Awhile back someone sent me
the following note: “Enclosed is an ad for Copar tractors. I have never heard
of a Copar and I am 77 years old.” The ad, from an area shopping paper, reads:
antique tractors, Copar Panzars, Pennsylvania Panzars, Copars, all restored,
all have engines.” As anyone familiar with the well-built little Copar garden
tractor knows, the name should be spelled Panzer, just like the German army’s
armored forces in World War II.
Looking for a better way
The story of the Copar
tractor goes back to a hot summer day in 1953, when James A. Clark was trying
to put in the lawn around his new home in College Park, Md. Clark had rented a
walk-behind tractor with attachments but was making little progress and having
to work way too hard. Clark happened to be chief engineer at the Ahrendt
Instrument Co. in College Park,
a firm that developed and built precision electronic and electro-mechanical
navigation and gun control devices. Combining an engineer’s approach with that
of a lazy man, Clark determined that there must be an easier way to put in his
lawn, and a riding tractor was the answer. After checking out a number of the
riding machines then on the market, he came to the conclusion that none were up
to the job and he could design a better one.
The owner of Ahrendt
Instrument Co. gave Clark the go-ahead to use
company time and facilities to design his new garden tractor. By the end of
1953, a prototype had been hand-built. Ahrendt employees held a contest to name
the tractor and “Panzer” was the winning entry. The machine was exhibited at
the Garden Supply Trade Show in New
York in early 1954. Apparently the Panzer got a lot
of attention at the garden show, and Ahrendt made the decision to start
building garden tractors, a business completely foreign to its precision
Copar (based on the name of College Park) was formed
to handle manufacturing. The first Copar Panzer tractor was delivered to a Virginia dealer in July
1954. However, the manufacture of precision instruments and tractors didn’t
co-exist very well and a new facility was needed. A long-vacant mill in Laurel, Md.,
was purchased and renovated. The new Copar plant opened there in January 1955.
The first Panzer was a
3-wheeled machine with an 8-1/2 hp Briggs & Stratton engine that drove a
salvaged Dodge or Plymouth
cut-down car rear end through a drive system the company called “Glidamatic.” Plymouth brake drums and
shoes, each operated mechanically by a foot pedal, were used to give individual
rear wheel brakes. Copar bragged that, “The Panzer tractor’s combination of
clutchless, instantaneous forward and reverse action plus exceptionally short
turning radius plus individual rear wheel brakes make it the most maneuverable
tractor in the field.”
A hand lever at the right
side controlled the Glidamatic power transmission system (a simple
belt-tightening mechanism and friction-pulley reverse); push forward on the
lever and the tractor moved forward, pull back and it went backward, with
neutral in the middle. Three forward speeds were available, but shifting
between them required stopping the engine and moving a V-belt between three
sheaves of different sizes on the engine pulley and the drive pulley. When the
shift lever was pulled all the way back, drums on each pulley came into contact
with each other, giving the friction drive reverse. The machine was 70 inches
long, 43 inches wide at the rear wheels and weighed 600 pounds.
A number of implements and
attachments were developed for the Panzer, including a 35-inch rotary lawn
mower, a 60-inch 3-gang reel mower, a 24-inch lawn roller, a 42-inch front
blade, an 8-inch moldboard plow, a spike-tooth and a disc harrow, a mounted
36-inch fertilizer spreader and a 2-wheeled cart.
Later Copar Panzers included
a larger 9 hp version, which was advertised as “Big Tractor Power! Small
Tractor Handling!” and was available in 3- or 4-wheeled models. In 1958, Copar
advertised a smaller 4 hp Panzer as well.
In January 1960, Virginia
Metalcrafters, Waynesboro, Va., bought Copar; three years later
Virginia Metalcrafters bought Pennsylvania Lawn Mower Co. Before long the two
were combined into a division called Pennsylvania Lawn Products, the Copar name
was dropped and the tractors became Pennsylvania Panzers. About that time the
paint colors were changed from red with yellow wheels to turquoise blue with
Baltimore, which also owned Jackson Wheelbarrow Mfg. Co., Harrisburg, Pa.,
bought Pennsylvania Lawn Products in 1970 and repackaged it as the Pennsylvania
Products Division of Jackson Mfg. A year later, Schenuit entered bankruptcy
proceedings and, while Jackson Mfg. survived as part of Ames True Temper,
Pennsylvania Products was closed.
Dandy Sales Inc., Monson, Mass.,
bought the parts, patterns and all rights to the Panzer tractor and remains a
source for parts and information for the sturdy little machines. Many Panzer
tractors are still to be found under names such as Copar Panzer, Panzer, Pennsylvania, Meteor and
Penn 88. Most any antique equipment show has one or two of the attractive
little Panzers on exhibit. FC
For more information:
– Panzer Tractor Owners Club: Contact by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Dandy Sales: Contact by email at email@example.com.
– Interested in
rare and unusual garden tractors? Check out Daryel Shaffer’s Rare Garden Tractors.
Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now
lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors,
implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.