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Thread: The Humble Checker Cab

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    Speedster Member Stude Shoo-wop!'s Avatar
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    The Humble Checker Cab

    I am amazed by this vehicle. Its styling changes are best described as glacial, and there has been barely any examples produced compared to other vehicles. However, it has been a fixture of NYC and other big cities seemingly since the time of Methuselah. In my mind, this car has the certain "I don't care about the latest thing" mentality of the classic Jeep and Beetle. Yet, for some reason, I don't see any sort of following for these things in the general public. Why is that? More importantly, what sort of stories would you like the share regarding this mobile anachronism?


    Last edited by Stude Shoo-wop!; 06-02-2018 at 09:40 PM.
    Jake Kaywell: Shoo-wops and doo-wops galore to the background of some fine Studes. I'm eager and ready to go!

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    I wouldn't refer to Checker as "Humble". I even owned stock in the company.

    Remember that the vast majority were for taxi and livery use. This results in them being used up, resulting in not many still around.

    The design was good for the application. Have you gotten in and out of the rear seat and rode in one? - I have.
    Gary L.
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    For many years Checker and DeSoto were popular vehicles for use as taxis especially in large cities. The father of a friend of mine worked at the Checker plant. It was rare, but I saw a few used for personal transportation. One sedan had a vinyl covered roof and and an oval window back of the rear door. Most had a Chevy six-cylinder engine and were very dependable.

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    Golden Hawk Member 8E45E's Avatar
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    The last Checker made was in 1982: http://forum.studebakerdriversclub.c...5-1982-Checker

    NYC has an age limit on taxicabs; which is something like five or eight years before it has to be retired out of service. Therefore, a functioning Checker for regular taxi use in NYC hasn't been in operation for at least a couple of decades.

    Craig

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    Golden Hawk Member 8E45E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Bryant View Post
    The father of a friend of mine worked at the Checker plant. It was rare, but I saw a few used for personal transportation. One sedan had a vinyl covered roof and and an oval window back of the rear door. Most had a Chevy six-cylinder engine and were very dependable.
    Here is a 'civilian' Checker with a vinyl roof, but without the opera window: http://forum.studebakerdriversclub.c...ecker-Marathon

    Craig

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    Silver Hawk Member Milaca's Avatar
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    I suppose Checker automobiles are viewed in the same way as old school buses. Most of them are yellow and they are great at transporting people, but most people do not see any beauty in them (from a collector stand-point).

    I recall back in the early 1980's, there being a bright-red Checker automobile (in excellent condition) parked near the local grocery store (perhaps it belonged to an employee of the store). I sometimes wonder what became of that car, and where in the world did that person buy the car (and why?). I cant imagine there having been any Checker dealerships in Minnesota.

    In the middle of MinneSTUDEa.

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    Speedster Member nwi-region-rat's Avatar
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    I rode in them many times as a kid in the days before NYC imposed the age limit (once I got to be 15 or 16, I was expected to take the subway). They were spacious, spartan, and usually in pretty bad shape with plenty of rattles, clunks, and bangs from the suspension system. Always used to ask the driver how many miles it had -- the answer was usually in the 200K or 300K range. Was too dumb to ask how many times the Continental flathead or Chevy 6 had already been rebuilt. The DeSoto Skyview cabs had a similar reputation.

    As to why they're not big collector favorites -- they were always technologically obsolete (except during the 1930s), stodgy-looking, and only came in LWB sedans (later wagons, too). And as Gary said, they were usually worn out and thrown away. Even after they started selling directly to the public, nearly all were used as cabs.

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    President Member tsenecal's Avatar
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    I saw one go through a demolition derby in the 70s. It was a shame to see it smashed up and thrown away, but the thing was a total tank as far as derby cars go. I don't remember if it won the derby, or broke down before the end, but the body sure was solid.

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    My memories of them in big cities was they had an interesting undercurrent of odors.

