The 1967 Panhard 24 BT is the better Beetle you’ve never heard of
The VW Beetle gets a lot of love from enthusiasts young and old, but what if we told you that there was a French car that blows the Beetle away in just about every aspect? If you’re a fan of the people’s car, you’d at least be interested.
That interest would likely deepen when we add that this Beetle rival hails from a brand that was on the leading edge of automobile technology in the mid-20th century and, despite its economy car roots, this model is downright sporty and fun. Stumped? It’s a Panhard—and luckily Jay Leno has one in the garage this week to bring you up to speed.
Panhard is a brand that lives in the shadow of Mercedes-Benz. Benz might have been first to patent the three-wheeler, but it was the now-defunct Panhard who developed many pieces of technology that can still be found on vehicles today—for example, the Panhard rod, designed to locate a live rear axle during suspension travel. The 24 BT model Jay has in the garage was only a small percentage more expensive than a contemporary VW, but it was much more usable. The interior is larger and, though the powerplant is smaller, it produces nearly double the power of the flat-four in the Type 1 Beetle.
The engine has some interesting quirks that make it especially intriguing to engineering-minded folks. The cylinder and head are cast as one piece, meaning there’s no head gasket to fail. The chamber design itself is hemispherical, and the valves are tensioned by torsion springs rather than coils. Thus, lift isn’t limited by coil binding and valve float is nearly non-existent. A simple design, but one that works well. It all adds up to an engine with roughly 60 horsepower. Not earth-shattering, but plenty to push around the aerodynamic and lightweight two-door.
On the road, Jay says the driving experience is a revelation for those unfamiliar with featherweight cars. The responsive handling is a perfect blend of sharp and forgiving. The engine comes alive above 4000 rpm but isn’t primed to set any speed records. The interior space is good, but not great, and seems to accommodate an average-sized person well.
Is it a better version of a VW Beetle—or perhaps the Citroën 2CV? Yes, but unfortunately there are not many Panhards stateside if you have now decided you need one. Heck, we hadn’t heard of the 24 BT prior to this video and we’re pretty convinced of its virtues. Maybe Jay will let his go. From how he talks about it, though, we shouldn’t hold our breath.