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A Checkered History

Regarding today’s (1/23/10) puzzler answer (which I got right, by the way), I thought that I would send along the following image from a 1950 Checker sales brochure disputing the comment that they never sold cars to the general public. While their overall total annual production rarely, if ever, exceeded 7,000 units, and the number of non-taxi vehicles was a tiny percentage of that, they did attempt to market a civilian version of their rugged taxicab as early as this. They sold substantially more numbers of the civilian version of the car was referenced in the puzzler, although here’s proof that they had attempted to expand their market even in these earlier days. Also of note that these cars still had a solid beam front axle even at this late date. File all this under Totally Useless Information.

P.S. This is the first time that I’ve attempted to post a picture on this board, so I don’t know if it will work.

One more image from the brochure…


Love the car. It may be an example of how the best design for a task can ultimately put a company out of business. Car companies need high turn over to make a profit where they did not control the service which is where most of their $$$$$ is made. These great cars needed too little of each.

Nope, they used regular car mechanicals, Chevy drive train, etc. They were easy to maintain, and the taxi companies kept them running forever.

Although Checker used Chevy six and eight cylinder engines starting in the mid sixties, these early “A” models and the first Superbas and Marathons used flathead sixes manufactured by Continental (no relation to Ford), seen here. More than you EVER wanted to know, I’m sure!


All cars do is provide their owners with transportation…The Checker was almost PERFECT at performing that function. But humans are funny creatures. As this forum clearly demonstrates, transportation is usually the LAST consideration when buying a car…Image, Status, Ego, these are the tools of the car salesman and Checker could not offer any of these things. When 16 year old girls look at your product and go “Oh YUK!!” you know you are doomed…Forty year old men, the people with enough money to buy a new car, are acutely aware of what 16 year old girls think and subconsciously base decisions on these feelings…“Oh YUK” is the kiss of death in a competitive market…

"They were easy to maintain, and the taxi companies kept them running forever."
My point exactly…companies can’t last if anyone can fix them and chassis is so durable…what’s the NOPE for. Cars needed too little help from Checker once out the door. That’s why the company couldn’t last. Check profit reports for any car company…
The company was easily undersold by makes that could be sold privately as well but were comparable junk chassis wise.

You are exactly right that Checker offered cars to the public. They did make a bigger push to the public about 1959 or 1960 with the next generation cab after that came about in 1956 after the model in the picture above. This second generation did have an independent front suspension. I think they used the Ford ball joint front end. The engines were the Continental Red Seal engines. The model pictured by the OP used the Continental flat head engine. In the next generation, a Continental overhead valve engine was an option. Still later in the the production-around 1965-- Chevrolet engines were used-both the 6 and V-8. Using well known components made parts easy to obtain. Doors and fenders could be changed in about half an hour, and the rear fenders on all Checkers were bolt-on units.

Agree; a friend of mine in Ohio bought a 1972 Checker Marathon, the “civilian” version with nice upholstery. He was amazed how durable the car was. It had a Chevrolet V8 and transmission. He also found the parts reasonably priced. It als had 2 little jump seats in the back to add two passengers in a pinch.

The styling was a little ancient, however, and may have been the cause why the car never sold to the public in large numbers. In those days US buyers preferred pear-shaped hardtops to very practical and roomy sedans. Buying a car for long term use, as my friend did, was also foreign to US buyers.

A few years ago I saw one at the transmission shop I visited. It was a late 70s model and still did not have any rust. It had well over 300,000 miless on it.

When I was in my early 20’s and in graduate school, a Checker from the fleet at the university I attended showed up on the used car lot at the local Ford dealer. I really wanted to buy the car and came within $200 of the purchase, but they wouldn’t come down on the price and I wouldn’t go up. I thought it would be an easy car to maintain. As well as the chassis held up on these Checkers, I wonder that if I had bought the car, I would still be driving it today, 47 years later.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the two cars I thought would be great to own were the Checker and the Studebaker Scotsman. These cars were easy to service. I didn’t like cars where the spark plugs were hard to reach, but on the Checker and Studebaker the plugs were right on top of the flathead engines. Little did I know that years later we would have V-6 engines transversely mounted so that the spark plugs are right against the firewall. It bothers me that I can’t service the cars I own today. I think the next cars will have the engines hermetically sealed like refrigerator compressors and when the engines fail, we just throw the cars away.

“I think the next cars will have the engines hermetically sealed like refrigerator compressors and when the engines fail, we just throw the cars away.”

You are exactly right. Consumers have about had it with outrageous repair expenses…In the near future, cars will need a 10 year, 150,000 mile power-train warranty to have any saleability. Vehicles with complex, difficult to repair power-trains will fall by the way-side…

By the way, I think there were a few Checkers made with Perkins Diesels. These may have been after-market installations…

Hah, I was thinking Checker, but I didn’t realize they actually sold cars in the 50s.

Vehicles with complex, difficult-to-repair powertrains aren’t going anywhere until battery electrics can completely replace them. People are too in love with the abilities of such powertrains, and their reliability, believe it or not, which is far superior to older, “simpler” machines. Not that there’s no room for improvement. The Ford Fiesta has a relatively spacious and well-laid-out engine bay that should make most work easier than on most FWD cars.

Also, there’s more to cars than the powertrain. Suspension, climate control, and non-engine electrical work can be expensive, too.

That said, there was that Volvo concept with the sealed hood. It was explicitly designed “for women.” And there were actually people who didn’t feel insulted.

Some of you are talking as if Checker was a failure. I don’t see them that way. There are many, many car companies that didn;t have anywhere near their success.

The Perkins diesel was available in the Checker, at least in the taxicab versions. Also, the Chrysler slant six engine was used briefly in the Checker. I think this happened after Continental canceled its contract with Checker.
Borg Warner supplied the transmissions for Checker, both the manual and the automatic. I found it interesting that in the Chevrolet automobiles, the automatic tranmission in the late 1960’s was a 2 speed Powerglide, but the Checker with the Chevrolet engine had a 3 speed automatic transmission.

Although I have no actual sales figures, I’m sure they didn’t sell very many of the civilian version in the 50’s. Checker actually started building cabs in 1922.

It is true that Checker sold to the public. One reason was it was illegal not to, it was considered a monopoly. This is also a reason Freightliner trucks were sold to the public. They were designed and built for Consolidated Frieghtways but that was considered a monopoly so now there are/were millions of Frieghtliners and White Frieghtliners on the road.

I thought Checker did a good job for a being an indie. I remember working on a guys Checker, it had a Chevy 327 but I noticed the starter solenoid was a Ford style mounted on the firewall.

Many years ago, I wanted a Checker. Never got around to it, as is the case in many areas of life. I knew people who had them, and they were indeed a great car in that era.

meaney: I think you may be confused about what a monopoly is. You may be thinking about the 1964 New York antitrust case? Checker began selling to the public strictly to increase revenue. If most of the cabs in large markets are Checkers, how else are you going to move more product? (Cheap fabric and bad lighting! Ba-dum-dum.)