Panhard Dyna Junior

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Every enthusiast has a "thing." It could be for a V12 Ferrari, stanced Volkswagen Tiguans, Australian 'utes, Mopar muscle cars…hell, the coolest lady I know has a bathroom decorated entirely of taxis.

It could be the main "thing" or a hidden "thing" but we've all got at least one…

Or am I alone in this? (Awkward.)

Thankfully, my savings can't afford such problems. Would you like to know my "thing"? Some of you know about my love for the Suzuki X90, but I'm talking of a more enthusiast-worthy genre.

My favourite genre is post-Second World War small displacement European sports cars. Particularly French, Italian, and German.

I realized my attraction to vehicles that range between between odd (FMR Tg500), quick (Fiat Abarth 750 Zagato Coupe), and clever (the ultra-aerodynamic Panhard CD-based race cars that competed at Le Mans in the mid to late 1960s.)

I love the idea of small, relatively affordable enthusiast machines pioneering new technologies.

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The 1952 Panhard Dyna Junior is one of the earliest examples of this breed. Max Hoffman, the famous importer of Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Porsche, and others into the U.S. rightfully gets a lot of credit for his role in bringing some legendary vehicles to market.

A little earlier, however, in 1951 a U.S. importer named JB Ferguson saw a market for a small, modern European roadster and convinced Panhard to develop one on their Dyna X compact car mechanicals.

Like the Miata, it was conceived as an inexpensive, progressive sports car with performance tuned more to driver enjoyment than outright speed. But unlike the Miata—essentially shorthand for "affordable sports car" these days, its engineering approach was far from commonplace.

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Ready for its…unconventional drivetrain and construction? 

The Panhard Dyna Junior was powered by an air cooled 845cc overhead-valve flat-twin engine, with front-wheel drive and a four-speed manual transmission.

Underneath: independent suspension and torsion bar springs. Some versions had a fold-down windshield to accompany the suicide doors. 

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Its 42 horsepower gave a top speed of 125 km/h (77 mph), and a final supercharged iteration (in 1955!) gave 60 horsepower and a top speed of 145 km/h (90 mph.)

Why was the engine so small? Taxes on engine size (and now CO2 emissions) are big in France, and the car slotted into the 4CV category; the Citroën 2CV was in a class below and cost less in tax, and the mid-sized Citroën Traction Avant was rated at either a 7, 11, or 15CV.

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Imagine the faces of your friends as you scream by at 90 mph in what looks like a squished Frigidaire. In truth, it had some competition success in period regional racing and at *the* race, Le Mans, winning the Index of Performance award in 1953.

The Index is something I wish became mandatory in racing. At Le Mans there were minimum distances required for different engine capacities—faster cars had to travel farther in 24 hours than slower cars.

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The winner for the Index of Performance is the vehicle that exceeds the minimum distance required for its class by the highest percentage—in bracket racing it'd be similar to "breaking out."

This simple rule led to a ton of innovation as manufacturers chased the cash prize…that was larger than the winner's purse! Aerodynamics, efficient engines, packaging, and innovative construction techniques were tried to wring the most speed from a small motor'd race car.

The Panhard Dyna Junior is a great example of this thinking, not to mention unique in its approach.

There are other small displacement European sports cars, so start picking favourites now: other examples will definitely be stories for another day.

Sources / Recommended reading