The Checker Model A was introduced in 1939 for the 1940 model year. When introduced it had more interior room than any previous Checker model produced. It was also the first Checker to migrate away from the limousine town car concept and focused on the taxi commodity business: indeed in the Model A brochure, significant emphasis is made that taxi operators should consider themselves the seller of a commodity and should think of new ways to attract customers.
From the rear back, the Model A has the very tasteful streamline styling that was very popular at the time, that said the Model A front end has always garnered strong opinions from automobile fans. Early artist renditions of the Model A depict an integrated streamline design from fore to aft, but the production car sports a very unique, even gothic front clip. It’s unclear why the major change in the front end styling was made to the production vehicle, but it has been said that the “sugar scoop” fenders, inherited in part from the preceding Model Y were purpose built to provide safety from tire damage in minor city traffic accidents. At the time, other taxis with streamlined fenders ran the risk of having a tire pierced in a minor accident, whereas the Model A had a higher probability of driving away. Some may find the headlights, centered into a Checker shield, ugly, but they also appear to be a way for Checker to integrate their branded logo as an integral part of the overall taxi design.
One lone survivor exists. This particular example never was place in cab service. It was originally produced for a wealthy upstate New York lawyer. Checker Cab Manufacturing engineer Jim Stout personally delivered the cab to its new owners, driving it from Kalamazoo to New York. Forty plus years later, A. J. Baudendistel discovered the Model A in a junkyard. Thankfully A. J. Baudendistel was able to save and restore this rare Model A.
Prior to his death, Mr. Baudendistel did have a chance to make note of some of the Model A features. Baudendistel wrote, ” This model was produced when Checker started to use the Continental engine. The engine is a 262 cubic inch, the largest of the four 6’s of this model. It is a 6-cylinder industrial engine, typically used for fork lifts, air compressors for welders. Mack and Brockway used it in their 1 1/2 ton trucks. The transmission is made by Detroit Gear, 3 speed. The electrical is by Auto-Lite. The brakes are by Wagner Lockheed. The front end is a pre war Studebaker with cross springs. The rear is Mopar, so are the rear springs. All the rest of the car is a Ford truck: clutch, motor mounts, driveline and many small fittings. It came to no surprise when these cars have logged a million miles.”
The Checker Model A was only made for two full years; 1940 and 1941. 1942 was a shortened model run due to WWII. Over the years the rumor was spread that Morris Markin melted down all the body tools and dies for the Model A for the war effort. Automobile production ceased during the fight against Adolph Hitler and the Japanese. During this period, Checker participated in the fight by supplying the army with trailers to be used with that new invention of the war, the Jeep.
Due to the short production run and the long span of time between the introduction of the Model A2 and the end of production of the Model A, the severe use of Model As significantly influenced Model A survival rates. In the end this is the only survivor and there are no known rumors of any other possible survivors. The sole Model A still is owned by the A. J. Baudendistel’s family and is rarely displayed in public.
Post War Checker survivor owe their survival to the Helsinki Olympics of 1954. According to the Finland Checker Cab Association, Checker entered the Finland market when Helsinki Mayor Erik von Frenckell and Minister Onni Hiltunen recognized that the 1952 Olympic Games approaching the country’s and the current taxi fleet was in poor condition. In order to transform the dilapidated fleet, the politicians initiated a program to buy Checker taxi cars from the United States.
The Autoilijain Hankinta Oy, founded by the Professional Automobile Association, sent a delegation to the United States to choose vehicles to be imported into Finland. The intention was initially to buy newer A4 models, but due low exchange rates at the time, the association could only afford older A2 models. Thus, the delegation bought some 500 used Checker A2 cars 1946-49 model. The cars were shipped to Finland in 1951-52, Checker Cab Manufacturing supplied the entire 46-49 Chicago fleet to the association. The units were all extremely used city taxicabs many having served Chicago for five years!
Post the Olympics, these taxicabs were sold to the Finland general public. By 1960, Finland auto registrations indicated that a least 100 Checker Model A2 were still being used! The extremely high survival rate has resulted in the largest fleet of pre 1958 Checker survivors. At this time its estimated that about one dozen Checker Model A2 survive in varying states, and more are still being discovered!
Checker Collector Hannu Kyttänen owns a significant fleet that can be seen in the youtube video below.
With respect to Mr. Kyttänen fleet, he does own one single roadworthy Checker Model A2. Additionally, the Finland Checker Cab Association has restored one Checker Model A2. It is believed that the associations Checker is the only restored A2 in the world. As a tribute to its original owner, the Checker was restored to its original Chicago Checker livory.
As recently as 2018 Checker Model A2’s are still being discovered in Finland as noted in the video below.
The Checker Cab Model A3 was introduced in August of 1948, called a pleasure car, this automobile was Checker’s first official entry into the non-taxi market, a car that could be sold into the “Black Car” limo markets.
This writer has owned the 1949 Checker for about 8 years. I purchased after seeing it in an ad on Craig’s List back in 2008. Flew out to Oklahoma City, picked up a U-Haul and hauled it back to Illinois. According to the folks who sold it, the vehicle was in storage on a farm held up in an estate dispute since 1990. Eighteen years in limbo, thankfully I was able to snatch it up quickly for a very fair price.
Apparently, the Checker had been parked since 1968. Up until 1968, the Checker A3 was used as a family car as well as a taxicab in Oklahoma City. Further research indicates that the A3 was the first cab used by Yellow Cab. Operated by the Charlie Bernard, Yellow Cab would ultimately become Yellow-Checker Cab of Oklahoma.
It appears that Charles Bernard (1906-1977) purchased the car in the post war period to operate his cab service and support his farming activities. An A3, the Checker sports a full bench seat, not a single taxicab bucket seat found in A2s.
There aren’t any jump seats in the A3, it’s not clear if the jumps seats were omitted or had been removed after cab service. Apparently Mr. Bernard had ten children, eight sons and two daughters, it’s quite possible that had the A3 been equipped with jump seats, Mr. Bernard would have been able to fit a family of ten in one Checker Cab!
The A3 is currently under restoration. This week the radiator has been pressure tested and will soon be mated to the Continental engine. The car should be running by the end of 2019
So there you have it, one Checker Model A, about a dozen Checker A2s in Finland and one Checker A3 in Illinois are the only known surviving models. This groups represents the largest pre 1958 fleet of survivors.