Town cars, by definition and construction are limousine-like vehicles wherein the chauffeur sits in the front of the car out in the open while the passengers sit in a closed and separated area in the rear. This was one of the ways in which the ways of showing the status and importance of the wealthy owners of these cars in that they had both a chauffeur and an expensive and luxurious vehicle. This type of configuration might have been a throwback from the horse and carriage days whereas the coachman, especially in the coaches of the well-to-do, was separated out in the open from the passengers who remained

Model K Promotional Photo

enclosed in rear. The closure provided both privacy and protection of the owners as well from the eyes and ears of the coachman.

Early American luxury cars such as Cadillac, Packard, Lincoln, Pierce-Arrow, Locomobile as well as a few imported cars such as Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz were not usually completed by the manufacturer of origin. The wealthy buyers of these cars would usually only purchase a chassis from the dealer and a custom body would be designed and created by the coachbuilder or body manufacturer according to the purchasers’ specific needs and wants. This might include paint schemes, upholstery choice sand specific body designs. Money was usually not a concern. While a Ford model T might be gotten for less than $500 or so at that time, many of these cars could be well over $5000.
Coach builders had been around for centuries catering to the desires of the elite. When the automobile came into prominence at the beginning of the twentieth century, they just shifted gears and applied their skills and experience to the automobile and started producing bodies for them that came to be known as “Coach-Built” vehicles. Manufacturers such as Brewster, Murphy, Fleetwood, Fisher Brothers, Rollston, Locke, Derham, Healy and LeBaron were the primary shops doing these conversions. They were located on the coasts-In the New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles areas where the wealthy lived. They produced all types of bodies for their clientele-sedans, phaetons, coupes, convertibles, broughams, limousines and town cars. While these many body types were of the open top and closed body configurations only the town cars and limousines were specifically made to be chauffeur driven. While town cars were rare in the late teens, by the time the roaring twenties came into swing they became very popular-made by all, the major coach builders. This fad was the result of a major increase in Americans wealth and the fact that they seemed not afraid to show it off. The carefree and extravagant lifestyles of the wealthy in the twenties was especially exhibited by the cars that they owned. What better way to show one’s position than having an expensive Chauffeur-driven expensive car, especially a town car with the chauffeur in full view.
In the twenties, New York City had the most taxis of any city in the country, about 21,000. They were not just yellow but came in all sorts of colors and had different rates. Different fleets could be identified by their assorted color schemes and logos. If a rider knew a specific fleet had better or cleaner cabs he would try and flag that taxi down. Competition was rough as there was no limit on controlling the number of taxis in the city at that time. The better looking or the more unique the car was, that was the car that got the riders. Hence the arrival of the town car taxi. Let the average person get to ride in a limousine for the price of a taxi. It was not a true limousine, but it looked like one. That was the logic of the people who brought them into New York City in the late twenties.

Checker decided to join the band wagon. By 1927 the tired G cab being sold by Checker at that time was not much different from the original D and E model Checkers. The G was both an outdated and tired looking car. Checker came out that year with a brand new and redesigned car for 1928, the K. It had revolutionary 4-wheelhydraulic brakes, all around safety glass, a powerful new Buda 6-cylinderengine and a streamlined new body style in the form of a town car. There were about eight

Paramount Town Car Taxicab

thousand Checkers operating in New York at this time both owned by Checker as well as other operators. The new K would be the standard bearer for all things Checker in New York and other Checker markets. Checker was not alone in this thinking. Moller of Hagerstown, MD was also a major manufacturer of cabs. It produced the Paramount, and the Five Boro which were both extremely popular with operators and were constructed as town cars also. A smaller player Bradfield, also brought in town car taxis in 1928 on Kissel Kar chassis. This fad continued into the beginning of the 30’s. Checker continued with the L model-also made as a town car, though very little different from the K. Bradfield went under in 1929 and Paramount continued producing town cars for another year perhaps. Moller would soon end their line of town cars and would concentrate on stretching Ford sedans and some other makes and sell them as taxis. The Kand L line ended in 1931 with the advent of the M-a sedan style and a totally enclosed taxi.

Why did the town car die? First, it was impractical. The driver sitting out in the open subject to, wind, rain, snow, or extreme heat was impractical especially where these cars operated and sold. The primary markets were New York and other eastern cities as well as Chicago, hardly cities of moderate climates. The flimsy canvas tops were held on in place by snap buttons and were exceedingly difficult to both remove or connect. Drivers must have hated these cars during winters when rain and snow proliferated in these areas. It was also difficult for the rider to communicate with the driver who was not really present in their area such as it would be in a closed in cab. Plus, how many people really needed to ride in some faux limousine when a decent taxi would do for most? The second real factor was the Depression. While much of the country was in financial peril, the showing off wealth was disdained at that time. Breadlines and strikes were all too common. As a result of these conditions most of the coach builders went out of business during these times. Many of the wealthy had either lost much of what they had or were afraid to show it. The limousine became a dead entity in the Depression era and the town car taxi was just a misplaced fad whose time had come and gone. I have often questioned Checker’s thinking about the K and L. Why did they market a limousine like open top car in areas where wintry weather was predominant? They did make a closed version of the K, the K2. My research has shown me that it was only sold to an exceptionally large fleet in Philadelphia and nowhere else. Why? The K, despite its engineering advances, proved to be very unpopular. Its two -year run left Checker with a vast amount of trade ins to deal with when operators no longer wanted them and when they came out with the M in 1931. They decided tore build the trade-ins and convert them into sedan delivery vans by welding the rear doors shut and welding panels over the rear windows and selling them at a very reduced price. There was one last attempt to bring back

The last Moller Taxicab

town car taxis in 1936 to New York City. Moller converted Diamond T pickup truck chassis into town cars. Town Taxi and Bell operated them. They were around for only about a year or so. The last town car I could ever find manufactured was on a 1941 Packard produced by Rollston of New York, probably by some die hard patrician.