Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The Stillborn Model D Post War Prototype


The Checker Model A was only made for two full years; 1939 and 1940. 1941 was a shortened model run due to WWII. Over the years the rumour grew up that Morris Markin melted down all the body tools and dies for the war effort. Automobile production ceased during the fight against Adolph Hitler and the Japanese. During this period, Checker participated in the fight by supplying the army with trailers to be used with that new invention of the war, the Jeep.

Herb Snow 1883-1961
 

As the war ended, Checker was facing the challenge of designing and producing a new post war car. During this period Checker utilized two innovative consultants, Herbert J Snow and Ray Dietrich. Snow was formerly the chief of engineering at Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg. While at A-C-D, Snow was the engineering leader who designed the front wheel drive system used on the classic Cord 810. Morris Markin hired Ray Dietrich as a consultant in May 1938, for the hefty sum of one hundred dollars a day. Like Snow, Dietrich was an experienced designer, having worked for Briggs, Le Baron and eventually Chrysler. Dietrich’s rise at Chrysler was largely based to his redesign of the Chrysler Airflow, with his resulting Airstreams saving Chrysler from the sales failure of the Airflow.

Now, with two of the automotive industry’s top engineers, Checker set out to introduce a replacement for the Model A. Called the Model B, the new, very unconventional Checker was to be very different from Checkers of the past, or for that matter any US produced car. Snow’s proposal would be a rear engine/rear drive vehicle, much like the Volkswagen Microbus of the 1950s. In a memo in May 1945 Snow laid out his vision. He wrote:

Model B Test Mule
 

‘The primary purpose of a vehicle of this kind is to carry passengers comfortably and economically. To do this, passengers must be placed in the most advantageous seating and riding position. The vehicle must be light if it is to operate economically. Keeping weight to a minimum means that the entire vehicle must be as compact as possible without any sacrifice in passenger space.’

Model B Artist Rendition
 

The project progressed to the development of a mule. Designated the Model C, it utilized a sidevalve Continental 6 placed transversely in the rear of the cab, mated to a Warner three speed manual transmission. The overall length of the cab was 198.5 inches and the wheelbase was 100 inches. As was always the case with Checker being an “assembled car”, many components for the Model C were sourced from the “parts bin” of other makers and independent component producers. In the case of the test mule, the front and rear suspension, brakes and wheels were from Studebaker.

The test mule went through extensive testing, and the results were poor. Prior to his death, Snow recounted to automotive writer Karl Ludvigsen the facts of the project:

‘The objections to this design were that a vehicle of this type with the engine mounted in the rear behind the rear axle cannot have good weight distribution on a short wheelbase. There was too much weight on the rear wheels for good roadability and performance. Furthermore we had passenger seats facing each other as in trains and this we considered would be very objectionable to the passengers who rode backwards in the front seat.’

With poor handling and questionable passenger comfort, the project was killed.

 

In the summer of 1945, Snow moved on to a new project, the Checker Model D. Like the Model C, it too was equally unconventional. It would be a front wheel drive vehicle with a transverse engine mounted forward of the cab. Plans called for a significant number of variations to be produced, including sedans, limos, station wagons, coupes, convertibles and light trucks.




Having designed the Cord 810 front drive system, Snow would bring an extensive amount of experience to the table. Dietrich would handle the exterior design.

Racine Wisconsin Test Checker Model D Prototype
 

Two running prototypes, a five-passenger sedan and a seven-passenger taxicab were developed. The prototypes were equipped with a transverse mounted Continental 6 cylinder engines mated to a 3-speed manual transmission. The prototypes rode on a 112-inch wheelbase within a total length of 189.5 inches, six inches shorter than the 1946 Ford sedan and a foot shorter than the Model C prototype. The Dietrich styling was quite attractive and current. Unlike the Model A, its front end styling was well integrated into the overall design of the car, bearing a very close resemblance to the 1941 Chrysler. The end result was that the compact little cars were effective, efficient and stunning to boot.

 

The two prototypes were tested for well over 100,000 miles. The taxicab was tested in real taxi service, accumulating over 35,000 miles and the sedan ran in tests totalling over 65,000 miles. According to Snow, quoted in Special Interest Auto Magazine in 1973:
‘The passengers commented on the excellent ride qualities and the drivers claimed it was easy to keep on the road, handled well in traffic and on the highway.’


Tested in the early winter, according to Snow:

‘In heavy blizzards under adverse road conditions, it performed exceptionally well, pulling out from curbs blocked with snow without difficulty.’

Although both vehicles tested well, in the end it appeared that the Model D would have a higher cost per unit to produce. Tests also indicated that maintenance cost for the more complex FWD Checker would be higher than Taxi operators would find acceptable. The Model D project was killed in 1946, which left Checker with a major problem. The company had not produced a car in close to five years and whatever Markin had done with the body tooling, there was none left from the Model A to continue production in the post war years. A new effort was initiated to quickly develop a modified version of the Model A, the resulting product would be the Model A2
 
The Model A2 and A3 are significantly based on the still born Model D

 


 


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