When one thinks of Checker, one does not typically think of convertibles, they think of taxicabs, but believe it or not, when Morris Markin started to build his taxicab empire via leveraging the Commonwealth Motors company, he had more in mind than taxicabs, he was thinking about convertibles and sports cars. The man he hired to move forward with a convertible was Leyland F. Goodspeed.
Leyland F. Goodspeed was chief of engineering staff at Roamer, with over twenty years of experience as an engineer. Goodspeed was a true auto enthusiast, not only a patent holding engineer, Mr. Goodspeed was a race car driver having participated twice in the Indianapolis 500. At a national level, Goodspeed was a minor celebrity in various automotive circles: manufacturing as well as racing.
Traveling a record speed of 105.1 Goodspeed broke the flying mile record of Ralph Mumford at 102.8 mph at Indianapolis in a Roamer. The stock Roamer was equipped with a Rochester-Duesenberg four cylinder engine. Five years at Roamer, Goodspeed would take up with Morris Markin at Commonwealth Motors.
Morris Markin, took over Lomberg Auto Body in Jolliet in 1920 and Commonwealth in 1921, Markin’s impact on Commonwealth would be quickly felt via dramatic changes. In the November 21, 1921 Automotive Industries magazine the following item appeared: “Leyland F Goodspeed for the past five years or more Chief of Engineering staff of the Roamer has resigned from at Barley Motor Car Company Co to join forces with Commonwealth Motors of Chicago and Joilet, Illinois. Has been elected vice president in charge of engineering of commonwealth Motors which at the present time in working on a new passenger car.”
It appears that the initial plan was to bring in new talent and revitalize Commonwealth. Late in 1921 Motor Land magazine reported: “Following closely on the numerous rumors which have been current since Leyland F Goodspeed joined Commonwealth Motors as elected vice president in charge of engineering of Commonwealth Motors. It is now a certainty that a new car to be produced by this organization to be exhibited at the New York and Chicago National Automobile Shows
While nothing definite in the way of character of this vehicle in announced it is presumed that Mr. Goodspeed has lend his twenty odd years of experience and reputation to the building of a high grade product. This fact is apparent in the news that the new Commonwealth will bear the name: Goodspeed”.
Markin, always a great promoter appeared to be resurrecting Commonwealth by leveraging the Goodspeed name, by February of 1922 Commonwealth Motors was now starting to lay out the distribution plans for the Goodspeed. In the February 15, 1922 issue of Motor West the following item appeared: “Leyland F Goodspeed vice president and chief engineer of Commonwealth Motors Company of Joliet and Chicago Illinois plans to distribution of the new Goodspeed car made by the Commonwealth Motors which will be limited to eight metropolitan centers in which for the present year only a limited number will be available. Mr. Goodspeed was nine years in perfecting the new piston valve motor for this car.”
It should be noted that on February 28th 1922, Checker Motors Corporation was officially estblished. Thus as the Goodspeed made the rounds of automobiles shows, it was no longer being marketed by Commonwealth. The vehicle was now being promoted via Markin’s new Checker Cab Manufacturing Corp.
In Spring of 1922 the Goodspeed debuted to the public. The Goodspeed was a truly modern and exciting car for 1922. The convertible was built utilizing an all-aluminum body, unique considering most stock cars of the day were based on wood frames. Fenders and hood sills were also made of aluminum. The sports car configuration eliminated running boards and utilized four side steps for entry. According to Automobile Industries magazine “the engine produces a silent running mechanism, free from the clatter often resulting from the use of poppet valves and strong valve springs”. The Goodspeed was years ahead of the industry in terms of engineering on the piston valve motor, clearly Goodspeed had developed an advanced automobile for Commonwealth.
Priced at $5400.00 the car was positioned for the highend customer, three prototypes were produced. The buying public and media were excited, yet nothing came of the Goodspeed,
Instead of producing the Goodspeed, Markin would focus on the Commonwealth Mogul Taxicab and rebrand it as the Checker Model C. In the Summer of 1922, but that was not the end of the idea of a convertible.
The Automobile Blue Book was an American series of road guides for motoring travelers in the United States and Canada published between 1901 and 1929. It was best known for its point-to-point road directions at a time when numbered routes generally did not exist.
Volumes of the Automobile Blue Book published before 1927 were primarily designed to provide routes between cities, focusing on turn-by-turn directions, with supplemental maps providing context and showing connections. Directions were not necessarily intended to be the shortest or fastest connection between each city, but to provide interesting scenery and opportunities for rest and maintenance along the route.
In order to update and build the maps required for the blue book, navigators and surveyors crossed the county mapping out roads and attractions. What kind of car did they used? A specially prepared Checker Model H convertibles. Based on review of a series of Blue Books, it appears that the convertibles were produced in 1924, two years after the creation of Checker. This appeared to be a joint marketing effort between Blue Book and Checker based on advertisements in the Blue Books.
The convertible appears to be a standard Checker based on the cowl appearance in the advertisement. It appears that Checker built a special convertible body. We can assume that the body was a typical for its time of wood and metal. It’s not clear how many convertibles were made, but assuming that these vehicles were surveying the US and Canada, an educated guess of 10 to 25 would be realistic.
That was about in for Checker in terms of convertibles, but Checker would venture into open air driving, most notably the Checker Model A produced in 1940.
When the Checker Model A was introduced it, in the fall of 1939 it had more interior room than any previous model produced. It was also the first Checker to migrate away from the limousine concept with its driver dividers, focusing 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.
On the Model A, Checker incorporated new features to enhance the taxi passenger riding experience, including the new landaulet top, where at a touch of a finger, the driver could lower the back section of the roof so that passengers could ride in an open-air mode. If shade was required, a cloth awning could be inserted to reduce the effects of the sun, yet still maintain the open-air feel. The Model A was only produced for a year and a half, few have survived, that said, this writer would venture a guess that anybody who rode in one would certainly remember the open-air experience for the rest of their lives.
Always a niche player in the automotive industry Checker would seek out small markets that could be exploited in order to keep the plant running. In 1961 Checker introduced the Aerobus.
The Checker Aerobus was offered as an eight door station wagon. It was marketed to primarily serve as an airport or hotel shuttle, as indicated by the name, a convertible, it was not.
That said a strange promotional photo has surfaced of a Checker Aerobus convertible. The car as photographed appears to be a standard Aerobus with the center roof section removed. The body is reinforced with chrome handrail cross members that meet at the center door posts. Its not clear if there was any cloth cover to protect for rain. That said, its not even clear what the purpose of the Aerobus was, perhaps it was some sort of parade wagon. Any information would be interesting.
In summary, Checker appears to have been in the convertible business whether you consider its Blue Book cars or even the Model A. It also appears that being a niche player Checker would produce a number of different customer designed convertibles.