Lately I have become interested in the many other taxicab manufacturers that existed in the in the hey-day of purpose built taxis. Checker was not the only game in town, Checker eventually beat out many other companies offering up purpose built taxis. Let’s take a look at a few produced some 90 years ago, all represent established American car companies or managers who ultimately thought that the Taxicab trade could save their business. Unfortunately that belief would lead to the end of all of the companies in this blog.
Premier had been a going concern producing automobiles starting in 1902. It’s founder George B. Weldely was a big believer in air cooled engines. In 1907 Premier offered both water cooled and air cooled options. By 1910, Premier had established itself as producing a very reliable vehicle having completed three Glidden Tours with perfect scores.
A lackluster racing program was also managed by Premier. In 1907, Premier failed to qualify for the prestigious Vanderbuilt Cup. In 1916 Premier entered three cars in the Indianapolis 500, one finished in seventh place, one crashed and one did not finish at all.
As with many of the independent auto manufactures of the 1920’s, Premier found that they needed to exit the consumer car business and focus on a specialty market. In 1923 Premier took an order for one thousand taxis, at this point Premier announced that moving forward Premier would solely produce taxis. In 1926 Premier was acquired by the National Cab & Truck Company and the make was ended.
HCS represents the three letter initials of a very prominent man in the US automotive world, HCS were the initials of Harry C. Stutz of Stutz Bearcat fame. After resigning from Stutz, the Indianapolis automobile company he founded in 1910, Stutz founded a new company in 1920 also based in Indianapolis.
Stutz’s intent was to create a new car that retained the value, prestige and sports car reputation similar to the cars that bore his name. Like the Premier, HCS entered into the Indianapolis 500 but unlike Premier, the HCS entry for 1923 driven by Tommy Milton won the race!
For a short period of the time Stutz plan seem to be working, yet in October of 1924 Stutz announce the creation of a new company, The HCS Cab Manufacturing Company. The new company would produce taxicabs and the luxury car lineup would be a secondary product. This did not bode well for dealers, many left the franchise and switched to selling Rolls Royces.
Now facing tough competition from Checker and Yellow, the HCS cab was taking a beating in the marketplace, the company went into bankruptcy in 1927, Stutz passed away in 1930.
Rauch & Lang Electric.
A long established company first incorporated in 1884 as the Rauch & Lang Carriage Company, the enterprise was an early pioneer of electric cars. From 1905 through 1920 the company operated as a true independent car manufacturer producing approximately 500 to 1000 cars a year.
In 1920, Rauch & Lang was purchased by the Stevens Duyrea Company of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, all manufacturing was consolidated in Massachusetts. Like many other independent companies, Rauch & Lang saw the Taxicab market as a heaven to create a pipeline of solid business. Being based out of the Springfield area, three large taxicab markets were nearby: Boston, New York City and Philadelphia. First introduced in 1923, Rauch & Lang offered both gas and electric version of the Model T-68 Taxicab.
By the end of the decade, Rauch & Lang was in trouble financially, in order to reduce costs and generate cash. The company leased half of it’s Chicopee plant to the Moth Aircraft Corp. Passenger car production ended in 1928. Prior to the crash of 29, Rauch & Lang partnered with General Electric to develop a new 60 hp gas-electric engine. In the early 30’s several Willy Knight based taxicab prototypes were developed, but in the end, Rauch & Lang was done in the auto business.
In 1917, Alfred Barley acquired the Michigan Buggy plant in Kalamazoo and started to produce a high-end luxury sports car, his organization: the Barley Motor Car Company. Barley’s plan, build a sports car with smart European styling, the car would sell well in Hollywood and the European continent.
Introduced in 1916 the sports car was called the Roamer. The car was very stylish and was equipped with nickel plated grille modeled after the Rolls-Royce. The Roamer was marketed from its inception as “America’s Smartest Car” and would prove to be successful in many early racing events. After a Roamer with a Rochester-Duesenberg engine set six records for one kilometer, one-, two- three-, four- and five-mile sprints at Daytona Beach in 1921, the advertisements proclaims, “America’s Smartest Car Makes America’s Fastest Mile.”
Barley Motors Company would expand its operation. In 1922 the producer of Roamers sports cars would launch a low cost line of cars called the Barley. Additionally in 1924, Barley Motor Car Company would launch a purpose built taxicab called the Pennant. Virtually a clone of the Checker it rode on a 115 inch wheelbase and like the Checker Model H-1, it would use a Buda engine.
Roamer would go out of business in 1929, the Barley and Pennant taxicab were dropped in 1924.
Four unique examples, all fine cars I am sure, yet they did not survive in the rough and tumble Taxicab trade. By the late 20’s Checker, Yellow and Moller were the last three independents to be operating in this market with substantial business. It would appear the John Hertz and Morris Markin had the right formula, produce their own cars for their own taxicab operations.
M. P. Moller, produced various makes: Paramount, Luxor, Five Boros, Astor and Aristocrat for several large metropolitan NYC & Boston taxicab operations, each make represented the operator’s fleet name. Moller produced taxicabs were made in three plants in three states: Massachusetts, Maryland and New York.
Beyond the successful independent purpose built taxi manufacturers there were other options: Dodge and Willy-Knight. Both companies had been in the market since the mid teens. At one time Willys produced some off the most popular cars sold in the US.
With so many taxicab options, it would appear that the market was saturated. Much of the market was a captive market own by many of the manufactures. Dodge and Willys had viable offerings. Smaller in size, Premier, Pennant, Rauch & Lang HCS were all late to the game. Sadly all of these companies may have underestimated their ability to succeed in the taxicab business.
For Taxicab history check out the Internet Checker Taxicab Archive group and don’t forget to join our fun group!