By the mid-seventies Checker would revisit the idea of producing a new Taxi. In March of 1977, Ed Cole, former GM president, and Victor Potamkin, one of the largest car dealers in the US, bought control of Checker Motor’s taxi subsidiary: Checker Taxi Co. then operating Checker fleets in Chicago, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh.
Cole and Potamkin planned on transforming Checker Motors. At the onset of the transformation was the desire to build a new Checker. Cole and Potamkin partnered with Jim McLernon, President of Volkswagen of America, to explore the feasibility of stretching the VW Rabbit 21.0 inches in order to create a VW based Checker. The hoopla was significant; the US automotive world was watching Checker when tragedy struck. Just weeks into the new partnership, Ed Cole was killed in a plane crash while flying his private plane to Kalamazoo. Despite the death of Cole, Checker soldiered on with the transformation plan.
Three months after Coles death in August of 1977, Checker unveiled plans for the new taxi to the public in a Forbes magazine article. The new Checkers would indeed be based on a stretched Volkswagen Rabbit. One test prototype was produced.
The vehicle was driven from Kalamazoo to Chicago. In Chicago, the test mule was put into loop traffic and monitored for performance. The resulting test was disappointing. Upon its return to Kalamazoo, the mule was parked and the project was killed as it was decided the VW based concept wasn’t suitable as a taxi. For the rest of the decade, Checker would continue to produce the A11. The killing of the VW project also killed the single program created by Cole during his short three month tenure at Checker.
In 1981, four years after the death of Cole another new Checker project was initated, the Fisher body project. The new Checker was again to be designed as front wheel drive vehicle and built via a partnership between GM’s Fisher Body division and Checker. The planned partnership would have Checker purchase Chevy Citation “bodies-in-white” and then Checker would assemble them for taxicab use. The project did produce one prototype Citation test mule, but the project was short lived.
Reported in the July 16, 1981 “Coachman”, Fisher Body’s divisional newsletter, GM could not assure Checker a continued supply of Citation bodies for a time period that met Checker’s requirements. Remember by 1981, Checker had used the same body for at least 10 years. GM’s planned obsolescence policy would exit the Citation by 1985 model year. Checker planned on the Citation/Checker taxicab to be introduced in 1982. Clearly Checker could not spend significant dollars on a design that would be obsolete in three years. After the Fisher Body projected ended the Citation prototype was commandeered by CMC CEO David Markin for family use. According to John Morris Markin ” We had the stretch Citation at our house. My mom used it to take us to school when she didn’t feel like driving her Checker”.
Checker would move onto the next new Checker project, Galva II. With this project, Checker would use GM components yet build their own new bodies. Fisher would be involved supplying peripheral parts. The body was designed by Auto Dynamics. This project would be killed in 1982 with Checker’s decision to exit the purpose built taxicab business.
Over the years, the limited project has been obscured with rumors. Ed Cole is consistently mentioned as the man behind the Fisher Body project.
Many Checker fans fondly reflect on Ed Cole “what if” stories, these dreamers have greatly exaggerated Cole’s role and his actions while at Checker for a brief 3 month period. Cole was responsible for the taxicab operations division, he was not the CEO of Checker. His one pet project the VW/Checker ended in the fall of 1977 after failed test drives in Chicago. These test failure happened in August 1977, several months after Cole’s death in May of 1977.
Unfortunately, Cole had too little time to make any significant contribution to Checkers transformation. The most practical contribution Cole made was a Spring factory cleaning campaign. Sorry, but the ghost of Ed Cole did not initiate another Checker program four years after his death.