Checker Car History
Primarily known for making taxicabs, Checker Motors Corporation was an American automobile manufacturer based in Chicago, Illinois and then Kalamazoo, Michigan. Although the cars were available for sale to the general public, the vast majority saw fleet use in major cities such as New York City, Chicago, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.
Checker Motors Corporation was founded in 1922 by Morris Markin. Before WW2, they produced cabs and truck bodies for other companies, including Ford, General Motors, and Hudson. They also built trailers for Sears-Roebuck.
Checker During WW2
On the outset of WW2, Checker built several prototype Army Jeeps. Although they did not win the Jeep contract, they did supply the U.S. Military with nearly 50,000 trailers during the war years. These included tank retrieval trailers, 1-ton Ben Hur two-wheel trailers, and 6-ton two-wheel trailers.
Read: American Automotive Industry During World War Two
The first post-war Checker cars had a wheelbase of 124 inches, but a new design was called for when New York City limited the wheelbase of taxi's to 120 inches.
Checker A Series (1956-1982)
The Checker A-8 was introduced late in 1955 for the 1956 model year. The four-door sedan was a body-on-frame design and featured independent front suspension. The slab-sided body was totally new and featured two headlights.
The sole engine in Checker vehicles from 1939 until 1964 was the Continental 226ci inline-six. This same engine had been fitted into many other cars (including Kaiser-Frazer) and trucks since the 1930s.
The front suspension was independent, consisting of coil springs, upper and lower control-arms, and an anti-sway bar. In the rear, a solid axle was mounted to semi-elliptic leaf springs. Starting around 1968, a Dana 44 rear axle was fitted.
To comply with the New York taxicab ordinance, the new Checker cabs could fit 8 passengers inside. A tall roof and flat floor made the interior quite roomy, and included rear fold-down jump seats.
Offered for retail sale was the Marathon, which was essentially a 'civilianized' copy of the Checker Taxi. These were sold to the general public from 1960 to 1982.
Models A9, A10, and A11
The Model A9 began the now familiar quad-headlamps and egg-crate grille. The A10 was known as the Superba, then in 1961 a more luxurious model called the Marathon was introduced.
In addition to four-door sedans, Checker also produced station wagons. Sales reached an all-time high in 1962, with 8,173 cars produced.
The final in the series, the A-11 was introduced in 1963. Long-wheelbase (129 inches) versions were also introduced. Specialized versions included the Aerobus, a stretched version of the station wagon. It was available as either a six door or eight door.
On the outside, the Checker four-door taxi appeared to be the same through the sixties and seventies. But underneath the sheet metal, many changes were made, both major and minor.
In 1980, after Chevrolet's straight six was discontinued, Checker began using Chevy's 3.8L V-6 as the base engine. Some of these V6 motors were converted to use propane as fuel.
During the 1960s, Checker began installing Perkins four-cylinder diesel engines into taxicabs, allegedly returning 30 miles to the gallon. In 1979, the Oldsmobile 350ci diesel V-8 became optional, returning 23 mpg city and 28 highway mpg's.
How Can You Tell What Year A Checker Is?
Although slight, there are small visual differences between different years of Checker cars. Beginning in 1963, front parking/directional lights were amber. A year later, front lap belts were standard equipment.
Starting in 1967, all Checker models had energy-absorbing steering columns. In 1968, round side-marker lights were seen on the fenders. Also that year, shoulder belts became standard equipment. Another visual identifier are front seat headrests, which first appeared in 1969.
Checker Annual Production
For many years, Checker Motors maintained an annual production of approximately 6,000 to 8,000 vehicles. But by the end of the 1970s, they were selling fewer than 3,000 vehicles a year.
Reasons for the decline in sales were several. Aside from the diesel-equipped models (which many cab riders found noisy and smelly), Checker cabs did not get very good gas mileage. The car was originally designed for the tall, straight-six cylinder Continental gas engine which required the large engine compartment.
During the sixties, several other engines were fitted, including the Chrysler 318ci V8 (particularly in the Aerobus) and Chevrolet 250ci straight six. By 1971, the Chevy six-cylinder was the base engine, with a 350ci small-block Chevy V8 optional.
In 1975, Checker was the fifth largest automaker in the U.S.
During the seventies, steadily rising gas prices made the 4,000 pound cars financially impractical for taxi companies and drivers. The car's boxy shape, although great for passengers and luggage, did not help gas gas mileage.
In 1980, a 3.8 litre Chevy V6 became the base engine, and a 120-horsepower, 267ci Chevy became the base V8 engine. The 267 V8 was the top engine choice by 1982.
New federal regulations in fuel efficiency and safety meant extensive reworking would be needed to make the cars compliant. They were becoming mechanically obsolete, and their styling was not holding up well. After 50+ years in business, the company posted it's first loss in 1981.
After vehicle production stopped in 1982, Checker continued to be a supplier to the automotive industry, including producing body parts for General Motors. The company sold off its contracts and machinery and declared bankruptcy in June 2009. With the sale of it's Michigan headquarters on January 14, 2010, the Checker Motor Company was history.
The fact that most Checker taxicabs were driven hundreds of thousands of miles, the vast majority of original ones have long been scrapped for parts and metal. Today, collectors and restorers will often take a good-condition Marathon model and convert them into taxicabs.