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The ‘First Modern Motor Car’ at Bonhams ... is Feature Lot of London to Brighton Sale


London, 15 October, 2019

One of the most important automotive pioneers, a 1901 Panhard-Levassor Type A2 7hp Rear Entrance Tonneau known as ‘Le Papillon Bleu’, is to be offered at the forthcoming Bonhams London to Brighton Sale on 1 November, with a guaranteed entry to this year’s Veteran Car Run two days later. 

Built by one of the earliest motor manufacturers, the French Panhard is considered as having introduced the concept of the ‘modern motor car’, with such features as  engine to the front, a ‘gearbox’ transmission, ‘piano-style’ pedals for the clutch and brake and a steering wheel rather than tiller. 

A true ‘veteran’ of the annual pilgrimage from the capital to Brighton celebrating the pioneering days of motoring, this Panhard was a competitor in the first commemorative run – then known as the ‘Old Crocks Race’ in 1927 and has taken part in over 60 runs since. 

One of only five known surviving 1901 7hp examples, the Panhard was first commissioned by Belgian Chevalier, René de Knyff, pioneer racing driver and Panhard director who was also the President of the Commission Sportive International, now known as the FIA. 

Made to the Chevalier’s exacting specification, the light tourer featured coachwork by Rothschild et Fils, one of Paris’ finest coachbuilders, with an enamelled tonneau body, finished in a striking Cambridge Blue with contrasting scarlet wheels and scarlet (hunting coat) cloth upholstery and highly polished brass fittings. 

Shortly after this car’s completion, it caught the eye of a British enthusiast, Leslie Bucknall, who finally persuaded a reluctant de Knyff to part with it, after some negotiation and, according to witnesses, the payment of well beyond the normal asking price. The Panhard was brought to the UK, where it was given the name ‘Le Papillon Blue’ or ‘Blue Butterfly’ by Bucknall’s young daughter Vivienne.   

Although Bucknall is believed to have sold the Panhard after a short time, it has remained in the UK ever since, with subsequent owners, including the former Veteran Car Club President Tom Lightfoot, piloting ‘Le Papillon Bleu’ over the 60-mile route from London to Brighton. 

Owned for the last 27 years by the current vendor, who has completed 25 runs, ‘Le Papillon Bleu’ won the event’s Concours d’Elegance award in 2016 as ‘the car which most embodies the spirit of the veteran era’ when it was displayed in that year’s Regent Street Motor Show. 

‘Le Papillon Blue’, estimate £200,000 – 250,000, will be one of the first lots to go under the hammer when the Bonhams Motor Car Sale starts at 6pm on Friday 1 November. Freshly serviced by specialist NP Veteran Engineering, this motor car is ready to tackle this year’s run with its new owner. 


Further notable lots include: 

1900 M.M.C. Tourer, estimate £220,000 – 260,000

An example of a rare and short-lived British marque, produced at the height of its success. Powered by a 1,527cc Daimler engine, the Tourer has participated in numerous Runs from the 1930s to the present day and also has an entry into this year’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

Another entrant into this year’s Run is a 1903 Oldsmobile Model R ‘Curved Dash’ Runabout. Used as a taxi by its first owner, the Oldsmobile has optional rearward-facing seating for two extra passengers. Estimate £38,000 – 42,000.

1899 Peugeot 2¼ hp Tricycle, estimate £40,000 – 60,000
A rare early tricycle with original Peugeot two-speed gearbox and single-cylinder De Dion engine. Recently restored by Gilbert Warning, this veteran is also eligible for De Dion Tricycle events.

All lots will be available to view on Thursday 31 October and on Friday 1 November. The Bonhams London to Brighton Sale also includes an auction of related automobilia which begins at 4pm on Friday (motor cars from 6pm). 

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Estimates (£)




ca. 1900 Locomobile Project


£5,000 - 6,000




1902 Peugeot 5½hp Bébé Two-seat Runabout


£60,000 - 80,000




1904 Phoenix 4½hp Tricar


£27,000 - 35,000




1902 Bartholomew 3½hp High-Wheeled Spindler


£28,000 - 36,000




1901 Panhard-Levassor 7hp Twin-Cylinder Four-Seater Rear-Entrance Tonneau


£200,000 - 250,000




1899 Star Benz 3½hp Vis-à-Vis


£70,000 - 90,000 (NR)




1900 MMC 6hp 'Charette' Rear-entrance Tonneau


£220,000 - 260,000




1904 De Dion Buton Model Y 6hp Two-seater


£55,000 - 65,000




1899 Peugeot 2¼hp Tricycle


£40,000 - 50,000




ca. 1899 Bruneau Quadrilette


£35,000 - 45,000




1903 Oldsmobile Model R 'Curved Dash' Runabout


£38,000 - 42,000




1899 Star 3½hp Single-cylinder Vis-à-Vis


£70,000 - 80,000




1903 Stevens-Duryea 7hp Twin-Cylinder Model L Stanhope


£50,000 - 60,000




ca. 1901 Renault 4½hp Rear-Entrance Tonneau


£85,000 - 95,000




1900 Locomobile Steamer Type 2 5½hp Spindle Seat Runabout


£35,000 - 45,000