The Checker Model A was only made for one full year 1940, and a shortened 1941 model year run due to WWII. Over the years the rumor grew up that CEO and founder Morris Markin melted down all the body tools and dies for the war effort.
Automobile production ceased during the fight against Adolph Hitler and the Japanese. During this period, Checker participated in the fight by supplying the army with trailers to be used with that new invention of the war the Jeep.
As the war ended, Checker was facing the challenge of designing and producing a new post war car. During this period Checker utilized two innovative professionals: Herbert J Snow and Ray Dietrich. Snow was formerly the chief of engineering at Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg. While at A-C-D, Snow was the engineering leader who designed the front wheel drive system used on the classic Cord 810. Snow would eventually become the head of engineering and a Checker board member. He would be at Checker until his death in 1961.
Morris Markin hired Ray Dietrich as a consultant in May 1938, for the hefty sum of one hundred dollars a day. Like Snow, Dietrich was an experienced designer, having worked for Briggs and eventually Chrysler. Dietrich’s rise at Chrysler was largely based to his redesign of the Chrysler Airflow, with his resulting Airstreams saving Chrysler from the sales failure of the Airflow.
Now, with two of the automotive industry’s top engineers, Checker set out to introduce a replacement for the Model A. Called the Model C, the new, very unconventional Checker was to be very different from Checkers of the past, or for that matter any US produced car of the day. Snow’s proposal would be a rear engine/rear drive vehicle, much like the Volkswagen Microbus of the 1950s. In a memo in May 1945 Snow laid out his vision. He wrote:
“The primary purpose of a vehicle of this kind is to carry passengers comfortably and economically. To do this, passengers must be placed in the most advantageous seating and riding position. The vehicle must be light if it is to operate economically. Keeping weight to a minimum means that the entire vehicle must be as compact as possible without any sacrifice in passenger space.”
The project progressed to the development of a mule, it utilized a side valve Continental 6 placed transversely in the rear of the cab, mated to a Warner three speed manual transmission. The overall length of the cab was 198.5 inches and the wheelbase was 100 inches.
As was always the case with Checker being an “assembled car”, many components for the Model C were sourced from the “parts bin” of other makers and independent component producers. In the case of the test mule, the front and rear suspension, brakes and wheels were from Studebaker.
In addition to the standard taxicab Model C, plans also called for an airport limo to be used by Checker affiliate Paramalee. In the mid 1940’s, Chicago’s intercity transportation industry, was controlled by three distinct firms, Yellow Cab, Checker Cab and the Parmelee Company. The latter firm dated to 1853 when its founder and namesake, Franklin Parmelee, established the city’s first omnibus line. By 1947 Checker CEO Morris Markin owned all three Chicago intercity transportation companies.
Parmelee needed more than just standard taxicabs, they purchased airport limos that could hold up to ten to twelve passengers and luggage. In the 1930’s Parmalee used extended length Checker Model Y’s (essentially the 30’s version of the Aerobus).
Checker never produced Model A limos for the Model A short run of 1940-41 period Given that, by the end of the war Parmelee was most likely in great need of new airport limos. Most of the Parmelee limo fleet in 1947 could be 10 years old or older, far beyond their dependable commercial service life.
Thru the generosity of the Markin family, the Internet Checker Taxicab Archive has in it’s possession a blueprint for the proposed Model C airport limo. Upon review of the blueprint it’s clear that the Model C limo was unique, the total wheelbase was drawn at 149 inches and the rear track measured at whooping 81 inches, width door to door 86 inches! Total length of the proposed limo would be 247.5 inches about 12 inches longer than the 1961 Checker six door Aerobus.
The expanded width would allow for seating for four persons per row. With three rows the Airport limo could seat twelve passengers. To put his into perspective the overall rear track for a 1942 Cadillac Series 75 was 62.5. inches, the Model C limo would have been very wide when compared to the Cadillac, a full 17.5 inches wider!
Long and wide the Model C would be hard to move about any large city or tight areas. Knowing the challenges of Chicago, the proposed design had include considerations of the confines of Midway Airport. The blueprints indicate that a short front end had to be designed in order to maneuver the garage ramp for the Midway Parmelee terminal.
From a styling perspectives the proposed Model C would have a streamline body. Interestingly many of the styling cues used for the Model C can be seen in the Model D and the actual post war produced Model A2. The curved rectangular window openings, slanted back windshield and curved fenders all eventually made their way to the 1947 Model A2.
The test mule went through extensive testing, and the results were poor. Prior to his death, Snow recounted to automotive writer Karl Ludvigsen the facts of the project:
‘The objections to this design were that a vehicle of this type with the engine mounted in the rear behind the rear axle cannot have good weight distribution on a short wheelbase. There was too much weight on the rear wheels for good roadability and performance. Furthermore we had passenger seats facing each other as in trains and this we considered would be very objectionable to the passengers who rode backwards in the front seat.’
With poor handling and questionable passenger comfort, the project was killed. Post the Model C and D projects Checker would ultimately settle on the Model A2 as its post war entry, a conventional front engine rear drive platform. Parmalee would not get the extremely weird Model C airport limo, instead the Parmalee would purchase special bodies six door wagons. Upon review of the 1950 A4 wagon, the greenhouse is very similar to the Model C limo, however the overall width is far shorter than the Model C.
The Model C limo never made it to the test mules phase. Prior to Snow’s discovery that handling was problematic, Checker did build a test rolling chassis for the Model C limo. As of 1973 the chassis did still exist at the plant, that said, Its highly likely that had the rolling chassis survived till 2009, it was most likely was scrapped during Checker liquidation.
Upon review of both the Model C and Model D projects at Checker, it’s very clear that Checker engineering were open to non conventional automotive platforms. That said, Checker was actually successful with traditional automotive designs. One can only imagine how earth shattering the proposed Checker would be had they been introduced in the post war period,
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Snow Interview and Model C specifications Special Interest Auto Issue No. 18 Aug-Oct 1973
I think thank god they didn’t proceed. It looks more dangerous that the ’30s Tatra and one serious accident would have finished off Checker.
I love airport limos, I wished more survived