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The Great Pathfinder – “King of the Twelves”

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  • A very stylish 1917 Pathfinder Seven Passenger Touring Roadster 

Today we feature a make that came and went fairly quickly but was the product of some very talented people from the pre-war era. Our title comes from contemporary advertising copy for the car. The photo shows Miss Lillian Russell, an enormously successful actress and singer in the late 19th and early 20th century, behind the wheel of what at the time was a highly prestigious automobile. Her long career contrasted sharply with the brief appearance of the Pathfinder brand.


George Weidely, in association with H.O. Smith, organized the Premier Motor Manufacturing Company on December 24, 1902 with Weidely serving as chief engineer. An accomplished machinist, his forte was engine design, the culmination of which was the deceptively modern looking overhead valve V-12 described and seen below. After Premier went into receivership in 1914, he obtained all patterns and rights for his Premier engine and formed the Weidely Engine Company in partnership with R.M. Owen, then president of the Entz Motor Corporation and Smith. It was the realization of a long cherished dream ; the exclusive manufacture of the motor that bore his name.

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  • The twelve cylinder Pathfinder’s many advanced features are described above in “The Automobile” June 8, 1916 issue. 

The Pathfinder was the result of the 1911 reorganization of the Indianapolis based Parry Auto company into the Motor Car Manufacturing Company. MCM built Pathfinders until 1916 after which the company was again renamed, this time as Pathfinder. Early models were powered by four and six cylinder engines, but Weidely’s long stroke 87 horsepower 389 cubic inch twelve wasn’t used until their last year, 1917.

His innovative design was not enough to save the company but it was not the last gasp for his remarkable powerplant. It found use three years later in the Heine-Velox which at the time was the most expensive car in the U.S. at $17,000. You can see a short video of a running Weidely V-12  from the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum’s 1921 Heine-Velox at the bottom of the post. Our photo by Stuart Thomson is courtesy of the City of Vancouver. You can learn more about Lillian Russell here.


7 responses to “The Great Pathfinder – “King of the Twelves”

  1. David,

    Weidely’s son drove one of these V-12’s from CA to NYC, over4800 miles in 29 days to prove it’s worth. He then drove out to Sheepshead Bay and lapped the track at over 60 mph. Weidely is very interesting , he designed the 1905/6 OHC hemi head racer for Carl Fisher that is in the Indy museum (a lot of firsts) and a OHC six with a central cam drive (15 years before Jano) and followers that look like they are out of a 1980’s Ford. Do you know if he was involved with the Premier copies of the 1913 GP Peugeot’s or were those engines farmed out to Wisconsin ? What ever happened to George ?

  2. David , I may be wrong on a few details, but I see several similarities between this power plant and the Lincoln V-8 of 1927-9. Still, it’s a very interesting automobile !

  3. what amazes me is the number of automobile companies which offered very complex (and one expects, expensive) V-12 engines in the earliest days of automobile production. Does anyone have reliable information on the subject of how these designs and products were actually produced? Cunningham (the first one by that name) built a very elaborate V-8 which, so far as I know, powered only a few score examples of cars. Surely the Pathfinder also suffered from very limited sales back in the day. There are certain design similarities between the Packard Twin Six and the illustrated Pathfinder brand.

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