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Comet and Pan American


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I am researching the Comet and Pan American automobile companies of Decatur IL, circa 1917-23. These were both medium priced six cylinder assembled cars, and they also (allegedly) built a few trucks. Have read the Standard Catalog of American Cars and contacted the AACA library. Does anyone have any other information on these cars or companies, or have any old timers ever seen or owned one? I have located a Pan American owner in Australia, no others yet. The Comet company was led by the previous president of the Racine (Body) Manufacturing Company of Racine WI. Can anyone offer anything to a researcher of these very obscure cars? Thanks for any help, Todd C

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Hi, Todd...

Timely coindence. I finished reading the July-August "Antique Automobile" magazine. On page 52, John Myer, VP of our museum, penned an article titled: "AN INTERESTING DISCOVERY".

My point is, the value of the Library & Research Center.

Within the article, the 1909 Mitchell was assumed to be of a correct model year.

It took the L&RC archives to present "fact" as to the vehicle's "year". The car's current owner, Gene Reeves, quote: "...has done research at the AACA Library and Research Center, and, he confirms...that the vehicle is a 1910 Mitchell rather than a 1909 model".

So far, there has not been any facts presented over the past few days relative to the Comet and Pan American, only, suggestions.

Todd, Don, AK Huskey...the above is a very timely example to give you folks direction.

Regards, Peter J.

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Thanks Peter, I think it can be assumed by all that ID on these obscure early cars is often subject to some doubt, especially with the small volume assembled cars, see my post on the engine use on Pan American cars. The Museum Library is a great resource and they were very good to work with. My bigger concern is at this late date research on forgotten cars is increasingly difficult as there are few people left with a connection to an actual car or company. That is why I again plead for anyone out there to write in if they have any first hand information on Comet or Pan American, the Racine Mfg Company, and in fact I would even like to see something on Herschell-Spillman's automotive pursuits. If anyone has good research on the business practices of small assembled car companies that could be helpful too. For example, Kit Foster told me that it was common for them to search for export business to shore up flagging sales, and the Comet company made much of an export order to Belgum of 40 cars circa 1920. How did such an obscure (even then) company secure such business? And how did the other companies deal with the depression of 1920 that wounded so many small producers? If anyone can add any details we would be glad to read them, thanks everyone, Todd C

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It appears to me that HCS, Roamer, etc etc sold alot of cars in Australia to help offset the lost of the market after 1920. i have an auburn beauty restoration project and there are only a couple left in the world but in australia only there are two.

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  • 8 years later...
I am researching the Comet and Pan American automobile companies of Decatur IL, circa 1917-23... Can anyone offer anything to a researcher of these very obscure cars? Thanks for any help, Todd C

Todd C,

It seems that the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn has some information:

http://www.dalnet.lib.mi.us/henryford/docs/CometAutomobileCompanyRecords_Accession1771.pdf

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I can offer a possible item re' export...I have a batch of American Exporter magazines, published by the Johnson Export Publishing Co. Looking in the Sept 1920 Automobiles and Accessories section I find 13 in that issue, ranging from the well-known (Chandler with 30+ overseas distributors) to the Unwin Flyer, that Std Cat says never attained much, if any, production. Actually there seems to be at least twice as many trucks.

So it appears export outlets were available where builders could advertise their wares, hoping for overseas contacts. Altho some names like Cleveland, Haynes, Stude, Stutz and Velie were there, Chandlers' was the only ad that actually listed overseas dealers.

Mroz' Ency of Amer Trks says Comet produced a 11/2 Ton that a 1930 McCord catalog says had a Lycoming K engine, but neither gives dates. A 1924 Houpert piston catalog lists Comet 11/2Ton (no model #) 1918-23 (1923 is latest date shown for any make in that catalog, so later models may exist); that catalog shows a Lyc KB engine (the K and KB are same b/s).

Mroz says Comet was liquidated 1923; I understand that in some states, a truck was "dated" the year it was registered/licensed, NOT the year it was actually built.

Comet also built at least one tractor model, a 15-30 with an Erd TF engine, in 1919-20, per I&T's Tractor History Vol I 1916-25. (I&T=Implement & Tractor).

Mroz has nothing on any Pan American, but that 24 catalog lists a Pan American 21/4 Ton for 1919 with a Buda HTU engine...none of my other older catalogs lists it, but I've fallen behind on indexing .

The 1920 Power Wagon, a period trucking magazine, lists Pan American, Chicago, as the builder of a 2 Ton, in its builders lists for July, Aug, Sept, but no listing or specs appear in the specs pages for those months. There's no Oct list or specs, and Pan American is gone from the Nov list.

Auto'ble Qtlys' Amcn Cars Since 1775, in its truck section, lists Pan American, Decatur, as truck prod reported but doubtful, or perhaps a few units on specia;l order or similar.

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On the truck question, Georgano, one of the Gurus of truck history, has a small book of world truck builders (names/adds/years only) and a big book with world thumbnail histories; I have the little one, which lists:

Comet, US...Comet Automobile Co, Decatur, IL 1916-25...AT (Ag tractor) and G (general goods hauler 1Ton rating and higher);

Pan American, US...Pan American Motors Corp., Decatur, IL 1919-22...G

His big book may have more info.

For a more up to date check, a man in France is compiling another Ency of world truck builders, or at least an up to date list, using a monumental array of sources. I lost his name and emails in a computer meltdown, but he did at one time have a partial list on aths.org. If it doesn't come up in a search SuperJeff (Jeff L., who runs the What Am I?? forum on aths) will have his email adds; he's always happy to talk old truck history, and will as happily share anything he might have on these two. Good luck. HTH.

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On the truck question, Georgano, one of the Gurus of truck history, has a small book of world truck builders (names/adds/years only) and a big book with world thumbnail histories; I have the little one, which lists:

Comet, US...Comet Automobile Co, Decatur, IL 1916-25...AT (Ag tractor) and G (general goods hauler 1Ton rating and higher);

Pan American, US...Pan American Motors Corp., Decatur, IL 1919-22...G

His big book may have more info.

For a more up to date check, a man in France is compiling another Ency of world truck builders, or at least an up to date list, using a monumental array of sources. I lost his name and emails in a computer meltdown, but he did at one time have a partial list on aths.org. If it doesn't come up in a search SuperJeff (Jeff L., who runs the What Am I?? forum on aths) will have his email adds; he's always happy to talk old truck history, and will as happily share anything he might have on these two. Good luck. HTH.

Jeff Lakascyk's What Am I is no longer on the ATHS Forums but is now on a Forum called Just Old Trucks . That is all you need, just type it in and hit enter. Just Old Trucks general truck forum if now Peter J's Place There are a lot of truck experts on those forums.

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