Panhard Dyna Z

The Panhard Dyna Z was a light weight motor car made by Panhard of France. It was first presented to the press at a Paris restaurant named "Les Ambassadeurs" on 17 June 1953 and went into production the following year. In 1959 it was replaced by the Panhard PL 17.


Panhard was one of the world's oldest auto manufacturers and since 1945 had become known for producing economical cars. Panhard, like Citroën, considered itself a leader, not a follower of automotive trends, and the Dyna Z had an impressive array of unusual engineering choices.

In 1955 Citroën had taken a 25% holding in Panhard's automobile business and during the next two years the national dealership networks of the two businesses were integrated. This gave Citroen and Panhard dealers an expanded market coverage, incorporating now a small car, a medium sized saloon and a large car range. It gave the Panhard Dyna Z, during its final years in production, a level of market access that its predecessor had never enjoyed. Sales benefitted.

Model development

The Dyna X was replaced by the more streamlined Dyna Z in 1954. This was later developed into the similar PL 17, launched in 1959, in an attempt to conform to the styles of the time.

The Dyna Z's body was originally aluminium, like that of the preceding Dyna X, with steel tube subframes front and rear, joined by steel plate reinforcements in the sills. The aluminium was gradually replaced by steel during 1956 as the cost differential between the two materials became unsupportable. The suspension was modified and the shock absorbers changed to cope with the extra weight. By 1958, only the bumpers, the fuel tank, the engine cooling shroud and most of the engine and transaxle cases were aluminium, but the weight was still quite low for a relatively comfortable six seater saloon, when compared with narrower competitor models from Peugeot and Simca. Its unusual and very modern design gave it a unique combination of space, ride comfort, performance and fuel economy at a very competitive price. But reliability suffered and fuel prices were not high enough, even in France, for people to put energy efficiency first. The car also suffered from some engine and wind noise. The Tiger version had a racing inspired engine and a full cooling shroud.

Specifications of 1958 Panhard Dyna Z Tiger

— Four-stroke, air cooled, concentric torsion bar valve springs on roller bearings, hollow aluminum push rods with hardened steel tips, roller main bearings and big end rod bearings of "Panhard Patent" design with an additional set of smaller rollers carrying the roller cage (separator); non-removable cylinder heads, removable steel cylinder liners. The cylinder "jugs" pulled off the crankcase and pistons like those of the VW air-cooled engines. Soft engine mounts to smooth the roughness of the two-cylinder four stroke engine, radial flow fan bolted to crank shaft, full cooling shroud, aluminum structure and cooling fins.

— Drive shafts concentric tubes with rubber in the space between the inner and outer tubes. Cardan ("universal") joint at the inner end next to the transaxle, double cardan constant velocity join at the outer end at the wheel.

  • Transmission: cable operated four-speed manual cast aluminum case transaxle with 2nd and 3rd synchromesh, transfer gears and second, third and fourth of "herringbone" design, column shift.

— Unlike most front wheel drive inline engine transaxles the gearbox between the engine and the final drive. Engine-clutch-gearbox-final drive, direct drive through gearbox in third gear, fourth "overdrive." Final drive spiral bevel gear on primary shaft, step-down to differential gear through helical (not herringbone) pinion and gear.

  • Clutch" conventional friction clutch, cable operated. Optional in some markets: magnetic clutch filled with iron "filings".

— When a coil fixed to the casing was energized, the "filings" stiffened between the rotating casing on the crankshaft and the driving disc fixed to the gearbox input shaft. The electricity supplied by a special double generator, one set of windings supplying the battery and the rest of the electrical system, the other set of windings powering the magnetic clutch. As the engine accelerated above idle speed, the generator (not an "alternator" type) began energizing the magnetic clutch, gradually connecting the crankshaft with the primary shaft of the gearbox.

  • Weight: - original 1954 Dyna .
  • Fuel mileage: 30–40 mpg
  • Top Speed: .
  • Calculated: 40 pounds / hp., 58.7 hp./litre
  • Steering: rack and pinion mounted behind front suspension, short steering shaft.
  • Front suspension: upper and lower transverse leaf springs, curved downward to raise roll centre. Generous ground clearance and travel. No antisway bar, which resulted in the lifting of one rear wheel in hard cornering. Kingpins integral with the steering knuckles, turning in sockets pivoted on the leaf spring eyes.
  • Rear suspension: Torsion bars acting on trailing link-arms and joined and pivoted (between torsion bar ends) diagonal semi-trailing arms, described as "semi-independent"; This gave similar geometry but less unsprung weight than a solid (tube) axle. The axle a continuous tube between rear wheel spindles, V-shaped and fastened in the center by a rubber bushing mounted on the subframe cross member. The torsion bars in sets of three, one set for each side of the rear axle. No antisway bar.
  • Body: steel (earlier models had aluminum bodies), streamlined, four doors, low drag despite flat recessed side glass, front and rear window rubber gaskets, rain gutters
  • Seating capacity: 6. Column shift and bench seats.
  • Brakes: drum, all outboard, very light pedal pressure despite no power assistance. On later models, cast aluminium alloy brake drums with replaceable iron liners pinned in place, later cars' drums finned. The open centre rims bolted to ears on the periphery of the drums like older Volkswagens'.
  • Most of the cars exported to the United States lacked the centre fog light shown in the photographs.

Driving Impressions

The aluminum gas tank typically leaked where the sender unit for the fuel gauge was attached. It lifted the outside rear wheel, on hard cornering with the trunk empty, like a Citroën 2CV or a six cylinder Porsche going backward, in spite of the downward slope of the front suspension leaves. This must have been caused by the weight distribution and spring rates. (The rear needed stiffness to support full load.) The suspension dealt with large bumps and dips wonderfully. The handling was very good, in spite of the wheel lifting. The steering was quick and light (without power assist). The passengers and driver tended to slide around on the plastic bench seats, with no seat belts, in spite of the patterning of the plastic. The heater worked very well (unlike that of a better known air cooled car that burned more gasoline). Double clutching was necessary for a smooth shift into 4th gear, but this was done at leisure because 3rd was quite high. Reverse was hard to find. The soft engine mounts made the clutch difficult for an inexperienced driver to operate smoothly. The unusual engine had an unusual sound that led some people to think it was a two stroke. Light bulbs burned out often, giving the impression that the company had gone too far in cutting costs. The brake lights also served as backup lights, so it could be started without the key in reverse with the brake on. It had no steering wheel lock but, in the U. S., its unusual controls appeared to make it almost theft proof. As an extra precaution, one could disconnect the battery with a pull knob on the steering column, labeled with a two letter French abbreviation. Similarly to 21st century cars, the turn signals, head lights, parking lights, high beams and two tone horn were all controlled by the same lever. This made them all easy to find, but one could confuse the turn signal and high beam motions. Lubrication required a more versatile lift than was available in many gas stations, at that time. It was always cited as the example of car aerodynamics (though the Kamm principle was not yet used).


  • Votre Panhard Dyna et PL 17, Tous Modèles depuis 1954, 8° Édition, Édition Practiques Automobiles, 83, Rue De Rennes, Paris-6e, LIT.: 15-14
  • Panhard factory repair manuals and parts books for Dyna 54 (aluminum cars), '56-'60 Dyna, PL17, Les Archives du Collectionneur, e.p.a. Dyna 54 etc., PL17, 24
  • Panhard, la doyenne d'avant garde, by Benoit Pérot. e.p.a., Paris, 1979.
  • This article incorporates text translated from the corresponding French Wikipedia article as of 2008-03-05

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