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1891 Panhard-Levassor vehicle with front engine
Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor were partners in a woodworking machinery business, when they decided to become car manufacturers. They built their first car in 1890 using a Daimler engine. The team were commissioned by Edouard Sarazin, who held the license rights to the Daimler patent for France. (Licensing a patent means that you pay a fee and then you have the right to build and use someone's invention for profit - in this case Sarazin had the the right to build and sell Daimler engines in France.) The partners not only manufactured cars, they made improvements to the automotive body design.
Panhard-Levassor made vehicles that had a pedal-operated clutch, a chain transmission leading to a change-speed gear box, and a front radiator. Levassor was the first designer to move the engine to the front of the car and use a rear-wheel drive layout. This design was known as the Systeme Panhard and quickly became the standard for all cars because it gave a better balance and improved steering. Panhard and Levassor are also credited with the invention of the modern transmission - installed in their 1895 Panhard.
Panhard and Levassor also shared the licensing rights to Daimler motors with Armand Peugot. A Peugot car went on to win the first car race held in France, which gained Peugot publicty and boosted car sales. Ironically, the "Paris to Marseille" race of 1897 resulted in a fatal auto accident, killing Emile Levassor.
The History of Panhard and Levassor until 1939.