December 25, 2023


Pan-American Motors Corp. 

Chicago, Illinois (1916-1917)
Decatur, Illinois  (1917-1922)

This is a Pan American radiator emblem (1917-1922)    mjs
Size: 90mm wide 53mm high    MM: Unknown

The Pan-American Motors Corporation was organised in June 1916 in Chicago and built and commenced testing its first car, the Chicago Light Six-Forty, in late 1916. 

The Chicago Light Six-Forty was planned to be offered in three models, a touring car, a speedster and a roadster. A roadster demonstrator model may have been built but the five-passenger touring model, called the Aristocrat, was the standard and, most likely, only model put into production.

It is not clear when the first Chicago Light Six-Forty car was built. I can find no photo of a Chicago Light Six-Forty car in 1916 and no news announcement in 1916 that the car had been built. However, on January 13, 1917, there was an announcement by Pan-American Motors that their car was out on a 1000 mile test run having left Chicago on December 3, 1916, so at least one and possibly only one demonstration car had been built by late 1916. 

Interestingly, the car in this announcement was called the "Pan-American Light Six" not the Chicago Light Six. A week later it was reported that the "Chicago Light Six" had completed its 1000 mile test run. This announcement said that the car had commenced its test run as soon as it was built, which might again suggest that this was the first and possibly only Chicago Light Six built in 1916.

The January 13, 1917 announcement also said that their five-passenger touring car, which was to be their standard car, and a closed four-passenger car were practically complete and will be put on public display.  

In late January 1917, the Chairman of Pan-American Motors Corporation is reported to have said that "this organization deserves the support of the business men of Chicago". However, despite the efforts of Pan-American to be seen to be a Chicago based company, sufficient financial investment could not be secured in Chicago and, in April 1917, Pan-American decided to move to Decatur. A new factory was built in Decatur and the car became the Pan-American using the slogan "The American Beauty Car". 

The Chicago Light Six-Forty and the Pan-American Light Six were both referred to as the "car with the white radiator". The cars could be had in several colors and were distinguished by having all the bright metal parts finished in white enamel, including the radiator, lamp rims and wheel spokes. 

Some very limited production of the Chicago Light Six-Forty may have continued in Chicago until the Decatur plant became fully operational by August 1917.

The Standard Catalog of American Cars lists 37 cars built in 1917. I suspect that most of these cars were Pan-American rather than the Chicago Light Six-Forty.

The Pan-American was an assembled automobile initially using a 40 hp six-cylinder engine. A lower-priced 17 hp four-cylinder companion car was offered for the 1919 and 1920 model years but few were built. Commercial vehicles were also built from 1917 to 1919. 

There were management problems and in 1921 the company treasurer absconded with some of the company funds. The company also suffered the effects of the post First World War depression and late in 1921 the company decided to phase-out production. The Pan-American was finished in 1922.


The Pan-American Motors Corporation made great efforts from the start to show that they were a Chicago business, presumably to attract local investors. The stated aim of Pan-American Motors Corporation was to "produce a car to bear the name and the emblem of the greatest of all industrial cities, Chicago". The earliest advertisement of Pan-American Motors Corporation showing the car appeared in July 1916 and refers to the car as "THE CHICAGO", see below, although subsequent advertisements in 1916 refer to the Chicago Light Six or Chicago Light Six-Forty.

The Chicago advertisement showing radiator emblem 
The Rock Island Argus 29 July 1916

This advertisement gives details of three models of THE CHICAGO Light Six-Forty, the Aristocrat touring car, White Cap speedster and Patriot roadster, and includes illustrations of the Aristocrat touring model and the proposed radiator emblem for that model, see detail shown below:

Proposed Chicago Light Six-Forty Aristocrat radiator emblem (1916)

Later Pan-American Motors Corporation advertisements in 1916 for the Chicago Light Six include an illustration of the Aristocrat model showing the double circle radiator emblem, see example shown below:

Chicago Light Six ad showing rad emblem  
The Pantagraph, Bloomington Illinois Nov 14, 1916

Presumably, it was intended to have similar radiator emblems inscribed with "White Cap" and "Patriot" for the other models but there is no evidence to date that any of these double circle radiator emblems were ever made.

However, there was a development of this emblem design, which for practical reasons at least, had the two circles merged together. 

This is the red, white and blue enamel Chicago Light Six-Forty radiator emblem inscribed "An Aristocrat" shown below. This Chicago Light Six-Forty radiator emblem is extremely rare and possibly ultra rare, as very few Chicago Light Six-Forty cars were actually built. 

This is a Chicago Light Six-Forty radiator emblem (1916-1917)  tcc
Size: 98mm wide 50mm high     MM: Childs

The white "Y" in the right hand circle is interesting. This "Y" shape in a circle was also the logo used by the Walden W. Shaw Livery Company and their Yellow Cab, which was also built in Chicago at the about the same time as the Chicago Light Six. The "Y" in a circle was used in Chicago to represent the branches of the Chicago River and, in 1917, it was adopted as the Chicago municipal device to be used by city departments and businesses to symbolize the city of Chicago and promote civic pride. This is likely to be the reason why it was used by Shaw, Yellow Cab and Pan-American in their emblems and fits with the earlier stated ambition of the Pan-American Motors Corporation.

The name of the car was changed to the Pan-American after the move to Decatur in 1917 and the radiator emblem was also changed but retained the double circle design, see the following advertisement from 1917:

Pan-American ad showing rad emblem (1917) ms

This is the maroon, blue and white enamel Pan-American radiator emblem, depicting the Americas with an American shield under an eagle, shown above at the top of this post and again below. This Pan-American radiator emblem is very rare.

This is a Pan-American radiator emblem (1917-1922)  mjs
Size: 90mm wide 53mm high    MM: Unknown

Emblem collectors should beware as there are reproduction Pan-American radiator emblems, which lack the in-depth detail of the original emblem, especially on the eagle, see example shown below: 

This is a reproduction radiator emblem    ms

The Pan-American hubcaps carried a round hub emblem with a miniature version of the radiator emblem in the center, see example shown below:

This is a Pan-American hubcap (1917-1922)    dkc
Size: 46mm diameter (hub emblem) 

This hub emblem was originally finished with maroon enamel in the center, see example Pan-American hub emblem shown below. This Pan-American hub emblem is rare.

This is a Pan-American hub emblem (1917-1922)   mjs
Size: 45mm diameter    MM: Unknown

There is also a version of this hub emblem finished in red, blue and white enamel, see example shown below. This Pan-American hub emblem is very rare.

This is a Pan-American hub emblem (date uncertain)   mjs
Size: 45mm diameter   MM: Unknown

The following is a Pan-American wire-wheel hubcap showing a larger hub emblem:

Pan-American wire-wheel hubcap (1917-1922) hubcapcollector

The following is an example of the maroon painted Pan-American wire-wheel hub emblem shown above. This Pan-American hub emblem is rare.

This is a Pan-American wire-wheel hub emblem (1917-1922) mjs
Size: 69mm diameter    MM: None

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