Robert Jankel

Showman car designer responsible for the outrageous Panther Six

Cars with six wheels are uncommon. The most famous is the pink Rolls-Royce owned by Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward in the 1960s television puppet show Thunderbirds; there was a similarly configured, but unsuccessful, 1970s Tyrrell Formula 1 car. Robert Jankel went one better than these fantasy machines - he created the 1977 Panther Six actually to be driven on the road. The outrageous two-seater roadster was the showstopper of London's 1977 Motorfair, flashed across global television screens because it was said to do 200mph.

Robert Jankel, car designer and engineer: born London 1 January 1938; married 1962 Jennifer Loss (three sons, one daughter); died Weybridge, Surrey 25 May 2005.

Cars with six wheels are uncommon. The most famous is the pink Rolls-Royce owned by Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward in the 1960s television puppet show Thunderbirds; there was a similarly configured, but unsuccessful, 1970s Tyrrell Formula 1 car. Robert Jankel went one better than these fantasy machines - he created the 1977 Panther Six actually to be driven on the road. The outrageous two-seater roadster was the showstopper of London's 1977 Motorfair, flashed across global television screens because it was said to do 200mph.

Only two Panther Sixes were made; Pirelli's inability to deliver its unique low-profile tyres for the four front wheels was among the reasons why full production never began. But it propelled Panther to worldwide attention.

Robert Jankel built his first car in 1954, a home-made affair based on a wrecked Austin Seven. His father, Alexander, a haberdashery manufacturer in the East End of London, had to road-test it, because his car-mad son was only 16. A year later, he was one of the first pupils at St Paul's School to drive in for lessons - certainly the first ever to arrive in a car of his own design.

Apart from sport, rowing in particular, the academic ethos of St Paul's was at odds with Jankel's restless temperament. He departed to study Engineering at Chelsea College, and then began a precarious stint as a car salesman, where his father was usually his most loyal repeat customer. Eventually, he agreed to join Goldenfelds, the family firm, where he became sales manager and also designed children's ranges, but his weekends were all about amateur motor racing and he was a partner in an Essex-based car-tuning business. In 1962 he married Jennifer Loss, daughter of the bandleader Joe Loss, whom he had known since his schooldays.

In 1970, he restored a vintage Rolls-Royce for a family holiday to Spain, and the result was so magnificent that he sold it there to a bullfighter for £10,000. Requests for similar renovated cars soon led to a flourishing sideline, and in 1971 he quit the clothing industry to establish his own car company. He named it Panther Westwinds, the first word a good-humoured dig at Jaguar, the second the name of his house in Weybridge, Surrey, where the firm was based in the garage.

The company's first car was the J72. It was one of the world's first "replicars", capturing the rakish lines of a typical 1930s sports car but powered by reliable modern engines. Jankel opened a small factory nearby in Byfleet and recruited experienced craftsmen to build the cars. Orders poured in after the J72 was featured in the men's magazine Mayfair and Panther was soon building a car every week.

Jankel's showmanship was evident in numerous subsequent models, especially the sumptuous 1975 Deville with its V12 Jaguar engine. It cost £22,000 (double the price of a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow), and appeared in two movies: The Golden Lady (1979), a James Bond spoof starring Christina World, and 101 Dalmatians (1996), as transport for Cruella De Vil, played by Glenn Close. The 1976 Lima sports car was then Panther's most successful venture before the company hit bankruptcy in 1979 and was sold to a South Korean fur trader.

However, Jankel was soon back in business producing "stretched" versions of expensive cars like Mercedes-Benz and Range Rover under the Le Marquis banner. The quality of the work was so exacting that a six-door conversion of the Rolls-Royce Silver Spur was marketed by Rolls itself. Eventually, the Jankel Group spread to include three automotive companies: a design consultancy, a military vehicles division and a coach-building business. Jankel became experts in armour-plating, leading to a deal with the Jordanian government to build ballistics-proof Aegis vehicles, and another to make armoured Toyotas for the United Nations.

"Our secret is we've never told anyone who we've sold our cars to," said Jankel in 2001, the year he discovered he had pancreatic cancer:

Also, we don't manufacture - we have joint-venture partners for that - although we have 45 design engineers working at our base in Weybridge. Mercedes-Benz do their own limousines,

I know, but we can offer a much more bespoke interior that will really fit a client's personal needs.

Robert and Jennifer Jankel were founder members almost 40 years ago of the North West Surrey Synagogue, and were also among Britain's most successful deer farmers, after the few animals bought to keep the grass down on their 15-acre Surrey estate turned into a 600-strong herd.

Having bought the Panther name back from Korean ownership in 2001, Jankel was finalising a new sports car design when he died. Described by his son Andrew as an "unfinished symphony", it is intended for production in the United States.

Giles Chapman

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map