I have been on the lookout for a pre-Second World War sedan with a central driving position ever since I received a letter from a reader of my contemporary at the Vancouver Sun, Alyn Edwards.
Edwards thought I would have the answer to solve the mystery of the central driving position car last seen in France, but to be honest with you I was stumped.
If the reader had been looking for a modern example the answer would be easy — the McLaren F1 (1992-1998), which would be a lot more comfortable because each passenger has their own individual bucket seat, unlike in the 1938 Panhard Dynamic X76, where all three passengers sit alongside each other on a bench seat.
I stumbled across the 1938 Panhard Dynamic purely by accident; it was one of the eight cars in the class that I was judging at the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance in February.
The art-deco styling is certainly very different and like no other car that I have ever seen before; Baroque might be another way of describing its shape.
If you look at the photo of the car, you’ll notice the sweeping front fenders with fully wheel covers enclosing all of the wheels. Another feature, obviously for added visibility as the driver sits in the middle, are the rounded corner windows in addition to the windshield.
It is the kind of car that the closer and longer you look at it, subtle embellishments keep popping out.
For instance, the recessed headlights behind miniature versions of the centre grille. The centre driving position is not quite centred, it is slightly to the right. It has been suggested that the right seat (the cozier fit) is where the mistress sits and the wife would sit on the left!
The 2.8-litre, sleeve-valve engine can barely be heard when running; producing 75 horsepower, it is capable of quite a speed but I think the speedometer, which reads 170 km/h (106 mph), might have been a little optimistic for 1938.
This particular vehicle belongs to Olivier Cerf, who has an extensive collection of French classics in his museum in Tampa, Fla. (check it out at tbauto.org).
Despite being very rare and with only two examples known to exist in North America, they are not overly expensive — one sold at an auction in Paris in 2012 for $60,000.