In 1954 the New York City taxicab market, a long time Checker stronghold was under attack by The Big Three. The Big Three lobbied the NYC Taxicab Commission to change the rules so Ford, Chevy and Pylmouth could now offer cheaper non purpose built taxis to licensed taxicab drivers and fleets. Prior to 1954, NYC required all taxicabs to sit on a long wheelbase and offer 8 passenger car comfort. Morris Markin, CEO of Checker now had a major challenge ahead of him, the challenges in the taxicab industry required rapid changes to the automobiles offered by Checker in order to be more competitive.
Markin had to redesign the famous Checker taxicab and also enter other markets in order to maintain a profitable production volume of 5000 cars a year in the small Checker plant in Kalamazoo. In 1956 Checker would dabble in the consumer car market. One year later Checker would expand into other non-taxi markets.
in 1957 Checker introduced the Adaptobile, based on a standard Checker, but with various features and functions that would allow the Checker to be uses as an Ambulance or mini bus. Seats could be removed to allow patient transportation.
According to the brochure, the Adaptobile could serve as a convalescent’s car perfect for nursing homes or hospitals. The brochure states that the Adaptobile can be easily converted into a convalescents car easily and quickly, so easy in fact “even an a women can do it a matter of minutes thanks to the lightness and engineering design of parts”.
Equipped with ramps, the Adaptobile had the capabilities to allow for a wheel chair or stretcher to be loaded and clamped down to the linoleum floors. The ramps weighs only 4 LBS each which explains why women could easily convert the Checker to ambulance mode. As with any Checker, flat floors and extra wide doors enhanced Checker ability to serve patients.
The Checker body was not enhanced in any way but multiple interior configurations set the Adaptobile apart from standard Checkers. The driver sat in a bucket seat. That bucket seat could flip forward to allow for stretcher loading. The rear seat was split in two. Each cushion could be removed for the addition of a table or added head space to allow the patient to lay flat on a stretcher.
It’s unclear how long the Adaptobile name was used but Checker would continue to offer the standard wheelchair car for another 12 years before big changes would be made in the convalescence car business later in the 60’s.
Second Generation, The Standard Wheelchair car
In the early 60’s Checker rapidly introduced many new specialty models as the company started to explore markets beyond the taxicab trade. Some of these specialty cars included: the A12W wagon, six and eight door Aerobus and the Town Custom Limo.
In 1962 Checker introduced the A12E the “E” stands for extended wheelbase. The extended wheelbase limo version of the Marathon was built for the high end professional car market.
The new platform allowed the Checker to upgrade the convalescence car. Checker would migrate the wheelchair car to the A12e chassis. This switch to the longer platform allowed for the use of the longer A12e rear doors. In addition to the longer wheelbase, the convalescence car no longer used the two four pounds ramps. A switch was made to one single ramp.
The wheel chair car now road on a 129 inch wheelbase up from the standard Checker A12 120 inches. Like the Adaptobile, the wheel chair car was equipped with a driver bucket seat, flat floors and floor wells to secure a wheel chair. Doors were modified significantly, with rear doors that could swing out 129 degrees
Third Generation, The Medicar
In 1969 Checker introduced its final incarnation of a combination convalescences/ambulance the high end Medicar. The Medicar was essentially an A12e wheelchair car with a high raised roof. Like the Wheelchair Car, the Medicar sported rear doors that could be swung out 129 degrees for far easier entry and exit, clearly a very important feature for stretcher entry. Door openings were higher for improved entry in the Checker.
A truly flexible car, stored in the trunk were additional jump seats. This allowed the Medicar to be placed into limo service. Truly convertible by day the Medicar could serve nursing homes with wheelchair bound patients, by night the Medicar could serve as a highend limo!
The Medicar were assembled off the production line in a separate section of plant 3, the same building that assembled the Checker Aerobus. The raise roof truly represented handcrafted metal work, the roof was assembled in three separate sections by craftsmen.
Each section was hand crafted by two metal fabricators. Using sandbags each section was hammered by very talented metal workers. When assembled, the Medicar was equipped with a vinyl roof. The use of vinyl roofs on limos or other hand crafted automobiles is typically done to hide imperfections in the metal work caused by hand fabrication. It’s highly likely that Checker used vinyl for the same reason on finished Medicars.
Within the Kalamazoo plant the Medicar was affectionately called the Guppy. The nickname was based on the similarities of the NASA modified Boeing 377 Stratocruiser: the Pregnant Guppy cargo plane introduced in 1962.
Over three generations Checker appeared to have perfected the convalescence car. In 1969, an advertisement from Checker’s New York zone office introduced the Medicar to the New York market. Additionally this same advertisement indicated that the Standard Wheelchair Car was still available. Checker now had two convalescence/ambulances to offer in the marketplace.
On March 4th 1971 CMC Engineering Memo number 293 was issued, subject Medicar. The first sentence made it very clear “At the request of management, the above listed options will be discontinued after a total of 100 ambulance conversions with raised roof have been built”, so just 100 units were made between 1969 and 1971. Checker shut down Medicar production. It can also be assumed the Standard Wheelchair Car was no longer produced as it would utilized many of the components listed in memo 293.
The Medicar was very unique, it was essentially a high end ambulance limo. Built in a side shop off the Checker assembly line, it was not a mass produced car. The Medicar represented the last hand built Checker comparable to the handmade Checker bodies produced by Checker in the 1920’s. It was the end of an era for Checker.
Post script: Bruce Uhrich provided the location of the Cabulance in the blog header photograph, Checker sales showroom is at 15631 Plymouth Road, Detroit Michigan. Additionally Bruce has provided a great interior shot of the same car.
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