The photo in the blog header is from a Checker Motors 1963 press release. As we all know as Checker owners, the X-brace frame is the heart of the Checker infrastructure. The press release reads as follows:
“This Checker, with something missing, may not be completely safe from the drivers point of view, but the heart of the Checker chassis, the exclusive Double Channel X-Brace Frame, is built to cushion the most damaging shocks and to provide extra passenger safety and comfort. Checker’s rigid X-brace frame, construction, built to outlast any other frame used in car manufacturing today, utilizes three tubular or two channel cross members. The Checker body is bolted to the frame helping to create a more rigid unit than is possible with other types of construction. All 1963 Marathon and Superba sedans and station wagons offered by Kalamazoo, Michigan carmaker feature Double Channel X-Brace Frame construction.”
The X-Brace frame for Checker was the inspiration of automotive engineer Herbert Snow. Mr. Snow is probably one of the least popular early designers found in the archives of automotive history. Within Checker circles he is equally unknown, but one of his designs for Checker has had significant impact on all Checker fans and the cars we drive today.
Snow attended the Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated in 1906. Soon after he graduated, Snow developed a practical formula for automobile steering geometry. His entire career involved engineering design and it spanned over 50 years from 1906 thru 1960. Snow first worked for the Cleveland, Ohio based Peerless Company. At Peerless, Snow was involved with the Knight Sleeve Valve engine development. After leaving Peerless Snow would move on to work for Willys Overland, Winton, and Velie.
Over the time Snow continued to refine his automotive design skills and ultimately landed a job at the Auburn Automobile Company in July 1927 where he was hired as chief engineer, replacing James Crawford. He was intensely involved in the Cord L-29 front-drive project. While at Auburn, Snow would ultimately lead the development of the landmark classic car, the Cord 810.
Years earlier in 1927, Snow was impressed with Lancia Dilambda on display at the New York auto show, it was equipped with an X-brace frame. So impressed, Snow ultimately would utilize this design first on the Cord L-29 then on Auburns.
Snows use of the “X” frame member was a method of adding structural rigidity to a ladder-style automobile frame a feature that now has been used by nearly every automobile company in the world.
Snow’s first application of the “X” frame for a rear wheel drive set up was on the 1931 Auburn 8-98. The 8-98 featured an engine by Lycoming that produced 98 horsepower.
The 8-98 carried a base price of $1,195, and top end price of $1,395 – in the Great Depression. Fortune magazine reported the Auburn to be ‘the biggest package in the world for the price.’ Business Week described the 8-98 as more car for the money than the public has ever seen.
In 1931 Snow was appointed Vice-president of Engineering at Auburn. Meanwhile over in Kalamazoo, 1931 was a profitable year for Checker, but that would soon change in 1932 as the depression finally caught up with the company and after several profitable years, sales collapsed and Checker started to bleed money, generating losses month after month. So bad was the economy that Checker shut down for several weeks at the tail end of 1932.
Despite the losses of 1932 and using minimal funds, Checker was able to introduce a new taxicab for 1933, the Model T. The new taxicab utilized the new Lycoming GU or GUC 8-cylinder engine produced Lycoming of Lewistown, Pennsylvania. Lycoming was an independent engine manufacturer owned by E L Cord, whose growing automotive empire included such iconic brands as Duesenberg, Auburn and Cord.
In 1933 Checker would also produce a brand-engineered version of the Model T, the Auburn Safe-T-Cab for A-C-D, which was sold in limited numbers to the Safe-T-Cab Company in Cleveland. Checker was now partnering significantly with Auburn and one can rightly assume that this is where Snow started his relationship with Checker.
1933 found many auto manufacturers in the midst of significant financial issues. Checker now needed to recapitalize. Unfortunately for Checker CEO Morris Markin, via a series of capital transactions, essentially a hostile corporate takeover ensued.
The corporate board was reduced in size by a group of investors led by millionaire Pierre S. du Pont.
The smaller board, which included du Pont voted Markin out of Checker.
Morris Markin had a few tricks up his sleeve. He still maintained some degree of ownership and held options to acquire a majority share of the company. Ten days later Markin secured the required funds via E L Cord to take back control of company Checker.
With funds secured, new ownership in place and an alliance with A-C-D: E. L. Cord now owned Checker and the companies were vertically integrated into A-C-D, this allowed Checker maintain autonomy yet still utilize Herb Snow’s engineering talent.
Three short years later Cord would run into some trouble. In 1936, Cord came under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for his dealings in Checker Cab stock. In order to avoid prosecution in 1937 Cord sold the Cord Corporation to the Aviation Corporation.
Markin was able to secure complete control of Checker and retain Herb Snow. Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg faded away but Checker continued on producing cars for another 45 years. Now at Checker, Snow assumed the role of head of engineering.
So when did Snow integrate the X-brace frame at Checker? Its not clear and not documented in any Checker documentation, but we now have photographic evidence of the X-Brace frame on a Checker Model Y first introduced in 1935. The ACME photo depicts a mob of onlookers and a sideways Model Y, tipped over by Chicago Taxicab strike protesters.
Snow would have been involved in all Checker engineering development after the Cord 1933 take over. The Model Y was the second generation Checker Taxicab. The first being the Model K, M and T.
From 1935 on all Checkers would have a X-braced frames. Ironically, Checker would not herald the feature until after WWII with the Model A2 Taxicab. According to the brochure the A2 featured “rugged construction that keeps the Checker on the street and out of the garage”.
So there you have it, we now know that the X-brace frame for Checker pre dates WWII. Herb Snow would stay at Checker until his retirement in 1960, he passed away in 1961.