For many years the biggest single-cylinder
machine in the world, Panther's 650 sloper announced that fact with a deep, lazy
engine beat, which was said to 'fire every other lamppost'. With enormous torque
and incredible economy, it was ideally suited to pulling the enormous sidecars
that formed budget family transport.
The Model 120 was the final product of P&M of
Cleckheaton, Yorkshire - the factory that had built its first motorcycle at the
beginning of the 20th century with the revolutionary idea of using a sloping
engine, instead of the front portion of a conventional frame. From first to
last, it was this concept that defined Panthers, with gradual concessions to the
engine and suspension designs of the changing years.
By the 1930s the form of the big single Panther
had pretty much settled, and the firm also survived through the lean early years
of the decade, thanks to the excellent volume sales of the ultra-cheap Red
Panther 250cc lightweight which sold for under £30.
After the war the machines that appeared bore a close resemblance to the pre-war
models. The Model 100 Panther for 1946 was a 600cc single with rigid frame and
girder forks, it was ideal for economical sidecar use, with a fuel consumption
in excess of 60 mpg.
In 1947 Dowty Oleomatic air-sprung telescopic
forks were fitted - a form of front suspension that was very efficient when new,
but gave problems when older as the seals wore. There were minor improvements to
various parts of the bike until 1954 when a new, conventionally sprung fork and
a swinging-arm frame were adopted. Styling changes followed, and the rigid model
was discontinued in 1957.
The main news for 1958 was the development of the
larger Model 120, closely based on the 600cc. But prototypes had engine
problems, largely due to the increased stress and problems with Panther's
unusual lubrication system. The production bikes were substantially improved,
and offered lower fuel consumption - 70 mpg with a sidecar - than their
predecessor. The Model 120 was ideally suited to sidecar use. In 1959 Panther's
own sidecar chassis was an option - and this even included a towbar for a
The simple, generally understressed big Panthers
offered vintage values in a changing world. But sales of all Panther's range had
been falling since the end of the 1950s, and by 1962 the firm was in
receivership. An enlightened receiver kept them in production for a few years,
mainly using up existing spares. But when difficulties arose obtaining major
components - the separate Lucas Magdyno and Burman gearbox, which were by then
virtually outmoded - there was no realistic way forward.
The last Panthers were built in 1966, although
they remained on sale for at least a year after that. They were extremely cheap,
but times had moved on and there was no longer any demand for the big sidecar
outfit, as cheap cars took over that role and big bikes began the move towards
becoming leisure vehicles.
Panther Model 120
Years in production: 1959-66 Engine type: single-cylinder
ohv four-stroke Capacity: 649cc Bore and stroke: 88 x 106mm Compression ratio:
6.5:1 Power: 27bhp @ 4500rpm Gearbox: Burman four-speed Tyres (front & rear):
3'h x I9in Wheelbase: 59in Turning circle: 19ft 6in Weight: 4261b