I used to be absolutely obsessed with Volvo Amazons, first-generation Celicas and Kenmeri Skylines. They took the shapes of ’56 Chryslers, mid-Sixties Fords and late ’60s Mopars, respectively, and resized them to a more human scale. The original designs just dwarf the driver and heave through turns with soft springs and long overhangs. The foreign imitations seemed to me to have all the style of their American predecessors, but would get better mileage, be easier to live with, and have vastly superior road manners in comparison. Now I have a new favorite imitator, but one whose copycat styling is largely unrecognized, and has completely outshone its inspiration.
The Panhard 24 was a line of French two-doors with very striking proportions. Borrowing cues from the 1960 Corvair, these last-of-the-breed Panhards had a profile that wasn’t quite cab-forward and wasn’t quite of the same style as the long hood / short deck sporty language of the time. It didn’t share much with the usual proportions of contemporary family cars, either, and its greenhouse, evenly raked front and back, looked advanced and aerodynamic. The sharp, long folds and the integrated flush lighting gave the Panhard a very distinct look, matched in its nonconformity with the alternative approach taken with the drivetrain. A two-cylinder boxer engine powered the front wheels on this 830 to 840kg car, which relied on light weight, low drag, and a stiff tubular space frame for its performance.
The car’s lack of outright speed did not match its looks and the cost of all of its engineering and luxury appointments did not match its diminutive size.
The 24 series were Panhard’s last road cars. Today they are a relatively obscure footnote in French automobilia, one of the final road cars of France’s low weight, low power, low drag approach to car design.
The fourth-generation Celica doesn’t share much in its design brief with the forward-looking Panhard. They are both front wheel drive sporty, practical cars, but the Toyota was completely conventional in its engineering. It was not the most light nor the most powerful car in its class. I imagine it sold for its blend of a reliable reputation with a two-door flamboyance.
But none of that matters to me now. This Celica has become a dream car – an affordable, reliable Panhard. It’s all down to that greenhouse – I don’t know if it really is handsome anymore; I am clouded by visions of the 24 every time I see it. Such is the nature of the attraction that the Celica becomes the Panhard in my mind, that owning the Toyota would equate that of the unobtainable, life-consuming sixties coupe.
I love the Toyota not only because it apes a strange old French car, but that it did so in a package that has become the absolute antithesis of the Panhard. Where the French car has become obscure and eccentric, the Celica became the most commonplace, ordinary, aspirational sports car in America. They are like sensible Mustangs – these late-80s Celicas have entered a very specific vintage in the second decade of the 21st Century. They still have a bit of flair to them, but they are very much budget cars. Low-cost entrance into Toyota reliability strikes me as their main role to the consumer.
Riding up California on Amtrak last summer, looking out like an aristocrat as the Central Valley flowed by, I saw this fourth-generation Celica flying along the cracking two-lane service road following the tracks. The driver beamed, racing the train in her clapped-out beater.
I don’t know in how many “end of the wild west” westerns one comes across a scene where a stagecoach races a train (the opening of Dodge City comes to mind), where modernity and the upper class race and triumph over (or crush, depending on the slant of the film) the backwards, poor, wild past. It’s a foolish dream, but I want to drive that Celica – it might sound like such a class-conscious desire, but that doesn’t bother me. I have that dream of the open road and a small sports car, racing a train under domed blue sky, embraced by the endless, deserted, womblike fields.
I used five main sources for learning about the fourth-generation Celica and the Panhard 24. That the Celica was styled after the Panhard isn’t something that you find readily, but is listed in this 1988 CAR article:
Richard Bremner. “Rear-Guard Action,” CAR Magazine, January 1988, pg. 114-115. This article can be found here.
A brief history of Panhard the firm can be found at TTAC, written up by Paul Niedermeyer: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/an-illustrated-history-of-panhard/
An account written by a Panhard 24CT owner can be found here, written by Shin Yoshikawa:
Citroenet put up the old brochure for the 24CT, as well as a short article at these two pages:
And of course, there’s wiki, which actually has a lot of good details on the 24 series:
If you want to see the old brochures for this generation Celica, they can all be found at this website: