Driving the Carriage Forward

In 1898 `Système Panhard’ mounted the car engine at the front of the chassis with four evenly spaced wheels, a design that would eventually become the blueprint for future cars. The diversity of vehicles participating in the Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run however, illustrates the array of chassis layouts that manufacturers experimented with during the first decade of the automobile.

In 1901 M.M.L Auscher classified the forms available to the coachbuilder into four categories based exclusively on the on the position of the motor in relation to the chassis, namely front positioned engine, middle, back or engine mounted underneath the vehicle.

The three powers used to propel vehicles, petrol, steam and electricity, determined where the engine was placed and therefore the overall design of the body that the coachbuilder could produce.

By 1903 Auscher’s classification was disseminated to motorists through a series of international lectures. By this time power sources mounted beneath the chassis were largely used for electric vehicles only, because rotary engines allowed power to be applied directly to the wheels. This enabled the bodies of the vehicles to closely resemble those of traditional horse drawn carriages and limited vibration.

Mounting the engine at the rear of the chassis was all but abandoned by manufacturers of petrol driven vehicles by 1903, who had widely adopted the Panhard approach.

Rear mounted engines gave coachbuilders the most flexibility of form, because the position of the rear wheels enabled a wider choice of door placement and regularity of seating. Double phaeton, limousine and landaulet styles were created as a result.

By contrast the dog-cart style of body was achieved by positioning the engine in the middle, as coachbuilders placed two rows of seats back to back, over the motor.

At the First International Congress on Automobilism held in Paris, 1901, M.M.Simmonet, Kellner and Auscher strongly urged automotive manufacturers to adopt `unification in form’, as a standardisation across the Industry, which was supported by the Automobile Club. It was however, the power source that eventually led to a standardised approach. As petrol became the predominant form of propulsion Système Panhard became the blueprint for the modern car.

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