    Bob
    , ,

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    IN the mid sixties I worked with a guy who drove a Checker he had bought new.
    His theory was, I think, that if it was tough enough for Taxi use, it would last forever in civilian use.

    It was heavy and seriously underpowered by a flathead 6 cyl Continental. which had barely enough steam to keep up with interstate traffic. It ate tires, and a few winters of New England ice and salt made it rust almost as fast as my Corvair. What it did have was a huge interior, tall roof and large doors, perfect for a taxi.

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    Speedster Member 56GH's Avatar
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    I have a happy memory of test driving a Checker Marathon station wagon -- I think sometime in the late sixties or early seventies. The five kids were young and we needed a big wagon. The one we drove was a huge tank with plenty of room and it had a Chevy V-8 and automatic transmission. It stepped right along but we ended up buying a Chevy wagon instead because the Checker was priced higher that the Chevy. The Checker Company has an interesting history and the cars used a number of different out-sourced engines such as a MoPar 318 V-8, Continental six up to 1964, a Chevy straight six and later a V-6, and the Chevy 350 cid V-8.

    Last edited by 56GH; 06-03-2018 at 10:48 AM. Reason: More info
    Bill L.
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    President Member christophe's Avatar
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    They often used them in Mission :Impossible to impersonate european cars.

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    Chief Cat Herder showbizkid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by christophe View Post
    They often used them in Mission :Impossible to impersonate european cars.
    Dechromed like that, they did look something like a cross between a GAZ-21 and a ‘56 Ford, from the right angle

    When I was in high school in the 70s, there was a fellow in town who had a Marathon sedan in bright metallic green with black vinyl roof. He loved that car; I never once saw it unwashed or unwashed. Would love to know what happened to it.
    Clark in San Diego
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    President Member t walgamuth's Avatar
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    I almost bought one back in the late sixties...I noticed a rust hole in the door jamb on the rear I could see the ground through. I decided that was too much rust. It had a continental flathead six. Their chassis was pretty much a chevy 1500 pickup I believe.

    There probably is a checker club.

    One of the few marques which is more rare than a Studebaker!

    Made in Kalamazoo where my parents live(d). I drove by the checker test track many many times. It was a quad oval like Indy but one lane wide and maybe a half mile at most. The corners were banked a little too. I think it has been leveled off now.
    Diesel loving, autocrossing, Coupe express loving, Grandpa Architect.

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    President Member christophe's Avatar
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    My favourite is the A4.

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    Speedster Member Stude Shoo-wop!'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by christophe View Post
    .

    My favourite is the A4.
    Isn't that particular A-4 the only surviving one in the world as of now?
    Jake Kaywell: Shoo-wops and doo-wops galore to the background of some fine Studes. I'm eager and ready to go!

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    President Member t walgamuth's Avatar
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    That has some nice lines!
    Diesel loving, autocrossing, Coupe express loving, Grandpa Architect.

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    Golden Hawk Member rockne10's Avatar
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    I drove and dispatched taxis in State College, PA back in the early '70's. Most of the cabs were Plymouths; but we did have two Checkers; one with jump seats and one without. I much preferred driving the Checkers. They felt substantial.

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    Golden Hawk Member 8E45E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stude Shoo-wop! View Post
    Isn't that particular A-4 the only surviving one in the world as of now?
    Is that the car in the Natmus Museum?





    Craig

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    President Member Studedude's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by t walgamuth View Post
    There probably is a checker club.
    Yes, there is:

    http://www.checkerworld.org/membership

    A good friend of mine, a professor at Oklahoma State University, was president of the Checker Club for some time. He was quite a fellow, an inventor, professor, model builder, and business man.

    He loved Checkers so much that he not only owned several, but opened a taxi service in Stillwater, OK using Checkers. Unfortunately, the demand was not there at that time for the service, but he and friends staffed the office 24 hrs, 7 days, in case someone would call for a cab.

