Bus Stop Classics: 1948 – 1953 Checker Motor Coach – The Frequently Forgotten Bus from the Country’s Most Famous Taxi Maker

We’ve reviewed quite a few motor coach manufacturers that hoped to “cash in” on the post WW II sellers’ market where operators were rushing to recapitalize their fleets that had been worked hard during the war.  Small, regional manufacturers and the larger national brands all had eager customers waiting in line ready to sign contracts for new buses.  That prompted some interesting players to throw their “hat in the bus ring” – one being a company more well known for making taxis…

But we begin with Ford – since the mid-1930’s, Ford had been producing a small urban transit coach in cooperation with the Union City Body Co. of Union City Indiana – Ford produced the chassis which was then shipped to Union for final assembly.  Ford marketed this model as the “Transit Bus”.

The Transit had a rear mounted 239 cu in “Flathead” V8 and a 3-speed manual transmission.  It was 96 in wide and about 25 ft in length, and would typically seat 29 passengers.   It sold well, with over 12,000 being built between 1939 and 1947.  Customers included Detroit, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Ford marketed the buses through Transit Bus Inc., a joint venture established with Union City.  But even though they sold well, the immediate post-war period was an extremely tumultuous one for Ford, and in 1947, the company decided to end its association with Transit Bus.

Both Union City and Transit Bus now needed a new chassis provider – and they found one in the Checker Cab Manufacturing Corp. (for more on Checker see Paul’s excellent post here).  Checker was looking to expand and had some excess capacity at its Kalamazoo plant.

In 1948, Transit designed an updated 31-passenger model and selected Checker to produce the pusher chassis.  It was similar to the earlier Ford bus with exception that the Flathead V8 was replaced by a rear transverse-mounted 226 cubic inch Continental six-cylinder inline “Red-Seal” gas engine – the same engine used by Kaiser-Frazier.

The buses were assembled at the Union City plant and sold through Transit’s Dearborn-based distribution network.  Sales started off well, over 500 were built in 1948-49, 300 of which were purchased by the City of Detroit.  However, Transit had hoped for much larger sales, and in 1950, both Transit and Union City approved a buy-out offer from Checker – Checker was now both a bus and taxi builder.

Checker then introduced their version of the bus, marketed as the “Series E”, in 33 and 40 passenger models.  Bodies continued to be built by Union City and marketed by Transit Buses Inc., now subsidiaries of Checker.  The City of Detroit quickly ordered 450 units.

But further sales failed to materialize – operators were looking for larger coaches like the GM Old Look, Twin Coach, and Mack.  Only 50 Series E buses were sold over the next three years, with Checker finally pulling the plug in September 1953, going back to building just sedans, cabs and extended wheelbase station wagons.

An interesting small sidelight from a very interesting company…