1920 Packard Twin-Six Custom Town Car

The Roaring Twenties, was a brief exciting period, it refers to the decade of the 1920’s in big city society and western culture. It was a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States, particularly in major cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.  The decade was a period of big changes  emphasizing the era’s social, artistic and cultural dynamism. Jazz blossomed, the flappers redefined the modern look for American women, and Art Deco peaked. In the wake of the military mobilization of the first world war President Warren G Harding “brought back normalcy” to the United States. This period saw the large-scale development and use of automobiles, telephones, films, radio, and electrical appliances in the lives of millions in the Western world.  Among the development of new products was a new kind of Taxicab, The Towne Car Taxicab. Checker as well as other cab manufacturers would embrace the Towne Car style.

town car is an automobile body style characterized by four doors, an open front compartment and having an enclosed rear seat separated by a glass partition from the open driver’s compartment. The front compartment designed for a chauffer typically utilized a single bucket seat.

Cabriolet origins

The towne car body style harken back to the Cabriolets popular at the turn of the century.  The style was typically designed as light 2-wheeled one-horse carriage with a folding leather hood, a large rigid shield in front of the seat, and upward-curving shafts.  The main difference was that the Towne Car eliminated the need for a horse and the carriage was now powered by a engine place in front of the cowl and driver.

By 1920, The towne car had evolved into the standard limousine used by the rich and famous.  The use and ownership of a towne car was seen as the epitome of being wealthy.  Luxury car companies like Cadillac, Packard and Duesenberg offered the rich, the most opulent choice for a ride.

The towne car craze would impact the taxicab industry by the late 20’s.  Purpose built towne car cabs would be widely seen particularly in New York City and Chicago.  Purpose built cab manufacturers like Checker, Yellow/GM and Moller would offer towne car taxicabs and those offering would rival true luxury cars.  Similar to the true luxury cars, like Cadillac and Lincoln, these cabs would be coach built custom jobs.

There were major changes at Checker in 1928 with a truly new model, the Model K. An advanced, modern design for its day, it was now a purposebuilt taxi with luxurious town car styling cues. The body was integrated in its design bumper to bumper; no longer did it possess the Partin-Palmer front clip mated to a taxicab body first introduced in 1918 on the Commonwealth Mogul Taxi.

The Model K was Checkers first ground up design, introduced 6 years after the founding o Checker.  Consistent with previous Checkers, the Model K utilized a 127-inch wheelbase and the Buda six-cylinder was now the only engine available. Upon its introduction in October, taxicab operators fell in love with the car and orders came piling into Kalamazoo.  By month’s end there were over 4,800 orders. By January 1929, 950 units had been produced and sold. At the end of January, over 8,000 Checkers were chasing fares in New York City, a city with a total population of 21,000 cabs. This made Checker one of the two dominant taxicab builders in the US, the other being Yellow Cab Manufacturing.

The Model K was offered in two body styles, landaulet and limousine on a 117- or 127-inch wheelbase, although the 117-inch wheelbase was deleted in 1929. The landaulet taxi separated the driver’s compartment from an enclosed rear passenger section, making it look very similar to the grand town cars that serviced the rich. After a hard day’s work in the office, for a few bits of coin, a New York commuter could hop into a faux luxury car on their way to the train station and ride in splendor! Passengers loved them and so did the taxi operators.

Side by Side Comparison Yellow to Cadillac

According to the Checker Model K brochure the Checker possessed “snappy private car appearance, the suggestion of limitless power, speed and reliability; the master craftsmanship embodied in every detail and appointment; the bright chromium trim that will not tarnish; the inviting passenger compartment beautifully upholstered in leather provides luxurious comfort – never before was there a cab like this.

1929 was the last year that Yellow operated under the name Yellow, the name would change to General due to the General Motors acquisition of Yellow Cab Manufacturing several years earlier.

For the 1929 Yellow Cab offerings, a true towne car taxicab was available to taxicab operators Yellow offered up the Model O-10.  Extremely opulent in appearance the Model O-10 was available with wire wheel and side mounted fender spare tires.

From the GM photographic files several photos can be found for comparison purposes of the Yellow Cab parked in a design studio next to a new Cadillac.  It was quite clear that Yellow was going big in the towne car taxicab market.

1929 Yellow Model O-10

The third largest purpose built taxicab manufacturer was the M.P. Moller company based out of Hagerstown, Maryland. Unlike Checker and Yellow, which sold taxicabs under one name brand, Moller offered branded solutions for a variety of northeast taxicab operators in a number of cities: Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Washington DC.  Brands included Aster, Luxor, Paramount and Five Boro, all named for the purchasing taxicab operators. Regardless of the name or badging, all Moller taxicabs were identical, save for small variations in trim and equipment.

Like Checker and Yellow, Moller would produce towne car taxicabs.  In a 1934 Hagerstown Daily Mail article would characterize the latest Taxicab offering, the market and its customers as follow “The new taxicab, which will be unlike any cab developed to date, has been designed and completed at the local plant and is in a room under lock and key. taxicab designs are so quickly copied that the secrets of the new cab has been closely guarded. New Yorkers are unlike perhaps any other individuals in the nation. They like to ride in the very newest in taxicabs and statistics have revealed in the past that receipts of new cabs average $5 greater daily over cabs of older designs.”

Clearly Moller designs were developed as an answer to the unique New York and Northeast taxicab market.

The big Moller Paramount

Perhaps the most unique Town Car offerings was the Moller produced Paramount, a true Towne Car it was offered from 1927 thru 1931, the Paramount personified faux opulence.  Perhaps the most unique features were the fake exhaust pipes placed all over the body of the taxicab. The pipes were sourced from Moller’s other business, the Moller Organ Company which operated from 1854 through 1937.

The Towne Car craze ended in the mid 1930’s.  During the depression period, the roaring twenties flamboyance ended quickly as consumers focused on pinching pennies.  Being seen as being rich and grandiose was no longer in vogue and the taxicab manufacturers recognized the change in the market.

Checker would offer the Model K, along side the Model M thru 1931. The 1933 Checker Model T did offer towne car appearance, but the driver’s compartment was closed.  The Model Y introduced in 1935 would further move toward more austere appearance.

Yellow was fully integrated into General Motor’s GMC truck and bus division in the early thirties.  With that action completed, the Yellow changed to be brand named as the General.  Early models were largely modified Pontiacs and Buicks.  By the end of the decade, the General was an enlarged Chevrolet.  No longer compared to Cadillacs, General stopped production in 1939.

Note the organ pipes on the hood

Moller was hit hard by the depression.  During this period, the plant was shut down during slow periods and workers were regularly laid off.  Between 1931 and 1934 the company operated as a job show, taking on work as new orders were placed by Moller’s fragmented customer base.  Much of there products were based on modified Ford chassis.

This strategy changed in 1936, when Moller would introduce its Town taxicab.  Built on a Diamond T pickup truck chassis, the taxicab sported Moller built coachwork mated to a Diamond T cowl and front clip.  A true towne car, the line was focused for the New York market.  Unfortunately, Mathias Peter Moller passed away, Möller’s longtime business partner, Allie S. Freed, joined him in death, passing away at the age of 46 from pneumonia.  Thus ending the Moller taxicab business, the company was liquidated at auction in 1939.

In the end World War II would stop US automobile production for several years.  In 1954, New York city would enact city ordinances to allow standard automobiles to serve as licensed taxicab.  This ordinance would essentially wipe out all purpose -built cabs other than Checker.  By the 1960’s the taxicab business was now a commodity business with no roots to luxury towne cars.  It was truly and end of an era.

The last Towne Car Taxicab – 1937 Moller