Monday, October 28, 2013

The Pan Automobile:

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

The Pan Automobile was a fairly ordinary car with an intriguing history—and a distant connection to Fairbanks. The Pan Motor Company was founded in 1917 by Samuel Connor Pandolfo, who set up operations in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Within a few years he suffered a spectacular fall from grace, accused—perhaps wrongly—of concocting the Pan as nothing more than a sham to bilk investors.

Pandolfo had grandiose plans for his automobile and its production. He was a master of persuasion, luring numerous investors for his automobile by promising to build as many cars as Henry Ford. In just a few years he built a 22-acre factory complex and a community with over 50 houses for his employees. He had his engineers design a light car with advanced features such as fully enclosed, internally expanding brakes, a ball bearing crankshaft, and an engine with interchangeable valves and springs (which made it far easier to service than most other cars). Most notable was that its seats converted into a bed, and there was a "compartment tank" in the rear for tools, cold drinks and a reserve supply of fuel, oil and water.

To raise money for production of the Pan Model A (the company’s second model), Pandolfo went on a marketing tour and mailed out a flood of promotional materials. Some investors had apparently grown weary of his fundraising, though, and charged that the mailings misrepresented claims of output. Accused of defrauding his 70,000 stockholders, he was indicted in early 1919 on charges of mail fraud. Pandolfo’s defense team claimed that his company was a victim of persecution by the Associated Advertising Clubs, with which he had refused to do business. The defense tried to introduce motion pictures that proved the plant was producing cars, but the judge denied the request.

Despite manufacturing 70 cars during the month of his trial, the jury was convinced that the Pan Motor Company was a sham, organized solely to sell stock. Pandolfo was found guilty on four charges of mail fraud and sentenced to serve ten years in prison. Not surprisingly, this was the beginning of the end for the Pan Motor Company, which dissolved in 1922.

After serving almost three years at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, Pandolfo was welcomed back to St. Cloud by 600 well wishers and a brass band. In 1956, he moved to Fairbanks at the age of 84 to prospect for oil. He died here in 1960 after suffering a stroke, and was buried at the Birch Hill Cemetery. Although described in his obituary by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner as “one of the nation’s most controversial figures,” he was all but forgotten in our town. The St. Cloud Antique Auto Club (the “Pantowners”) never forgot him, though, and with the help of his great-grandson had his remains exhumed in 2011 and returned to St. Cloud.

Photo by Brooks Brierley in Autoweek
Of 737 Pans produced, only six are known to exist. Interestingly, one was owned by J. Parker Wickham, from whom we purchased the core of our collection before the museum opened. Mr. Wickham donated his Pan, shown at right, to the AACA Museum, which recently sold it at auction to a collector in Minnesota. Perhaps we’ll find another. One article I read said that Samuel Pandolfo was photographed in a Pan while on his way to Alaska. Did he drive one to Fairbanks, and if he did, what happened to it?

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

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