Hailing the Checker

Hailing the Checker

If you grew up in or frequented any big city during second half of the 20th Century, you have seen a Checker. Probably you’ve ridden in one, most likely amid the mixed aroma of spiced meats, cleaning fluid and vomit. Drive one? Without a stint as a cabbie it’s hard to imagine. But by happenstance in the summer of 1983, this writer did have the pleasure of driving a Checker, without the need of a hack's license. In between graduating from college and starting my first “real” job, I worked as a chauffeur for a drive-your-car service in southern Connecticut. This was decades before Uber or Lyft. Then, when a driver was needed, we would go to the client’s house, and then chauffer them in their own vehicle to where ever they needed to go. Most every trip was to or from a New York area airport. Most every car was the ordinary fare of early 1980s suburbia; Oldsmobiles, Buicks, the occasional Honda. But one fine day the drive would not be to the airport, and the livery would be anything but ordinary. 

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The Playboy: A Product of Its Times and a Victim of Them

The Playboy: A Product of Its Times and a Victim of Them

Pity the Playboy. This darling little roadster with the world’s first retractable steel roof was launched in the heady times following WWII, when the can do spirit reined supreme, where anything seemed possible. The Playboy was a contemporary of the famous Tucker. It was a bit less ambitious, but just as optimistic. The master showman Preston Tucker sought to change the way the world thought about automobiles. Playboy’s founders just wanted to sell a bunch of them to young people and housewives. Alas, the promise of the times proved illusory, at least for startup car companies. The Tucker and the Playboy shared a similar fate.

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Continental: The Finest of Fords

Continental: The Finest of Fords

The Continental’s chrome script has been affixed to the cars a top the Ford Motor Company line up for the past 80 years. Sometimes those cars were rarified classics like the original 1939-41 Continental, or the 1956-57 Mark II. In more forgettable times the name appeared on forgettable cars like the 1982-86 bustleback sedans. Whether it was a beauty or a beast, that depended on the state of automobile design of the day. The following is a stroll through the fond memories of Dearborn’s finest car. 

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Pre-War Plymouths

Pre-War Plymouths

The low-priced auto market of the late twenties was dominated by Ford, challenged by Chevrolet, and seasoned with a progression of lesser marques vying for the 3rd spot on the podium. With its new Plymouth brand, Chrysler Corporation sought to disrupt that arrangement. While Ford was known for its manufacturing efficiencies and General Motors for its marketing prowess, Chrysler Corporation to its core was an engineering powerhouse. Chrysler’s Plymouth was a cut above in terms of performance and refinement.

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The Story of the Keller

The Story of the Keller

The immediate post war period saw more than its fair share of entrepreneurial automotive adventures. Dozens of them sprouted from 1945 to 1950, achieving varying degrees of success and fame. The Keller Motor Company was one of just a hand full that ever reached production, even in tiny numbers. Keller’s one and only product offering was a wood boded station wagon called the Super Chief in 1949. The Super Chief filled many altruistic needs. It was cheap to buy, economical to operate, and if successful, could bring prosperity to a downtrodden region. But even with all that going for it it is hard to find anyone, even among car buffs, who has ever heard of the Keller. Like so many of its post-war contemporaries, by the close of the decade it was gone. Keller’s demise was more literal than most…but more on that later.

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Plymouth Cricket: A Squashed Bug on America’s Windshield

Plymouth Cricket: A Squashed Bug on America’s Windshield

To say that the Plymouth Cricket was a byproduct of Chrysler’s hurried quest to become a multinational corporation is like saying a staph infection is a byproduct of poor hygiene. Possibly thinking that two wrongs might equal a right, Chrysler decided to appropriate the Hillman Avenger sedan from its new portfolio of British crap. They slapped a Plymouth badge on it and, voila, they had a small car for the U.S. at a fraction the cost. 

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The DeSoto Airflow: Ahead of It's Time and Left Behind

The DeSoto Airflow: Ahead of It's Time and Left Behind

The History of the Automobile is littered with tales of cars so advanced that they flopped. Their technical or stylistic achievements were greeted in the marketplace with hesitation and suspicion. Trailblazers paid the price for being first. The 1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire was the first car to use turbocharging, deivering big block power from a smaller more efficient engine. The Jetfire flamed out after 2 years, but a decade later Turbo Saabs and Buick T-Types made inter-cooling cool. The versitile Scout Scarab of 1936 was the first minivan. But after selling a total of 9 copies, it was the last one for 45 years before the Plymouth Voyager took suburbia by storm. Honda’s 60mpg Insight of 1999 introduced us to gas-electric hybrid technology. The Insight barely achieved 4-didgit annual sales, while just a few years later Toyota’s Prius would become the suburban eco-warrior’s front line weapon against climate change.

And then there was the 1934 Airflow, the car that brought automotive aerodynamics into mainstream consciousness…and nearly destroyed the DeSoto brand, and the Chrysler Corporation along with it.

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Free Fall: The Plymouth Volare

Free Fall: The Plymouth Volare

The Volare was probably the most memorable Plymouth of the 1970s, but for all the wrong reasons. It was a memory most Volare owners would like to expunge. It was the most problem-plagued, recall-ravaged car in history. Volare is Italian meaning, ‘to fly.’ But within two years of this new Plymouth’s introduction in 1976, the name came to mean, “I got stuck with a lemon.’

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