In the Fall of 1921 Commonwealth Motors was having financial difficulties. The producer of sedans, tourer and taxicabs, the standard automotive line was in decline, the basic design dated back to 1915,  That said, the Commonwealth taxicab product line of Checker Mogul taxis was doing quite well and expanding.  Commonwealth’s largest customer was the Checker Taxi Company taxicab coop of Chicago.

The 1921 Commonwealth 4-35 sedan

Troubles were so significant, Commonwealth Motors went into receivership,  The receiver was a man named Morris Markin. This fall marks the 100th anniversary of Morris Markin’s control of production of Checker taxicabs.  Morris Markin (see header photo) would actively run Checker for the next 50 years.

According to Mark Thoebold,  automotive historian, and creator of Coachbuilt.com, “The shrewd Markin completed a number of legal maneuvers in rapid succession in order to protect his body building investment. In late 1920, he had reorganized the Lomberg Body Company into the Markin Body Company, and following Commonwealth’s bankruptcy, had made an offer to exchange shares in the Markin Body Corporation for the assets of the now bankrupt auto manufacturer.

Markin had somehow managed to get the assets of the Markin Body Company assessed for $182,703 which was most likely many times greater than the firm’s actual value, which gave him an extraordinary share of the firm’s stock. However, it looked good to Commonwealth’s receivers, and as it was the best, and most likely the only, offer presented to for Commonwealth’s assets, it was accepted in October of 1921. After waiting a few months for the dust to settle, Markin merged the two firms, and reorganized”.

Waiting for the dust to settle, would actually take some time, more than a few months, it was more like a few years.  A very confusing time from an historical perspective,  five key activities would keep Mr. Markin very busy until the dust settled in Spring of 1923.  Markin would have do the following over the next year and a half:

  • Combined two companies into one single Automotive Manufacturer
  • Continue production of the Commonwealth Mogul Checker
  • Hire automotive talent to develop the new company
  • Develop a new product, the Commonwealth Goodspeed for display at the New York Auto Show 1922.
  • Move production from the Chicagoland area to Kalamazoo

One hundred years ago this month,  Markin’s impact on Commonwealth would be felt. 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.”

1921 Commonwealth Motors Mogul Checker Advertisment

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 developing a new company, Markin would have to ensure that Mogul Checker production continued, and was profitable. Markin would actively promote the Commonwealth Taxicab and expand sales.

The Commonwealth Mogul Checker had been in production since 1919. The Commonwealth Mogul Checker was the taxicab version of the Commonwealth 4-35. The main difference from an appearance standpoint was that the Mogul Checker had a purpose built taxicab body and steel wheels.  The 4-35 had a traditional sedan body and spoked wooden wheels.

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.

The Spring show car season started in the April of 1922,  while the Goodspeed went on the show car circuit, Markin would take more actions.  Also in April of 1922 a new State of Delaware corporation was established; Checker Cab Manufacturing, Inc.  This would be the formal creation of Checker.

Markin would resign as the President of Commonwealth and assume the presidency of the new Checker corporation. Markin would suspend all Commonwealth consumer cars in production and focus entirely on selling the Commonwealth Mogul Checker, now branded at the Checker Model H Taxicab. The Goodspeed was never put into production.  Its quite possible that the Goodspeed was more a promotional program than an actual planned production car.

Based on review of the 1923 Audit Report prepared by the Chicago based CPA firm, Castenholtz and Company, Checker Cab production started in May of 1922.  Total number of units produced for the first month of production: 24 units.  From May of 1922 thru April of 1923,  total production was 816 units.

Post the Goodspeed project, Goodspeed was assigned a new job, turning around production and moving the company from Chicago to Kalamazoo. Goodspeed lead the effort to take over the Kalamazoo Knight-Handley and Dort manufacturing facilities. Additionally Goodspeed re-engineered the Model H and launched the Model H-2. The primary difference was the switch from the Herschell-Spellman engines to Buda. Additionally Goodspeed would hire Jim Stout to Checker as head of experimental engineering. Stout would be head of experimental engineering until 1965.

Annoucement of the Checker Cab, two months after production started

Ironically, while all of this was happening, the public announcement of the new corporation was held off until the Summer of 1922.  Markin would place an advertisement August 1922 issue of the National Taxicab and Motorbus Journal.  The two page ad created in the form of a memoranda, announcing the creation of Checker Cab Manufacturing Corporation.  In the advertisement, Markin writes of the merit of the continued production of the Mogul Checker and the years of experience via Commonwealth, building the best purpose built taxicab.  He also wrote about the new factory that will be fully functional in a few months.

Again reviewing monthly production numbers for Checker,  between May of 1922 and May of 1923 a clear pattern of production is estableshed.  Production shot up 80% in January of 1923, when compared to May 1922 Checker Cab start-up production.   This writer will make the natural assumption that the new Kalamazoo plant was fully operational in January of 1923, this would explain an 80% increase in production for January.

On February 28th 1923 Markin would again reorganize the company.  A new Checker Cab Manufacturing Corporation was established in New Jersey. In a separate transaction, the newco, would buy all the assets and liabilities of the oldco, in exchange of 75,000 share of the newco common stock.  The old company would serve as a holding company, the new company would evolve into the Checker Motors Corp, that operated until 2009.

In the 1923 Audit report, the CPA alerts to much confusion with the operation of the two companies.  The Audit report of the period ending in May of 1923 serves as a complete restatement of all transactions post Feb 28th 1922.

In this writers mind, the restatement and the final report serves as the final clearing of the decks and a solid profitable Checker Cab Manufacturing, now exists.

So we have a series of Hundred Anniversaries to celebrate:

  • The hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Commonwealth Checker Mogul Taxicab: 2019
  • The hundredth anniversary of the creation of Morris Markin’s takeover of Commonwealth and Checker Mogul Taxicab production: November 2021
  • The hundredth anniversary of Checker Cab Manufacturing: April 2022
  • The hundredth anniversary of Checker Cab production post Commonwealth: May 2022
  • The hundredth anniversary of Kalamazoo full operation January 2023
  • The hundredth anniversary of the creation of the final Checker Cab Manufacturing Corp, and final audit: May 2023

Mark your calendars!  The ICTA will be celebrating many of these great events!

Morris Markin second from right with the Commonwealth Goodspeed