger Barboni.

In 1937-38, André Hémard became the main shareholder of a company named Monopole producing various automobile equipments, which in the 1920's had created a factory in Poissy. After WWII, Monopole became a big industrial company producing various components for motor engines such as pistons, piston rings, valves, bearings, etc. When Panhard launched the Dyna X production, Monopole happened to supply pistons, valves and cylinder liners so that Panhard became rapidly one the main Monopole customers, with Peugeot and Citroën (an opportunity for Jean de Montrémy to know Paul Panhard personally).

Jean de Montrémy had always viewed car racing as an excellent means to promote Monopole products. In 1947, they created the
Ecurie Monopole and built a first streamlined aluminium roadster (barquette) in Poissy premises, based on a Simca 8 chassis-engine, that Jean de Montrémy and his brother-in-law Jean Hémard (2), production director at Monopole, raced alternatively all the 1947 season (both were excellent drivers and will participate in numerous races including Le Mans). In 1948, two other barquettes were produced, looking similar to the first one but with chassis built by Monopole. Both participated in the 1949 Le Mans race, with Jean de Montrémy-Eugène Dussous finishing at the 12th place overall and winning the 1100cc Class.

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Left to right : Jean Hémard - Jean de Montrémy - The very first 1947 Monopole - The 1948 banquette at the 1949 Le Mans race.

In early 1950, Panhard decided to take a further step in their involvement in car racing through their clients by providing them not only engines and chassis but also a technical assistance for building their barquettes, meaning more rapid progress and more controllable costs. Jean de Montrémy, seduced by the Panhard flat-twin that he judged revolutionary, immediately reached a cooperation agreement with Panhard : Monopole would build, develop and race their own racing cars with unofficial support from Panhard. Two cars were build, which were named equally Monopole-Panhard or Panhard-Monopole according to the respective advertising needs of the two companies. These two cars will be highly successful, winning three times the Performance Index at Le Mans in 1950,1951 and 1952.

After three years of this modus vivendi, and probably encouraged by the good results obtained domestically and internationally by Panhard-engined cars, Panhard decided in 1953 to become more directly and officially involved in car racing. The Panhard factory created an official team under René Panhard, assisted by Etienne de Valance, and launched the construction of three 'works' cars for the 1953 Le Mans race. René Panhard, a former aviator, asked Marcel Riffard, a renowned aeronautical engineer (remember the famous blue Caudron "Rafale" racing aircraft) to design the bodies. Not surprisingly, the X88 and X89 Riffard tanks with duralinox bodies mounted on light alloy Panhard chassis, looked like Rafale aircrafts on four wheels. They were intensively and successively raced during 1953 and 1954, the Chancel brothers winning the Performance Index and the Coupe Biennale at the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hours.

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Le Mans 1953 (from left to right) : the two Riffard tanks #50 and #61 before the race - The "Rafale" #50 of Charles Plantivaux-Guy Lapchin - Pierre and Robert Chancel after their brilliant victory


In spring 1955, Panhard built two new cars in view of the upcoming Le Mans race. Designed by engineer Pierre Durand, these VM5 type barquettes were powered by a 850cc flat-twin engine mounted on a tubular chassis with four independent wheels. Their very low lines were giving an impression of speed well captured on the Chevrier's painting below. They will be driven at Le Mans by the Chancel brothers (#50) and René Cotton-André Beaulieux (#51).

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Spring 1955 : first presentation of the two VM5 barquettes in the Panhard factory. Paul Panhard (with his hat) is accompanied by his son Jean (on his left) and staff of the Service Course (photos Automobilia).

These two official Panhard VM5 will be seconded by two new 745cc Monopole X88 barquettes, built in Poissy, with also a very well profiled bodywork, although significantly different from the VM5. They will be driven by Pierre Hémard (3)-Pierre Flahaut (#52) and Francis Navarro-Jean de Montrémy (#53).


