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1929 Packard with Pilot-Ray Self-Steering Automatic Safety Lights

The Pilot-Ray the Self-Steering Automatic Safety Light

Many classic car enthusiasts are well aware of and have seen both the Pilot-Ray double driving lamps as seen on a 1929 Packard (above), and the single center-mounted model (below) that were produced by the Pilot Ray Corp. of America. The the lights appear to have been introduced as early as 1928, but possibly earlier.

Little information is to be found about the company, but the May 11, 1929 Automotive Industries, states that the it was run by W.A. Clark III, who was the President, along with J.H. Young the Vice-President. Both were from Los Angeles, Young was in charge of sales and at the time was touring the country contacting distributors that handled the lights.

After searching patent records, it appears that G.S. Keck was the original inventor, as he filed his first patent for a Dirigible Headlight on August 17, 1926. He soon filed another patent for a more refined version on February 23, 1927. On August 22, 1927, Charles Cronkhite filed his first patent for an Operating Mechanism for Dirigible Headlights that was soon followed by another. Most of both men’s patents can be seen below that were assigned to the Pilot-Ray Corp. The top photo in the post is courtesy of Dave Mitchell

  • 1933 Packard George McManus Earle C. Anthony
  • George McManus posing with his Packard in 1933 at Earle C. Anthony in Los Angeles.

It appears W.A. Clark III had both Keck and Cronkhite design and patent the mechanisms for the lamps or bought their patents and the rights and then had them manufactured. The corporation’s address was at 3912 Broadway Place in Los Angeles, and Clark may have sold some of the first units from there to Earle C. Anthony’s Packard dealership that was also located in the City.

According to classic car expert West Peterson, who is the editor of the Antique Automobile, the 1930 Packard accessory brochure listed the single Pilot-Ray Light as an option in 1930. The Packard Motor Car Company file photograph above, courtesy of the Detroit Public Library shows comic strip creator George McManus posing with his Packard in 1933. This car is equipped with many Packard approved accessories the Company offered including the Pilot-Ray light. McManus bought this car from Earle C. Anthony.

Los Angeles, a hotbed for manufacturing automotive accessories was also the home of the Woodlite, another interesting lamp we have looked at earlier. If you can add anything to the Pilot-Ray story please send us a comment. You can obtain reproduction Pilot Ray Lamps from the American Arrow Corporation.

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7 responses to “The Pilot-Ray the Self-Steering Automatic Safety Light

  1. The Pilot Ray in the first picture on the Packard seems to lack hand-eye coordination. I’ve noticed that on several pictures…..Did the relationship between lights and wheels change with the diameter of the turning circle?

  2. Posted for Donald Ellis: What I wanted to ask the readership to consider is the question (upon which, I admit, the world does not turn) “why do Packard enthusiasts refer to the stylized hood ornament a “Cormorant ” when they admit that it is taken from the Packard family crest? Here, it is a standard heraldic device called “The Pelican in her Piety” (symbol of self-sacrifice) So why isn’t it a “Pelican”?

    • Please Richard Langworth’s column in the February, 1983 issue of Car Collector magazine, entitled, “The Dirty Bird: Packard’s Cormonant”.

  3. I do not think the 3912 Broadway Place in Los Angeles is the address in the top picture. If you look at the door it says 898.

  4. Hi!

    I have an old Terrot JSS 350 under restoration in Sweden. The mounted headlight is a Pilot Ray from California with Ampere-meter installed. Did pilot ray make lights for motorcycles?

    Best regards Sgt. Kristoffer Lotten.

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