Q: I’ve been a regular visitor to New York City for many years, and I really miss those old Checker Taxi cabs. Whatever happened to the Checker Taxi cabs and why did Checker Motor Company go out of business? Wendy, Owego, New York.
A: Wendy, the Checker Motor Company was always a busy manufacturer, with a long history of manufacturing everything from complete chassis taxis to frames for the major auto builders. Sadly, the auto depression of 2009 was too tough for Checker to continue as a body stamping company.
The nostalgic “New York Taxis” you miss days were constructed in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with the transporting of passengers and their luggage as Checker’s main design philosophy. Checkers also came in station wagon and extended Airport Limo car designs in addition to the 4-door sedan. The boxy blueprint may have never won any awards, but it proved more that worthy for the livery companies. Checker's rear seat and trunk were large, accommodating three full size adults and numerous suitcases, respectively.
Known throughout the auto world as the "Taxi Cab Company," Checker’s founder was business tycoon Morris Markin, who oversaw the company's growth from its birth as Checker Motors Corporation in 1922. At the time, Markin built bodies for several manufacturers and would continue to do so throughout the history of the company.
Checker built the "New York City-bred" taxi cabs from 1922 to 1959 exclusively, and beginning in late 1958, entered into the everyday consumer car business. Checker put together a network of dealers and an identical vehicle sans the taxi's livery lettering and paint. T
These 1950 decade Checkers utilized a flathead type 6-cylinder engine called “the Continental” until switching to General Motors Chevy engines in 1965, including the inline-230 6-cylinder and the 283-327 small block V8s. Consumer sales topped 8,000 in 1962, and averaged about 7,500 yearly over the life of the independent dealers.
As the decade moved through the 1970s, Checker experienced sales decreases as Ford, with its roomy Crown Victoria style 4-door, offered better fleet discounts and sales began to fall. In 1982, the last Checker car was built although thanks to the good relationship with GM, Checker Motors operated as a subsidiary automotive subcontractor providing body stamping for the GMC/Chevrolet truck lines and chassis components for the Cadillac. David Markin, son of the founder, continued to act as Checker's Chief Executive Officer.
However, on January 16 of 2009 in the midst of the aforementioned auto depression, 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. Checker's body stamping customer list at the time of the bankruptcy included major companies General Motors, Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Company, Navistar International and GM Shanghai. GM and Chrysler followed Checker's bankruptcy several months later, although both survived thanks to bailout monies.
Thanks for your question about a great car company. I miss Checkers, too.