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Emile Levassor   1843-1897

By Ralph Stein

Louis Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor cofounded Panhard et Levassor, a French manufacturer of band saws and woodworking machinery. In 1889, M. Sarrasin, the holder of the French patents for the Daimler engine, requested the Panhard-Levassor firm to build him a motor according to plans which he supplied. Panhard agreed, the actual work being placed in the hands of his partner, Levassor. This eventually led to the creation of a small workshop for the purpose of manufacturing horseless carriages. Levassor had seen the latest model of Daimler’s car, which had been built for the Paris Exhibition of 1889. He was unimpressed by the quadricycle, but he was much taken by its two-cylinder, 15-degree V-engine. When Levassor designed his own car, it was the archetype of almost every machine that would be built for the next fifty years and came to be known as the Systeme Panhard: the engine in the front, behind it a clutch, and behind that the gearbox; between the rear wheels was a differential. Levassor is also credited with designing and building the first sliding-gear automobile transmission. A Panhard-Levassor car won the world’s first automobile race from Paris to Rouen in July, 1894. In a subsequent race (Paris-Marseilles-Paris, 1896), Levassor overturned his car and received injuries which caused his death the following March. Panhard died 14 years later, but Panhard automobiles continued to be manufactured until 1967.

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