This obscure make of car has charisma -- the Pan's simple lines and compact dimensions (on a 108-inch-wheelbase chassis) give it a presence. The first thing you notice is its identification. When the sun is shining, the sparkle from the word 'Pan' etched into the beveled glass rear windows immediately draws in the eye.
But the Pan story is one of scandal and corruption. Company founder Samuel Pandolfo had a life insurance business in the southwest and he conceived of his car during his business travels. In 1916 he was raising money for his new Minnesota automobile company, promoting an ideal worker's village in St. Cloud (near Minneapolis) via a tabloid-style company newspaper called Pan Siftings. It included testimonials from the oldest living person in the country (supposedly 130 years old) and a banker who liked cars, one Charles Schwab. Pandolfo sold some $4 million in Pan Motor Co. stock, then placed half the proceeds in his personal bank account.
Save for prototypes, car production did not begin until 1919, as Pandolfo and his associates were tried and convicted of fraud. A receiver was appointed to guide the manufacture of some 750 cars. When a $1,085 Dodge was the class benchmark, Pan was priced high, $1,250, so it is little surprise the severe 1920-21 recession led to the end of production. Pandolfo himself was more resilient, continuing to start new business ventures. The 1950s saw him selling life insurance in Alaska.
This Pan has 32,000 miles on the clock. Parker Wickham of Long Island owned the car for 15 years before donating it last year to the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Wickham was visiting the Reynolds Museum in Calgary, Alberta, when the Pan caught his eye. "I thought it was great when I bought it," says the collector, who favors obscure makes. The car needed only some mechanical modifications -- ignition work, cleaning the carburetor and the like -- stuff Wickham did in his shop. He also added a new top. Wickham did not use the Pan much; driving it several miles to a car show was about the car's longest ride.
Starting the Pan is simple: Press a small starter button on the floor, and a turn of the key completes the process. Using the three-speed gearshift requires some thought, with reverse in the top-right quadrant, first gear below. Each door is enhanced by a period design feature -- a leather-like patch at the top of the door means you don't have to rest an arm on bare metal.
Once under way it becomes clear why manufacturers stopped making the touring car body style. The day we drove the Pan was cool and windy, and it wasn't long before we realized there is no real protection from the elements. Raising the top does not begin to replicate a closed car's comfort in imperfect weather.
The rugged 34-hp Continental four-cylinder engine with counterbalanced crankshaft sounds like it enjoys the challenge of driving up and down hills. The mechanical two-wheel brakes require a good amount of pressure to work -- not unusual for this vintage of car.
At the back of the Pan, partially hidden by the spare tire, is the compartment tank -- a patented feature. It is a supply trunk shaped like a big toolbox, with locked containers for extra fuel (the 12-gallon gas tank is under the cowl), oil, ice and water. There is also a refrigerator. Pan was a car for people who did a lot of traveling. To that end, the seats fold down to make a bed; headlights swivel to illuminate work on the engine.
Enthusiasm for Pan continues. This tourer is one of five known to exist. The other four have returned to St. Cloud, where the St. Cloud Antique Auto Club -- also known as the Pan-Towners -- participates in the care of these cars.