The story of the Checker cab company is full of as much city politics and racehorse assassination as any mobster film. But the important parts are: 1) Checker aimed for the high end, as most people took buses or streetcars at the time; 2) For decades New York’s regulations required that all cabs be manufactured as cabs rather than modified sedans and when faced with an antitrust suit Checker (as cab manufacturer and cab company) sold licenses rather than allow its drivers to use other cars; and 3) The classic Checker Cab was designed in 1958 and manufactured unchanged until 1982. That’s why they are so ubiquitous in movies.
It’s actually longer than a four-door, with extra leg room and jump seats on the back of the front seats. The floor was totally flat- no transmission tunnel- and five passengers could fit in the back seat alone. The side glass is flat and rolls all the way down. The B and C pillars are vertical, and there’s no dogleg cutout in the rear door for the wheel well. There was a civilian edition, the Marathon, and luxury limo versions. The interior was sourced from Studebaker, the engine was a Continental, the suspension was from Ford, and the transmission was a Bendix.
After starting business in 1920, the company posted its first loss in 1981, mostly due to loosening of NYC taxi regulations. GM President Ed Cole bought the company and began to redesign the cabs based on an extended Volkswagen Rabbit, but fate and good fortune struck him down at the controls of his private aircraft and prevented that crime before it happened. The last cabbie with a Checker retired it (due to a worn-out frame) in 1999.