Checker Motor Cars, which announced plans last year to revive the American automotive brand best-known for its taxi cabs, has released drawings of what it proposes for its first two models — an El Camino-style car-based pickup truck and a six-door airport limousine/group touring vehicle.
Steve Contarino’s father drove a Checker cab in the Boston area and Contarino became known within the Checker owners’ community for restoring the Checker Centurian, a 1967 Ghia-designed concept car. Contarino’s day job for some three decades has been modifying vehicles for the specialized demands of police and fire departments, emergency medical services and other municipal government agencies.
His original plan was simply to do Checker restorations and produce the parts needed for Checker owners to maintain their vehicles — until he discovered there actually may be a commercial market for modern Checker vehicles.
The plan is not to produce four-door taxi cabs, Contarino said, adding that there are plenty such vehicles being produced by automakers around the world. His market research led him to two initial niches “a low-load combination sedan and pickup” and a six-door, four-row vehicle that would be an alternate to the duck boats used to show tourists around some major cities, including Boston, near Contarino’s Haverill, Massachusetts, business location.
“The duck tours can go in the water but they’re out of place in traffic, a fish out of water,” Contarino said of the amphibious vehicles. “They’re made to do two things but don’t do either thing very well.”
A charter duck boat was recently blamed for a crash near Seattle that killed five passengers.
Contarino noted that there are 15-passenger vans that can be used for tourist groups, but that they can be difficult to climb into and then climb back through the seats.
While the vehicles would have the look of classic Checkers, they also would have modern rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes and other technology updates.
Contarino said he is closely following the progress of House Bill 2675, introduced in June, 2015, by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R. Oklahoma) to “direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to establish a program allowing low-volume motor-vehicle manufacturers to produce a limited number of vehicles annually within a regulatory system that addresses the unique safety and financial issues associated with limited production, and to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to allow low volume motor vehicle manufacturers to install engines from vehicles that have been issued certificates of conformity.”
Checker Motor Cars’ plan calls for 200 to 500 vehicles a year, with assembly starting in 2018, most likely assembled on Contarino’s seven-acre Haverhill grounds. Contarino plans an assembly facility that will have a glass wall so visitors can see cars being built, as well as a Checker museum to showcase and share the marque’s history.