Checker Motors Corporation - Consumer Vehicles

Consumer Vehicles

From 1922-1959, Checker's production vehicles were built almost exclusively for the commercial livery (taxi) business, although cars for personal use were available on request. Checker entered the consumer vehicle market when it saw purchases of its taxis decline.

Beginning in 1960, Checker introduced the Superba, its first model specifically built for the consumer market. Joining the Superba in 1962 was the Marathon, which took the place of the Superba Special. The Marathon consisted of standard and long-wheelbase sedans, plus station wagons. Wagons came standard with a motorized fold-down rear seat, which combined with different bodies pushed the price tag up $350 more than the sedan. Limousines were also offered as Checker sought to tap into yet another specialty market. The only engine was the Continental inline six, which had been used in dozens of cars (including Kaiser-Frazer) and trucks since the 1930s. Two versions were offered, a low-compression L-head unit with only 80 hp (60 kW), and an OHV unit with higher compression and 122 hp (91 kW). Three-on-the-tree manual shift was standard, and a Borg-Warner 3-speed automatic with optional overdrive was an option. Civilian models were as utilitarian as their fleet counterparts, sporting a simple, flat dashboard with round gauges (this would remain unchanged up to the final Checkers in 1982), rubber mats instead of carpeting, and hardboard ceilings. Floors were flat to allow easy entry and exit.

Checker's cars were lightly marketed using campaigns that centered on their durability and unchanging style. Checker also promoted their vehicles as 200,000 mi (320,000 km) cars at a time when most US automakers shied away from mileage promises.

The Marathon and A11 design had its origins based on the 1956 Checker Model A8. The A8 was Checker's response to the new New York City taxi laws that mandated that taxis could not run on a chassis wheelbase longer than 120 in (3,000 mm). The main difference between the A8 and A11/Marathon was the use of quad headlights in the latter. Checker cars and taxicabs used the same basic body and chassis design from 1956 until production ceased, as Morris Markin declared that there would be no major changes as long as there was a demand for the car. However, there were numerous alterations in the appearance of the cars throughout its production, especially in the later 1960s and 1970s. Starting in 1967, an energy-absorbing steering column was fitted to meet safety regulations, similar in appearance to AMC's column. 1968 saw round side marker lights on each fender. Seat belts were fitted as mandated by the US Government, including shoulder belts on Checkers built after December, 1967. '69 cars got high-rise headrests, and 1970 models adapted the Government-required steering column and shift lever lock. 1974 Checkers eschewed the attractive, chrome-plated bumpers for girder-like, aluminum-painted units. '75s featured the catalytic converter emissions device, which came with an "Unleaded Fuel Only" label for both gas gauge and fuel filler. During the 1970s, Checkers adopted a standard Chevrolet steering column assembly, including steering wheel (sans the "Chevrolet" badges), shift lever and ignition switch. 1978 and later models can be identified when Chevrolet switched to a "Delta Spoke" steering wheel design, duly used on Checkers. The rear fold-down jump seats were also removed as they failed all safety tests. The car had very poor gas mileage as the tall front end and engine compartment had been designed for a Continental 226 cubic inch inline 6, which required the large engine compartment. Overall, Checker sales began shrinking in the 1970s, causing the company to reduce its production capacity. Limousines were dropped after 1970, and wagons followed in 1974. The standard and long-wheelbase sedans would stay until the end. This decline was due to a number of factors. Firstly, the oil embargo of 1973-1974 (and later the 1979-1982 recession) caused the Big Three to lose consumer sales, and so they attempted to make up for this by targeting the fleet market more aggressively. Checker could not hope to compete on price, which thanks to inflation sent its cars soaring to almost $5000 by the middle of the decade, which was Buick or Chrysler territory and a large sum for a dated car with unimpressive build quality. Safety and emissions requirements added further costs. Meanwhile, the company refused several proposals for a replacement to its 20-year old design in part due to lack of funding, and also due to managerial resistance. Ed Cole's death put an end to his ambitious plans, and car production finally ceased in 1982 after Checker's output was down to less than 1000 a year.

In 1964, Checker stopped using Continental engines. Continental had been losing money on each unit sold to Checker for several years and Checker was not interested in a price increase. Checker experimented with several engine options including the Chrysler 318. Eventually Checker went to a Chevrolet straight six. That engine, along with an optional Chevrolet V-8 were used until the late 1970s. Engines and drivetrains matched the full-size Chevy models. During the 1970s, the Impala's Turbo-Hydramatic 400 transmission was fitted to all Checker sedans. Some of the last Checkers built were equipped with Oldsmobile 350 diesel V8s.

When GM ceased offering the straight six in its Impala models for 1979, Checker purchased a small V6 that was also used in the big Chevys. But the large and tall grill and hood made for poor aerodynamics which was part of the reason for the low gas mileage. A number of the V6s were thus converted to use propane as fuel. Many of the body stamping dies were worn out after 20 years of use, and that required manual body adjustments by body and fender mechanics to make the parts fit. The fenders and doors were the parts with the most problem fit, as taxis are involved in numerous minor accidents due to their heavy usage patterns. With the Marathon outmoded and not selling in viable quantities, and lacking the resources to develop a new model, Checker decided to leave the auto manufacturing business. The last models were produced for the 1982 model year, and the final automobile rolled off the assembly line on July 12, 1982, after members of the Markin family decided to end automobile production rather than meet labor demands.

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