Taxi TV Show & Checker Taxi Company

6/29/2024
Greg Zyla
A Reader Writes: Greg, I enjoyed the article on the nostalgia TV shows that appeared in Auto Round-Up issue 148 and loved Taxi and watched it every week. Can you give us some more on that Checker Taxi Company and the TV show, too? Thanks, Les L., retired and enjoying the old TV shows in IL.
 
The Author Responds: Les, I have to admit I’ve received a lot of response on that column. I’ve always loved the Checker Taxis, which were completely different than the usual American production car in both theory and presentation.
 
 
I’ll first answer your question as to the Checker used in the TV show and also info on the last one ever built. The Taxi show Checker, complete with its NYC cab livery, was a 1978 Checker model A11 with just 400 miles on the odometer. Taxi aired on ABC from 1978 to May of 1982 and then NBC from September of 1982 to 1983, winning 18 Emmy awards in the process. I also enjoyed the show as those Checker cabs were in every single episode.
 
Luckily, the TV Taxi and last Checker to come off the assembly line in 1982 are safe and sound and on display at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, MI. I spoke with the museum the day I wrote this to make sure they still owned the Checkers. The famous Gilmore Car Museum is a 90-acre campus with numerous buildings all devoted to the car. It’s open daily during the summer from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday and 9am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday. In the winter, the museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. (You can visit gilmorecarmuseum.org for complete information and also check out its YouTube 6-minute video “Gilmore Car Museum” for a great look at the popular car lover’s destination.)
Now, on to the Checker history.
 
Known as the “Taxi Cab Company,” Checker actually came into existence thanks to business mogul Morris Markin, who oversaw the company’s growth from its founding as Checker Motors Corporation in 1922. At the time of Checker’s beginning, Markin built bodies for several manufacturers and would continue to do so through Checker’s history.
 
Checker built the “New York City” style taxi cabs from 1922 to 1959 exclusively, and beginning in late 1958, entered the consumer car business with a network of dealers and an identical vehicle sans the taxi’s livery. The consumer vehicle was marketed on the same “rugged build and roomy interiors” theory and the fact that the style stayed the same each year.
 
The Checkers relied many decades on flathead inline six-cylinder engines built by Continental Motors, also known for aircraft engines. Other manufacturers like Dodge, Graham-Paige, Willys, Henry-J, Frazer and Kaiser also used Continental engines along the way.
 
Checker switched to General Motors Chevy engines in 1965, utilizing the inline 230 “stovebolt” 6-cylinder and the 283/327 small block V8. Sales topped 8,000 in 1962, and averaged 7,500 over the life of the independent dealers. Checker’s rear seat and trunk were large, accommodating three full-size adults and numerous suitcases, respectively.
 
Checkers were built in Kalamazoo, MI, and came in station wagon, sedan and extended Airport Limo varieties. Throughout the 1970s, Checker experienced sales decreases as Ford offered better fleet discounts and sales began to fall each year. By 1982, the last Checker rolled off the assembly line.
 
Thanks to its good relationship with GM, Checker Motors continued operating as a subsidiary automotive subcontractor providing body stamping for the GMC/Chevrolet truck lines and chassis components for Cadillac. David Markin, son of founder Morris, continued to act as Checker’s chief executive officer.
 
However, the 2008 automotive depression and David Markin’s unfortunate investing with the late Bernie Madoff spelled the end of the line for Checker Motor Company. David Markin’s name appears five times on the official list of Madoff investment victims, with the same address listed in Kalamazoo as the Checker Motors Corp.
 
On January 16, 2009, the 87-year-old company filed for bankruptcy in Grand Rapids, MI. Checker could no longer operate profitably as raw material prices kept escalating, as did union labor costs. At the time of the bankruptcy, Checker’s body stamping customer list included General Motors, Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Company, Navistar International and GM Shanghai. GM and Chrysler followed Checker’s bankruptcy just several months later, although GM and Chrysler survived. As for Madoff, he died April 14, 2021 at age 82 in the Butner Federal Medical Center Prison in North Carolina.
 
Checker models most common were its all new 1956 body trim, a style that lasted until the final car in 1982. Included were the A8, A9, A10, and A11 nomenclatures. The A8, produced from 1956-1958, had single headlights and a long bar style grille. For 1958, a tweaked A9 hit the city streets with dual headlights, new egg-crate grille and built-in parking lights. The A9 arrived in 1959, followed by Checker deciding in 1960 to sign up the aforementioned dealers to sell their cars to the general public. The first consumer Checker available was the A10 Superba, which was pretty much the same A9 model less the special Taxi Cab equipment. The A10 Superba was available as a 4-door sedan or a station wagon, with a nomenclature of A10W, the “W” for wagon. Its most famous consumer model was the Checker Marathon available starting in 1961 right on through the final vehicle in 1982 that sits at the Gilmore Car Museum.
 
Of these models, the Checker I always loved seeing when motoring around the cities of Philadelphia or New York was the gigantic Checker Aerobus, which was a specially built vehicle that transported people to and from the airports via a hotel service. Although I also remember Pontiac having a vehicle like this, too, these stretched Checkers were eye catchers superb.
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