1960 was a very big year for Checker it was the year that Checker officially entered the American retail consumer market. Did it happen over night? No, it appears that this was a slow progressive process that more than likely happened before World War II.
We don’t have to look too far to find the evidence, just take a look at the Model A below. is a beautiful example of a 1941 Checker Model A. This vehicle currently owned by the estate of Arthur J. Baudendistel, was clearly never a taxi. Long time Checker engineer, the late Jim Stout delivered this Checker to a lawyer in up state New York in 1941. This is just one example of private car sales by Checker Cab Manufacturing.
In 1946 Checker created two prototype Model D automobiles for testing purposes. Two prototypes were tested, a taxi package and a five passenger sedan, clearly this was Checkers first serious consideration for the retail passenger car market. Had they been actually produced, the intent was to launch fourteen Model D based cars into the retail consumer market.
In the Post War period, Checker lunched the new Model A2 and A3, it’s in this period that Checker started to hint at marketing cars to the general public. Checker offered a completely separate brochure for the Model A3 in 1947.
This brochure can be found in the on the ICTA website. Upon reviewing the brochure, it’s interesting to read the text to see that there are no references to Taxi’s what so ever. Just the opposite, all descriptive text plays up the luxurious aspects of the Checker A3.
A second brochure was also released for 1947. This brochure covers both the taxi and the limousine models. It refers to the A3 as a luxurious pleasure car. In 1950 similar text can be found in the A5 brochure. Clearly Checker was interested in private retail sales in this postwar period albeit high end consumers interested in a choices other than Cadillac, Lincoln, Chrysler and Packard.
The introduction of the Checker A8 in 1956 is where Checker makes a major shift in focus. One must remember why Checker introduced the A8 to begin with. In 1954 the City of New York passed a new ordinance regarding taxis. Prior to the change in law, New York City required that all licensed taxicab have a wheelbase on a wheelbase greater than 124 inches and be able to carry eight passengers in comfort.
The new law reduced the required wheelbase and the number of passengers required to fit in medallion cabs. Again, prior to the only two options for the New York City market were Checker and DeSoto taxicab offerings. Checker had a very solid hold on the New York taxi market. The new law allowed Ford, Chevy, Plymouth and Studebaker to launch there own Taxi package vehicles into the big New York Market.
Faced with increased competition Checker had no alternative to but to launch a new model, reduce overall size and try to extend into other markets. Passenger car sells outside of the taxi industry was a must in order for Checker keep their factory running at full capacity and profitable.
1956 is another watershed year for Checker. Checker officially entered the consumer retail market. With the launch of the Model A8 in 1956, Checker produced a brochure “Presenting the all new Checker automobile”. The brochure’s cover depicts an artist rendition of a Checker sedan parked in front of a shopping center. The contents of the brochure describe both the Checker Model A8 Standard and the Model A8 Driv-er-matic Special. Again, like the 1947 brochure there is aren’t any references to taxi’s. This brochure is clearly designed to sell the Checker as a passenger car to the general public.
There is one significant difference between the earlier post war brochures and the 1956 brochure. The Checker is offered as a luxury car alternative in 1947, for 1956 it’s just the opposite. The A8 is marketed as an economical and practical car, no hint at luxury.
Additional pre 1960 evidence exists that Checker was going after more than Taxis. The biggest single indictor of this is the August 1957 issue of Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports devotes four entire pages to the Checker Drivermatic A8 Special. According to Consumer Report the test vehicle is: “actually the Checker taxicab in civilian clothes and, as such it can be bought by any individual that wants one”. Additionally, Consumer Reports goes on to say “Purchasing is in itself an interesting procedure”.
Consumer Reports describes the purchasing process as follows: “The car is not at present, sold to buyers though retail outlets but through zone sales organizations located at strategic points about the country. The buyer who wants a Checker must contact one of these zone organizations, whereupon arrangements will be made for a car to be demonstrated and an order form will be produced, if requested”.
Another major test article was published in the late fifties. This time it was in the April 1958 issue of Motor Trend Magazine. A three page test drive of both the Model A8 Standard and Special, this article discusses the current Checker lineup and hints at the new Checker that will be available in the very near future. It contradicts the Consumer Reports article in that it says the vehicles can only be purchased at the Kalamazoo factory.
The Motor Trend article is also interesting in that writer William Carroll reports on his twenty minute interview with Morris Markin. Mr. Carroll acknowledged that he uncovered little information of the new car that could be reported, but that a smiling Mr. Markin was quoted as saying “Wait till you see it, then you’ll be surprised”.