As for DB, after having used Renault engines in 1953-54 without great success, they have decided to get back to the Panhard flat-twin and have prepared four 745cc cars for the Le Mans :
#57 - René Bonnet-Claude Storez
#58 - Paul Armagnac-Gérard Laureau
#59 - Louis Hery-George Trouis
#63 - Louis Cornet-Robert Mougin

In total, no less than eight Panhard-engined cars will participate in the tragical edition of the Le Mans race : two factory cars, two Monopoles and four DBs. Only two DBs could finish the race at the 16th and 20th places respectively, a real setback for Panhard.

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Le Mans 1955 : The two factory VM5 - Chancel brothers (#50) - René Cotton-André Beaulieu (#51)
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Le Mans 1955 : The two Monopole X88 - Pierre Hémard-Pierre Flahaut (#52) - Jean de Montrémy-Francis Navarro (#53)
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Le Mans 1955 : The four DB-Panhard (#57, 58, 59 and 63) aligned along the pits.

Coming in addition to the dreadful accident during the race, Paul Panhard decided to withdraw his cars from racing, to avoid the risk of adverse publicity. Practically, this was done by making the Monopole team (Ecurie Monopole in French) the official Panhard racing team. The two VM5 and the two Riffart tanks of 1954 were entrusted to the Monopole team. Equipments and staff moved in new premises in Achères, under Etienne de Valance's management, with engineer Paul Durand in charge of designing new cars. Development and tuning of engines was remaining at the Panhard factory while the Monopole Racing Team was responsible for chassis and bodies as well as choice of events, drivers and car entries.

As the number of endurance races open to Sport cars was limited, Monopole decided to also participate in GT races to complete their agenda. Making the two hundred minimum examples required for GT homologation being excluded, this imposed to keep up with the original Panhard chassis. Unfortunately it resulted in an increased weight which made the beautiful aerodynamic Monopole coupés insufficiently competitive. Despite an increased number of participations (Le Mans, Reims 12 Hours, Mille Miglia, Tour de France, Pau, Charade and Montlhéry circuits), international results became rare, although good overall performances. So, by the end of the 1958 season, Monopole shareholders considered that the cost of the Monopole Team was no longer justified and it was closed down, after eleven years of activity ensured by hardly ten cars. Monopole returned the two remaining cars (the two others having been destroyed in competition), among which the VM5 001 (that will reappear at the April 1962 test session at Le Mans).

End of the story for the Ecurie Monople, but not for the Monopole company which continued to develop through mergers with other automotive equipment companies (you may have heard of Floquet-Monopole spark plugs) to become a leading company in France. Worth mentioning that Monopole and Panhard have always worked together very cooperatively, in close harmony, as this is not so frequent.

Monopole pulled out of racing, Panhard turned to DB, creating the official team known as DB-Panhard. Deutsch-Bonnet ("DB Panhard") racers then went on to dominate the "Index of Performance" as well as other small-engine racing classes for a few years.

In January 1962, however, Charles Deutsch and René Bonnet had a strategy disagreement and split up, Bonnet deciding to go over to Renault engines. Panhard immediately contacted Charles Deutsch and reached an agreement with him to construct new cars for the next Le Mans 24 Hours, a presence at Le Mans being of upmost importance to Panhard given the value of the results already obtained there by Panhard-engined cars. A real challenge that will be met by an extremely motivated and competent team, managed once again by Etienne de Valance. Three Panhard-CD coupés with Tigre engines reduced to 702cc could be entered in the 1962 Le Mans 24 Hours, with #53, driven by André Guilhaudin-Alain Bertaut, winning the Energy Efficiency Index, the 10th and last time for Panhard.

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Le Mans 1962: A beautiful victory for the Panhard-CD #53 (Paul Panhard on the left)

The last official participation of a Panhard-engined car in the Le Mans race will take place in 1964, with the two CD prototypes LM64 built specially for that race (Panhard will be taken over by Citroën in 1965).


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(1) The different versions of the Dyna X were referenced
X84 from 1946 to 1950
X85 from 1950 to December 1952
X86 from 1952 to May 1953
X87 from June 1952 to January 1954 (Dyna Z unveiled at the October 1953 Paris Car Show).
So, X8x identities a version of Panhard Dyna X chassis as base for Panhard and Monopole cars as well.

(2) A Son of André Hémard

(3) Brother of Jean Hémard,

As usual, don't hesitate to contact me for any question or comment.