    RIP Richard!

    http://www.icta.club/former-cccofa-p...mas-1929-2017/

    Dave Lester

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    President Member t walgamuth's Avatar
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    The front looks a lot like a Caddy but unfortunately the rear resembles a 40ish mopar....some of the least attractive designs of the era.
    Diesel loving, autocrossing, Coupe express loving, Grandpa Architect.

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    I remember back around 1975 when I hung around the local garage down the street , there was an old gal who had a civilian checker . She swore by that car, I remember driving It in and out of the shop a time or two, I was 15 at the time and I remember what a tank it was..But she drove it around like it was a VW beetle

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    Speedster Member Stude Shoo-wop!'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by t walgamuth View Post
    The front looks a lot like a Caddy but unfortunately the rear resembles a 40ish mopar....some of the least attractive designs of the era.
    Isn't the 40s to the early 50s the time when former Chrysler Corp. CEO K. T. Keller dictated that all of their products must have a very tall roofline in order to accommodate his tall self wearing a hat?

    On another note, I have seen a Checker stretch limousine in taxi livery parked next to a rather tired service station not too far from my house recently. I'll try to get pictures.
    Jake Kaywell: Shoo-wops and doo-wops galore to the background of some fine Studes. I'm eager and ready to go!

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    Golden Hawk Member 8E45E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by t walgamuth View Post
    The front looks a lot like a Caddy but unfortunately the rear resembles a 40ish mopar....some of the least attractive designs of the era.
    Here is the rear of it:



    Craig

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    Golden Hawk Member 8E45E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stude Shoo-wop! View Post
    On another note, I have seen a Checker stretch limousine in taxi livery parked next to a rather tired service station not too far from my house recently.
    Does it look like this?



    Craig

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    President Member t walgamuth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 8E45E View Post
    Here is the rear of it:



    Craig
    That looks better than that other angle showing the rear end. The taillights would never pass muster for a Caddy....too simple, but the bumper is massive! Look at that dude with its massive sturdy looking bumper guards.
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    Golden Hawk Member 8E45E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by t walgamuth View Post
    The taillights would never pass muster for a Caddy....too simple, but the bumper is massive! Look at that dude with its massive sturdy looking bumper guards.
    Well, Packard DID make a dedicated 'taxicab' version, complete with opening rear window as this Checker has: http://forum.studebakerdriversclub.c...per-Fleet-Taxi

    Craig

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    President Member christophe's Avatar
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    I noticed something odd (at least to me!) on the license plates of this A4. What would be the purpose of having front or rear written onto them?

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    Golden Hawk Member 8E45E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by christophe View Post
    What would be the purpose of having front or rear written onto them?
    Driver aptitude test??

    Craig

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    President Member christophe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 8E45E View Post
    Driver aptitude test??

    Craig
    That's a good one! Or maybe this was meant towards inebriated customers to find their way into the cab more easily.

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    Quote Originally Posted by christophe View Post
    I noticed something odd (at least to me!) on the license plates of this A4. What would be the purpose of having front or rear written onto them?
    Illinois commercial plates (truck, taxi) had front and rear embossed in them during that period (1946-57?), presumably to prevent one set of expensive plates from being used on two vehicles.
    Last edited by Skip Lackie; 06-05-2018 at 07:15 AM.

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    President Member christophe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Skip Lackie View Post
    Illinois commercial plates (truck, taxi) had front and rear embossed in them during that period (1946-58?), presumably to prevent one set of expensive plates from being used on two vehicles.
    Thanks, Skip. I suspected something like that. It's good to know for sure.
    Nice day to all.

