Wednesday, July 8, 2015

1883-1961

Checker Designer Herbert Snow


 

 

Herb 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.

We all love our Checkers and more importantly we all love our sturdy X braced frames, this design feature was introduced to ACD by Herb Snow.  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.




The bare Auburn 8-98 frames is remarkably similar to the Checker

 

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 at Checker.

 

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 leadership team. 

 

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.


 

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 to operate autonomously and utilize Herb Snow’s engineering talent at Checker. 

 

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.  Post World War II Snow led three separate projects to create a new taxicab. The three projects were:  the Model B, C and D.  Ultimately those projects died either from failed designs or cost complications. 

 

As a result the three failed projects, a new project was launched yielding the successful Model A2 design.  Automotive stylist Raymond Dietrich developed a beautiful and modern exterior based on the failed Model D project and Snow engineered a modified chassis from the 1939 Checker Model A utilizing the X-brace frame concept he originated at A-C-D. The two ideas were mated and the result was the A2.


 

The groundbreaking taxicab and pleasure car were both equipped with the famous “X” Frame.  Utilizing the “X” Frame, Checker would take taxicab durability to new levels and secure itself as the only true purpose built taxicabs sold in America.  Just as the Commonwealth Mogul Cab would herald the strong foundation, the “X” Frame would impact taxi cab operators faith in Checker with the "X" Framne



 

Snow eventually retired from Checker, while at Checker he was head of engineering and was appointed to the board of directors.  Mr. Snow continued working in semi -retirement until his passing in 1961.  Best known for his work at A-C-D, Snow had an equally major impact at Checker in the design that would make Checker the great American taxi.




 
 



Special thanks to Jon M. Bill, Education & Archives for sourced material

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

 

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2 comments:

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  2. Thanks for profiling this fairly obscure design engineer who worked with Cornelius Van Ranst at Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg. I want to make a correction though. In the piece it states that the first application of Herb Snow’s X braced frame was on the 1931 Auburn 8-98. This is incorrect. The first company use was on the Cord L-29 introduced in August 1929 as a 1930 model. Even that is incorrect because there were other X-braced vehicles that preceded it, even in America. I have been studying this feature for over 6 years now for a book.

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