Slipping the throttle was a rewarding experience for it released a stirring exhaust note and a deep sucking intake noise, letting you know that was a large Piston belting up and down and sucking in great gulps of air and the kicking out very solid and distinct exhaust notes. The seating position was quite natural for me (bearing in mind that I find the seating position of a Mote Guzzi Le Mans natural as well), with a comfortable reach to the bars and to the controls. Sitting at idle. from the riders seat I could watch the front wheel bouncing up and down in tune with the engine revolutions. Slipping the bike into first gear was a noisy operation despite taking a great deal of care with the owner watching. Subsequent gear changes were easily made and quietly too. The clutch gave no trouble at all which is not suprising particularly since there was never any need to slip the clutch when all that torque was freely available in any gear. Talking of gearing the Model 120 was delivered from the factory with sidecar ratios and if an owner wanted solo ratios then he had to order them as an optional extra.
The engine of Alwyn's bike unfortunately was not quite right and at the speed limit the big motor would surge and not run smoothly. Citizens of Mandurah going about their lawful business were startled on a number of occasions when I changed gear only to rewarded by a very audible backfire. Pulling uphill and out of a slow bend I finally found the mythical stump-pulling power I had only dreamt about on my Yamaha. The Panther gearing requires a quick gear-change if the rate of acceleration and speed is to be maintained. The side-car gearing is very low and 1st gear is good for about 20mph, 2nd for 35mph and 3rd for 45mph. These speeds are impressions gained from the test ride and as accurate as I could estimate without revving Alwyn's bike to the low limits of a big single. The Panther naturally doesn't have a tachometer, nor does it need one as gear changing is just a matter of reading exhaust-intake roars and engine vibrations. This is one engine that is just not going to let you over-rev it. Top gear is happy to let you run along at 60mph, though no doubt the big single could be persuaded to go faster. Higher speeds however would test the machines current state of handling and tune, not to forget the owner's patience. Being a new chum on a large Panther doesn't just mean being unable to kick the motor over but also leads very quickly to numb hands from the engine vibrations and protesting leg and thigh muscles from having to change gears on the right side.
The Panther delivers its greatest pleasure at slow speeds where its torque could be used to advantage and the bike could be given some throttle just so that the rider could listen to that great thumping exhaust note. The engine's torque gives it a very good rate of pickup in top gear and acceleration from 35mph to 60mph took around six seconds. The test Panther's front suspension was somewhat spongy and would pogo on ripples. The steering was prone to a slight weave at speed although generally it would stay on line. The Armstrong rear suspension worked well at soaking up the bumps though cornering at speed through tight bumpy corners led to a graunching sound from the bike's centre-stand. The heavyweight Panther, true to name is a large bike with very solid mountings and widely spaced front forks. The rider sits in the bike with the handlebars up high. The steering damper is tensioned by a large adjustment knob sitting on the steering head. The petrol tank is large and rounded with indentations around the handle-bar mounting and the seat. The speedometer is a Smiths 120mph instrument and true to contemporary fashion is mounted in the head-light shell along with the ammeter and the Lucas light switch. The brakes are adequate for the job of pulling this bike up, especially considering the performanoe limitations. The Panther has 8 inch drums at the front and back. The front brake has less bite than the rear possibly because of the weight transfer under brakes and also because of the reduced leverage offered by the handbrake.
Overall, the Model 120 Panther was a fun bike to ride and would be excellent at tonking along and just soaking up that torque. Clearly the Panther would be in it's element towing a side-car and trailer. Alvvyn, as usual was allocated the task of kick starting the bike whilst on test and at one stage when the bike developed a mystery bug and refused to start, poor Alwyn nearly wore his leg out trying to kick-start the Beast. It was not a good day for at some stage a tank badge fell off as the result of the vibration and promptly lost itself in the roadside shrubbery. So if any-one has a spare round Panther badge Alwyn would love to hear from them. The Model 120 was a good bike but Phelon and Moore had stuck to a good thing for too long. Many Panther owners thought the facfory had gone too far in boring the motor out and had in the process destroyed a sound and sweet motor. There was evidence also that the factory had overstretched the 600cc Sloper. The 120 had a tendency to eat clutches. the new roller bearings were prone to trouble and the engine consumed oil at a prodigious rate. The writing was on the wall and what with the swing to small cars, dwindling sales and the competition producing more modern designs Panther was having trouble obtaining supplies of Burman gearboxes and Lucas Magdynos and it wasn't long before the remaining Model 120s had been sold off and P and M closed it's doors forever. A relaxed style of motorcycling died away with barely a whimper.
MODEL 120: 1960 (ENG NO. 60ZA127A) Produced : 1959-66.
Engine: 650cc development of the 600cc sloper, improved crankcase with 4 long studs holding the head and barrel in place of the old U-bolts, improved head design and domed piston.
28BHP produced at 4500 RPM from 649cc at a CR of 6.5:1 (88x106mm) twin port engine.
Ignition: Lucas Magdyno.
Carb.: Amal Monobloc 389-33, 1 5-32 in bore.
Transmission: Kickstart through Burman gearbox, BAP 4 speed.
Fuel tank: 4 gallon.
Frame: Rear swinging arm suspension with motor a stressed member of the frame.
Front forks: Improved Panther built telescopic, heavy duty forks with sidecar trail.
Wheels: 3.25x 19in front, 3.50x 19in rear.
Brakes: Full width 8" alloy drums, front- rear- sidecar, fully interchangable.
Saddle: Shallow pattern dual seat.
First published in Australasian Classic Motorcycling Issue No 12
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Copyright: Murray Barnard, Perth, Western Australia 1988
© 1996 mbarnard