The ExChecker BRC

modified October 7, 2001

The Cab from Hell


Checker Cab Bantam Reconnaissance Car chassis #101 assembled? May 23, 1941 emerges from its decades old hiding place, bringing the total known BRC "survivors list" to perhaps 40 or 50 worldwide, and is number two of the three "Checker Cab Bantams".

In seeking out old cars, no matter how hard one tries it's impossible not to get ones hopes up when hot on the trail. Thus they are nearly all disappointing. It's just a question of how bad. Then you get used to it...or resigned, and begin to count up the good things about it (it didn't fall over and kill you in the extraction). When this one rolled out of it's lair, replete with about 500 pounds of woodchuck droppings, missing not only the transfer case but the whole transmission, starter, carburetor, generator, headlights etc. etc. and sporting a fairly well crafted but butt-ugly aluminum top (in post war years it was used as a delivery mule around the factory and the top was added to protect against Michigan weather) and a rash of badly welded or cut body amendments and deletions, ones heart sinks. However, human nature dictates that in desperate situations a person will develop a false optimism.It's a hard wired survival instinct I guess. And even you have to admit that with that grotesque top taken off it begins to look a bit more like a BRC? (It still reeks of woodchuck though. What the hell IS a woodchuck??!!?? They must be very powerful animals.)

SO. let's have a look....

The links that follow are in chronological order and reflect my feelings about the restoration and it's history at the time I observed them. This makes for an interesting document for those restoring historical cars as you will see how something that seemed "obvious" at first may turn out differently later on. This creates the difficulty however that some pages will not stand alone very well where they have been overcome by facts in a subsequent page...and what if someone comes into a page from outside, without reading this caveat? So, what I'll do is go in and place comments enclosed by [ ] brackets to show I have made some revisionist comments.

My initial reaction was that there was no way this could be a "Checker RC" in the sense that it was produced from scratch in Kalamazoo. I still see no evidence that the constituent parts are anything but Bantam and I believe the Gilmore car to be a Bantam as well. The only question is, how much assembly was done in Kalamazoo and how much in Butler? As will be seen, infra, there is evidence of a contract, or at least a serious negotiation between Bantam and Checker dated Feb.11, 1941. It seems clear that if Checker was going to produce these cars, or was even considering it, they would have had to have some examples from which they could reverse engineer and figure out a bid price. The Bantam data plate, as referred to below, gives a "delivery date" of May 28, 1941. And we place the third Checker Cab Bantam at Holabird on June 11, 1941, so whatever they did to them and however long they had them, they finished in the late spring of '41.

First of all, on this car, right there on the dash where it's supposed to be is a Bantam data plate. .It carries the very unusual, out of sequence chassis #101, (more on which later), and a delivery date of 5-28-41. However, all may not be as it appears. See what I discovered about these plates! I also discovered a very corroded Checker data plate under the hood! However, on the Checker plate, one can make out in the space for "MODEL" is stamped "BANTAM RC". Chassis #101. I would say that settles that. Even Checker considered the car a Bantam RC. (The museum car has no similar Bantam data plate on the dash, although one of the other plates has been moved over to it's spot. That dash has all the requisite holes for all the Bantam data plates. Drilling these would not have been a likely exercise in scratch built a "CRC" (IMHO). I do not know if it carries a Checker data plate but will find out and report back.

Click on image for detail

There is other evidence which I don't need to bore everyone with but for instance, both cars have some very distinctive and expensive to make Bantam castings and die struck metal parts. There is no way (IMHO) that Checker was going to do this sort of tooling for three prototypes. The skid plate for instance which for a prototype could have been easily welded up but is is a pure die struck Bantam part on both cars. But the really convincing evidence is that many of these castings, like some the windscreen parts (where another type of windscreen was fitted) are redundant to the cars. Why make an expensive casting you don't use?

This car has a curious "cladding"...a body skin over the original Bantam body which threw me off when I first saw the car. I believe this was added for reinforcement of the latterly added tailgate. Under the skin the Bantam pattern of holes for hand holds etc begins to emerge.

This is the inside of the body where the original Bantam skin is seen. replete with it's hand hold holes. From the outside you can't see them because the are covered with a second skin. Note too at the top where the diameter of the beading increases. On the left is the original Bantam, spot welded edge..on the right it is covered with a larger crimped bead which is part of and holds up the second skin. My suspicion is that this is a post war modification that has nothing to do with the wartime testing concerned here.

But, enough of this nit-picking. What is really a mystery and has us all scrambling around is why these cars were in Kalamazoo? Our story, subject to revision in light of evidence is that these cars arrived in Kalamazoo on pallets in the partially knocked down way they were customarily shipped overseas. Checker completely disassembled the cars, then reassembled them. The second hand oral history is that the Army sent the cars, or had them sent to Checker for evaluation as to Checkers' possible interest and/or ability in producing them. This could be possible I suppose, but it doesn't jibe very well with what we know about the Bantam history. First of all, the Army was at this time busy nudging Bantam out of the jeep picture and handing its designs around to Willys and Ford. Remember, the Quartermasters whole 'uniform/interchangeable parts' thing was going on in mid '41 and Ford was suffering the ignominity of producing GPW's with Willys "Go Devil" engines. So why would the Army be sending Bantams to Checker for evaluation, Bantams for which there were no orders even at Bantam? Moreover, if they were really interested in producing more Bantams, why wouldn't they have sent prototypes to Willys and Ford in the same way?

The very unusual out of sequence serial number smacks (#101) more of Checker having assigned Checker numbers to these cars, although why they put Bantam data plates on at all is a bit of a mystery. Had they been Army cars they would certainly have had regular sequenced Army numbers. The phrase of the Graham account of his conversation with Stout that everyone has over looked is:

"He told my father & me how Checker almost collaborated with Bantam to make jeeps for the gov't." [This turns out to be true as can be seen by the evidence of the Checker Bantam contract]

Now this is beginning to make some sense. Our story continues along the lines that the President of Checker at the time (Morris Markham) was very much against producing the jeeps from the beginning (although, to his credit, he later was said to have remarked that he regretted not having done it). Does this sound like a man being offered a crack at a huge Army contract after ten years of depression? No. It does however sound like a perfectly reasonable position someone might want to take if a nearly failed little company that everyone in the industry could see was getting shafted by the Army approached for a joint venture of some kind. Bantam would have been desperate for manufacturing space and production capacity in order to compete with Willys and Ford for at least a share of the production of its own invention. But it was not to be. Checker and Bantam both were relegated to making trailers for the jeeps, and Bantam never made another motor vehicle.

All of this is part hearsay and part hypothesis, and any relevant information or comments are sincerely solicited.

However, given what we have seen so far, the whole "CRC" story (a scratch built Checker of original design) looks to us paranoid Bantam types like yet another attempt by the automotive establishment and their allies to continue the big lie, and make sure that the Bantam Car Company and the jeeps inventor, Karl Probst never achieve recognition of their rightful and substantial place in automotive history.

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