A couple weeks ago, on one of the random weird car Facebook groups I apparently liked at some point, someone posted a photo of a Panhard PL17 they took in Cuba. I was fascinated. We all know about the classic American cars that still trundle along Havana streets powered by incredible assortments of car parts, but I had no idea there were also French weirdos. A Google image search brings up a whole bunch of pictures of these cars and they’re glorious.
Panhard et Levassor was the first French auto manufacturer formed by two friends who got a license to build Daimler motors in 1890. The company lasted until 1967 when Citroën, who had taken over Panhard in ‘64, finally retired the name. Panhard actually revolutionized the motorcar and not just for the rod that still bears its name. It was Panhard and Levassor who first arranged a drivetrain with the engine in front followed by a clutch and transmission powering the rear wheels. It was a system that worked that everyone copied.
After WWII, they started building aluminum bodied cars like these PL17’s. I can’t find much info on how many cars they exported to Cuba, but the PL17 was built from 1960-65, which means they got there right as the Communist revolution was happening. These were light, agile cars powered by a 50HP, 850cc air cooled twin. They were cheap, but roomy and handsome and performed well. One even won the 1961 Monte Carlo Rally. The cheapness was probably what appealed them to the Cuban market, but they were also notoriously unreliable. I can imagine few of these are running with their original engines. But, who cares because they look great.
This blue one is even a Tigre which was the fancy shmancy version that featured tiger print upholstery.
So, kudos to the intrepid Cubans keeping these oddballs in service. I hope someone remembers them when the inevitable happens and they’re no longer needed as transportation.