Norfolk’s oldest working car the Panhard et Levassor completed in memory of enthusiast Mike Vincent

It is a Norfolk treasure which has been enjoyed by hundreds of people, and now the well-loved Panhard et Levassor is complete with authentic headlamps fitted in memory of one of the car's biggest fans.

The dark blue four cylinder vehicle - once owned by Charles Rolls co-founder of Rolls Royce - is the county's oldest working motor car and was built in Paris in 1899.

Money donated by former Team Panhard leader, Mike Vincent, who died at the age of 71 in 2010, paid for the replica copper lamps which date back to the 1970s and run off gas instead of electricity.

Current Team Panhard leader Philip Waltham, from Thurlton, said: 'Without Mike the car would not have continued. He took it as a static exhibition to a moving car and it has enabled people in Norfolk to see and hear a Victorian motor car in action.'

The car has been based at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, near Dereham, since 1996 when it was moved from Strangers Hall Museum in Norwich.


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Team Panhard, made up of 23 volunteers, was formed in 1991 and includes a mixture of engineers and enthusiasts who drive the car to events in Norfolk and around Britain, as well as fundraising and maintaining the vehicle.

Megan Dennis, curator at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, said: 'You cannot talk about Team Panhard without talking about Mike.'

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A wrought iron bench has been placed in the museum's wildlife garden in memory of Mr Vincent, who was always busy with a project, according to his wife Lynda, 62, from Newmarket Road, Norwich.

'He would have been very pleased with the lamps because it finished the car off. He loved the car,' she said.

As well as cars, the former RAF aircraftman technician, who was based at Swanton Morley until 1982, loved trains, planes and boats.

Mrs Vincent added that it was always her late husband's ambition to fit the original lamps to the car, which were removed and replaced with American oil lamps at around 1935.

In 1994 Mr Vincent completed the London to Brighton race in the Panhard et Levassor, which can get up to 35mph and includes its original chassis, wheels, springs and brakes, including a wooden handbrake.

The engine and gear box, even though modified over the years, are also original and the car has four front gears and four reverse gears, which makes it notoriously difficult to drive.

The new lamps are lit after water makes contact with calcium carbide stones, in the cavity of the lamps, which produces a gas to help light the flame.

'They (the lamps) are really to say I'm coming, not I'm going,' said Team Panhard member Peter Wilgoss, 68, from Castle Acre.

But despite the lack of electricity the car can be used at night and the lamps can become quite bright, according to the volunteers.

Mr Wilgoss, who drives the car, added: 'The vehicle is moving history. It is 113 years old and what we do as a team is maintain the vehicle for the pleasure of the public. You get a sense of satisfaction working on it.

'The lamps give the car authenticity and it brings it back to how it was when it was new.'

He said that many people who see the car are gobsmacked and amazed.

Mr Waltham added the car was the precursor for 70 years of car design from 1895, before the introduction of front wheel drive.

The Panhard et Levassor is believed to have come second in the Paris to Ostende race in September 1899 and was sold to Col Mark Mayhew for �1,200 - a loss of �50 on its original price.

But in 1936 the Panhard et Levassor arrived in Norfolk after it was bought by Hubert Egerton, co-founder of Norwich-based Mann, Egerton and Company in 1905, which specialised in cars and aircraft.

It was Mr Egerton who gave the vehicle first to Norwich Castle Museum and then Strangers Hall Museum, where it was a static display.

Dr Dennis said: 'It is a really unique car with a special history that we bring to life here.'

She added that Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse staff were grateful and appreciative of Team Panhard's dedication to the car.

The Panhard et Levassor is on show at the attraction near Dereham, which is open daily from 10am to 5pm until November 4.

Admission to the museum is �9.10 for adults, �8.10 for concessions, �6.10 for children aged between four and 16 and free for museum pass holders.

For more information, ring 01362 860563 or visit www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk

If you would like to joing Team Panhard ring the museum on 01362 860563.

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