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    My Dad bought a '63 Checker Marathon wagon new. McKean Oldsmobile in Pittsburgh was the dealer selling them at the time. The car had a 226 Continental OHV six with a two barrel carb, and a Borg Warner 3 speed automatic. We had it until 1972. It rusted pretty badly on the fenders and rockers but the frame and floors were still good when we junked it. I passed my driver's test in that car! It rode and handled well. The brakes weren't the best. It rattled worse than any car I have ever been in. Performance was adequate, but just barely. I think the wagon body was looser than the regular sedan. It wasn't the best car he ever had, but we all loved it and it was quite the conversation starter anywhere we went with it. They were a little overpriced when new. I think he paid a little over 3 grand for it new, discounted down from the upper 3s. You could buy a pretty nice, more powerful and more conventional brand of car for that kind of money back in '63.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skip Lackie View Post
    Illinois commercial plates (truck, taxi) had front and rear embossed in them during that period (1946-58?), presumably to prevent one set of expensive plates from being used on two vehicles.
    New York State did away with having two dealer's plates issued. Too many dealers were putting the two plates, with the same number, on two cars. For years now, they only issue one dealer plate per number. Regular passenger car plates still require front and rear plates (not labeled as such).
    Gary L.
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    President Member tsenecal's Avatar
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    I like the Checker '8 door' edition. I had seen some with three doors per side before. They were called airport cars.

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    President Member t walgamuth's Avatar
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    I thought Airport Limos.
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    In the early 60s Checker seemed to promote a little more to the private owner crowd (and I use the word "crowd" loosely here, because not many were interested in buying one). At the McKean Dealer, our wagon (pale yellow and white two tone - NOT taxi-cab yellow) along with a solid white one were up one floor in a storage area, but they also had a medium blue 4 door sedan right on the showroom floor along with a bunch of '63 Oldsmobiles. Dad priced a newer one out in the late '60s at McKean, so apparently they were still a dealer for Checker, but by then they weren't stocking any. It was a lot of money compared to the competition and he didn't buy another one.
    In '64, Dad found out that Zellsmann in Butler PA was a dealer, and since that was closer to our home he used to order parts from them from time to time. Zellsmann had a tan Checker sedan as a demo at one time but I don't recall him ever stocking any Checkers. Zellsmann was also the Studebaker dealer. I still recall being on their lot in the summer of '64. I was just a kid. He had a lot of used Larks, and in a side lot he had a fairly large number of shabby looking '55 and '56 Packards. Also that summer he had a black Packard Hawk on his lot, the first I had ever seen. He was a Studebaker dealer all the way to the end in '66, and still sold parts and service for them at least into the 70s. After Studebaker he went with Datsun and did well with them.
    About 20 years ago I was just outside of Brookville PA, near I-80, and saw a repair garage with a small lighted Checker dealer sign on the building. I had never seen a Checker dealer sign before.
    Last edited by Blue 15G; 06-06-2018 at 09:39 AM.

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    One of the car testing magazines (I don't remember which one) had on the cover a Checker Marathon, Avanti II, I believe also an Excalibur and a few other cars. I think the time frame was around 1969 as they also had a road test of a swoop back Mercury Marauder. I bought it because of the Avanti II on the cover. The Checker was equipped with jump seats.

    As I recall, the cover had the title of that issue as "The Improbable's"

    Bob Miles
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    Checker started its public sales of Superba and Marathon for the 1960 model year, along with their primary commercial taxi business. In the era of annual styling changes, the unchanging approach was promoted as an advantage, same as VW. Their reputation as rugged, purpose-built, long-lived transportation was directed to the no nonsense niche buyers who would gladly pay extra for such a car. If driven for enough years, buyers likely got the value out of the car. Rust and poor gas mileage were the main drawbacks for private ownership. Checkers in taxi operation were pretty thoroughly beat up by eight to ten years of daily operation, hence the low survival rate.

    Had the 'pleasure' to ride about sixty mile round-trip in a 8-door Checker Aero Bus while in college. Riding in it was like being jostled around hard in a 55 gallon oil drum with guys beating on it with ball-peen hammers. Whenever we'd stop, all the doors would instantly fly open, everyone would fall out stumbling from the rough, noisy ride.

    Steve
    Last edited by 56H-Y6; 06-17-2018 at 08:09 AM. Reason: Personal recollection

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