A good reporter, Mr. Carroll was able to talk to key back office personnel and ultimately determined that the new Checker for consumer sales was little more than a modified version of the current A8. Biggest changes were suggested to be the fenders.
In December of 1958 it was reported that Checker was opening up sales organizations in Washington DC. Prior to 1958 Checker operated factory sales organizations in New York, Brookline, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. If you want to sell cars nationally it is imperative that consumers can see your vehicles in sales showrooms. Other ATA articles indicated that Checkers sales centers were being introduced in Texas.
In the fall of 1958 Checker did indeed introduce a new Checker A9 taxi cab, but there was no new retail consumer passenger car. As a matter of fact, the new Checker Superba would not be introduced for almost another year and a half, so much for Mr. Markin’s big surprise.
ATA News the monthly magazine published by the American Taxicab Association had a one page article including photographs of the new 1960 A10 Checker Superba. Why did it take almost a year and a half after the A9 was introduced to introduce the new Superba? Other than more upscale interior upholstery and consumer orient color schemes the A10 was not significantly different from the A9.
Checker still did not have a dealer network setup to handle consumer retail sales. Additionally, Checker probably did not have capacity to handle a large number non standard taxi orders. It’s far less complex and easier to produce lots of cabs painted yellow than it is to produce a large volume of non standard cars painted multiple colors with different interior options.
Between the time the Checker A9 was introduced and the time the A10 Superba was introduced Checker clearly needed to execute a strategy that would let them really enter the consumer market. The number one priority would be to set up a real dealer network.
In the November 23rd issue of Automotive News on page 33 is an interesting ad from Charles Kreisler, Inc. of Park Avenue, New York . Mr. Kreisler operated a large foreign car dealership in mid town Manhattan. Specializing in British cars, Mr. Kreisler was famous for the sales of imported makes Triumph sports cars and Standard sedans.
In bolds letters, next to Mr. Kreisler’s be-speckled smiling face is the announcement, “I am ready to franchise 25 or 30 Dealers in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut…”. The ad goes on to inform the reader that Mr. Kreisler has been chosen by Checker as the tri state area sole distributor. He has the responsibility of hand picking 25-30 dealers for the area. The ad states “My experience in selling Checker cars has been brief but pleasant. We find it unnecessary to discount these cars at retail by a single dollar”. If the ad is true, Checker passenger cars were sold to retail consumers in 1959.
Less than two weeks later a similar ad is run in Automotive News, again announcing that Mr. Kriesler is ready to franchise in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island. This ad indicates that the Superba is a fast moving car from a retail perspective, again indicating that Checker is selling retail cars in 1959. Also of interest is that this ad is actually from Checker Motors Sales Corp. in Brookline Massachusetts. Unlike the previous ad, this one appears to be paid for by Checker.
In the February 29th 1960 Issue of Automotive News, again there is another ad seeking dealers for Checker, but this time nationally. In this ad interested parties are instructed to contact Checker in Kalamazoo directly. Mr. Kriesler is no longer in the picture, now we have Don Smith owner of Uptown Motors in Huntington, West Virginia. Mr. Smith states that he has had great success selling Checkers. The ad also states that Checker has four national parts depots, not much different than the message in Consumer Reports of 1957.
Checker used a strategy similar as to the strategies we see with new cars coming from Korea today. Establish a beachhead (Korea focuses on the west cost) in a regional area then radiate outwards to the rest of the country. Checker more than likely picked the Northeast due to the strong taxicab presence in New York and Boston markets.
Sales trickled in regionally in the Northeast establishing the car in the retail market. This led to Checker having its first national introduction in February of 1960. Then Checker set off developing a national dealer network.
In addition to setting up dealers, Checker also had to set up a network of service providers. In August of 1960 it was reported in the ATA Magazine that Checker was conducting maintenance seminars in Lincoln, Nebraska and Tulsa, Oklahoma. In May of 1961 it was again reported in the ATA News that a “Checker Station Opened in Newark”.
If you’re selling cars, you better have a service network. The headlines seem big, but realistically the new service station is just a one man shop. The article reported that Digiesi Brothers was located at 198 16th Avenue and 148 Market Street in Newark.
According to the article, Digiese Brother “was especially designed to meet the particular needs of Checker owners”. The picture of the new high tech center was of a Cities Service gas station! Ok, maybe a little hyperbole, but Checker needed a network, what better way to establish a network, than to create alliances with a national network of service stations?
So what to we make of all this, in summary Checker clearly was inching it way in the retail consumer car market. It was a slow process that dates as far back as pre world war II and slowly culminated with the national introduction of the Checker Superba of 1960.