Q: Greg I lived in Chicago for over 40-years and vividly remember three vehicles from back in the 1950s. I remember the International delivery trucks called the Metro, and also the 4-door International pickup my grandfather had. I enjoy your nostalgia columns very much as I’ve always enjoyed cars and trucks. My grandfather was a deliveryman and he drove an International Metro truck that I remember when I was very young. The third vehicle I remember was the Checker Taxi Cabs that I saw as a child and teenager and later on the hit TV show Taxi. I was born in 1949 and thanks for anything you can tell me about the International trucks and the Checkers. Elizabeth L., retired and now living near Allentown, Pa.
A: Elizabeth, it’s my pleasure. Let’s start with those International Trucks, namely your grandfather’s 4-door pickup and the Metro delivery truck.
The 4-door International pickup your grandfather had most likely was the heavy-duty pickup called the Travelette. It was the very first 4-door crew cab produced in America and debuted in 1957. These crew cab style pickups came with 6-passenger seating and a 6-foot bed. Comfort factor was secondary back then but the International Harvester (IH) Company evolved its 4-door pickup through the years and by 1973 was called the Wagon Master featuring more comfort and amenities.
The Metro delivery, meanwhile, was a very popular delivery truck built on a lighter duty truck chassis. The Metros were all over the place as I, too, remember them while helping my grandfather at his economy and food store back in mid-1950s. When a delivery came to the store with light items, like the Tastykake delivery, most times it was an IH Metro parked in front of the store.
The Metro was first introduced in 1938 and lasted until 1975 in 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton, and later 1-ton builds. It was the most popular delivery truck of the era and a favorite of milkmen and bakery companies thanks to easy in-out driver access. IH was also well known for its Farmall Tractors, refrigeration units, industrial products and farming equipment, and the Metro was one of 22 truck models offered by IH in 1948 from light duty to ultra heavy-duty units and off-road machinery. (See attached ads.)
As for the Checker, its founder Morris Markin oversaw the company’s growth from its birth as Checker Motors Corporation in 1922. In addition to metal stamping and producing smaller parts for several auto companies, Markin’s specialty was building Checker Taxi Cabs, which he did very well.
The “big city” Checker Taxis were assembled in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the main goal of the company was to produce a car that centered solely on roomy, up to 8-passenger transportation in its 4-door sedans. With its boxy design, large trunk and lots of rear seat room thanks to two extra jump seats, the Checker blueprint never really changed. Year after year, it proved more than worthy for the people that relied on Checkers for daily transport. Notable were the 8-door, 15-passenger Checker Aerobus stretched to a 189-inch wheelbase and a Checker Station Wagon, too.
Checker built the taxis from 1922 to 1959 and in late 1958, Checker entered into the everyday consumer car business. They put together a network of dealers and introduced its new 1959 Checker Marathon to the general public. The Marathon was near identical to the taxi sans the livery lettering and paint. Non-commercial sales topped 8,000 in 1962 and the Marathon averaged about 7,500 yearly over the life of the independent dealers.
As the decades moved through the 1970s, Checker Taxis experienced sales decreases as Ford’s Crown Victoria 4-door offered better fleet discounts and Checker sales suffered. In 1982, the last Checker was built although thanks to the good relationship with General Motors, Checker operated as an automotive subcontractor providing body stamping for the GMC / Chevrolet truck lines and chassis components for Cadillac.
David Markin, son of the founder, continued to act as Checker’s Chief Executive Officer. On Jan. 16, 2009, and in the midst of the auto recession / depression, the 87-year-old company filed for bankruptcy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Checker sadly came to an end.
As for the TV show Taxi you mention, it first aired on ABC from 1978 to May of 1982 and then NBC from September of 1982 through the 1983 season, winning 18 Emmy awards in the process. I also enjoyed the show as those Checker cabs were always in the garage where mechanic Latka Gravas (Kauffman) repaired them. To this day I also enjoy the older TV shows and movies from 1940 through 1980 that give tremendous examples of auto and truck history, including all those Checker cabs.
Thanks for your letter Elizabeth and kind words.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated automotive writer who welcomes questions on auto nostalgia, collector cars or motorsports at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)