By Rosa McMahon
Friday, February 8, 2013
As the oldest working car in Norfolk, it would have been a county tragedy if the dark blue beauty had failed to go again.
And with 114-years on the clock, 77 of those years spent in Norfolk, a cracked chassis member on the front of the Panhard et Levasso wasn’t going to stop its wheels continuing to turn on the iconic Victorian car.
Enthusiasts and engineers at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, near Dereham, found the problem with the original wooden front of the car during their annual MOT and have put in more than 200 hours of work to keep it on the road.
Built in Paris in 1899, the Panhard was at the forefront of automotive technology - the first to have its engine at the front - as well as having been commissioned and built for Charles Rolls, who went on to establish Rolls Royce.
Phil Waltham is the leader of Team Panhard, the group made up of volunteers who have been tending to the iconic car since 1991.
He said they expected to find wear in the spring shackles and steering mechanism of the four cylinder drive, but to find a cracked chassis member - making driving shaky and difficult - was a surprise, especially because the car is frequently driven around Gressenhall.
But he said the team have been striving to keep the car in full working order so that the public can see what an operating Victorian car is like.
He said: “We feel it’s a great privilege to be involved with the car and to play a part in preserving it for the future.
“When the car is going along the road, it is nothing like a model, so we think people should get the chance to see it.”
The team of five engineers have been re-building the front beam axle which will steady out the steering, as well as re-building the steering box.
The cracked front piece was replaced with ash heart wood by Andrew Curtis, 53, from Royston who used a planer machine to fit it.
He said: “We are striving to prevent the car becoming a static exhibition, which happens to a lot of cars.”
The car has been based at Gressenhall since 1996 when it was moved from Strangers Hall Museum in Norwich, and the team hope it will be back on the road by the beginning of March.
Ken Hilton, 89, from Dereham, has been working on the car since 1998, and takes the role of chief engineer since his life-long career in engineer work.
He said the work has been a bigger job than the team initially realised, but said: “It’s so much better to keep it working so people can see a very early vehicle on the road.”
And Mr Hilton added: “The car is only 25 years older than me.”