It’s Sophisticated, It’s French, and Jay Leno Loves Driving It

Jay Leno’s garage might be full of beloved performance icons, but it’s also home to some obscure and unusual vehicles. And Leno likes to shine a light on the lesser-known classics just as much as he enjoys driving his Trans Ams. As such, his YouTube channel has been a stage for things like the Tatra T87 and the Wills Sainte Claire. And recently, Jay Leno featured the car he’s just finished restoring—a quirky and French 1967 Panhard 24 BT.   

The Panhard 24 was the last gasp of a dying, unconventional, innovative French luxury brand

The dark-blue Panhard CD LM64 at the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans
Panhard CD LM64 at the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans | GP Library/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While French automotive brands don’t have a monopoly on outside-the-box engineering, historically, they’ve introduced several innovative designs. Many of them, such as the DS and the SM, came courtesy of Citroen. And before either, there was the 1934 Citroen Traction Avant, which affordably bundled unibody design, FWD, independent suspension, and four-wheel hydraulic brakes.

But before Citroen, there was Panhard. Founded in 1890, Panhard arguably created the first modern car layout with the ‘System Panhard,’ the Lane Motor Museum explains. In 1891, the French company offered a car with a front-mounted engine, a rear-driven axle, and a transmission with a clutch. It also created the Panhard rod, which is still used by some live-axle cars today. And while it never won the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright, its streamlined racers won the Index of Efficiency trophy 10 times, Jay Leno says.

Jean Panhard and a black 1967 Panhard 24 BT
Jean Panhard and a 1967 Panhard 24 BT | Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

However, rather like Lancia, after WWII Panhard was struggling to make ends meet. For one, the brand’s expensive luxury cars weren’t much in demand. It was also hamstrung in the raw materials department by the post-war French government, Hemmings explains. And while the company lingered for some time, Citroen ultimately absorbed it in 1967.

But before it disappeared, the company released what Autoweek calls its “last hurrah:” the Panhard 24. Designed to compete with the Volkswagen Beetle, the Panhard 24 was more expensive. However, as Jay Leno explains in the video below, in many ways, it’s also more sophisticated.

Jay Leno’s 1967 Panhard 24 BT is unusual, comfortable, and practical

If the 1967 Panhard 24 BT “looks a bit like the American Corvair,” Jay Leno says, “that’s sort of deliberate.” The Europeans, like Leno himself, had a great deal of admiration for the rear-engine Corvair which, incidentally, also competed against the Beetle. But the 24 BT’s styling doesn’t come at the expense of practicality: despite only having two doors, it can seat six people.

While the Panhard 24 BT is a front-engine, FWD car, its engine is rather unusual. Under the hood is an 848cc air-cooled flat-twin that can be lifted by hand. This engine design was a Panhard post-war trademark, Car and Driver reports. And for its time, was both fairly advanced and somewhat odd.

For example, the flat-twin’s aluminum cylinder heads and block are all one casting, so there’s no head gasket to blow. Also, instead of springs, the valves open and close via pushrod-actuated torsion bars, somewhat like Ducati’s famed desmodromic valves. Plus, it’s technically a ‘Hemi’ in that it has hemispherical combustion chambers. And the exhaust pipes also act as engine mounts.

Admittedly, it only makes 60 hp and roughly 56 lb-ft of torque, Jay Leno says. But then, the Panhard 24 BT only weighs about 1800 pounds. As a result, while the Beetle couldn’t even do 70 mph, the 24 BT topped out at over 90 mph. And it regularly gets 40 mpg, Jay Leno claims.

Out on the road, the Panhard 24 BT is “certainly faster” than the Beetle, Leno notes, and its engine “loves to rev.” The 1800-lb curb weight also makes the 24 BT “light on its feet…responsive,” he says. Then there’s the way the suspension lets it simply glide over bumps, making it significantly more comfortable than the VW. And with the 24 BT’s sizeable trunk, it’s little wonder that Jay Leno regularly uses it as an errand car.

Can you find one of these unique classic luxury cars today?

While the Panhard 24 has several advantages over the VW Beetle, it’s also more difficult to locate. According to the Lane Motor Museum, Panhard built fewer than 43,400 examples. And it never sold the 24 in the US. Jay Leno estimates his 1967 car is one of a handful in the US, and he’s never seen another 24 BT on the road.

That being said, these coupes are still fairly affordable. While pristine examples command a premium, even the most expensive 24s typically don’t go for more than $20K, Bring a Trailer says. And the typical asking price is closer to $10K-$15K. So, if you’re after a classic car that’s a bit out of left field, Panhard’s swan song might be a choice worth seeking out.

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