I like unusual cars. I’ll walk right past a half dozen ’57 Chevys and ’69 Camaros to see a single 1961 Rambler American. The Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti is penciled in as an annual stop for me. From that info you can probably figure out that I dig Checker cars. If a Checker is unusual, then a Checker Aerobus is unusual squared . The Aerobus, as the name implies, was typically used as an *airport shuttle and came in seven and nine door wagon body styles (and 8 door sedans in 1976-77). Essentially it was an A8 Checker (taxis were A8s, retail models were Marathons) with a special double reinforced long wheelbase frame and extra doors. When I saw that one was listed locally on Craigslist, I had to check it out, or at least make a preliminary phone call.
Apparently it’s most recent use was as a promotional vehicle / billboard for an establishment named “Checkers” and the Aerobus is skinned in a checkerboard pattern. With no working drivetrain, it’s being offered as an $800 “parts car”. Of course one person’s parts car is another person’s restoration candidate.
The ad said that the interior was good, and I figured that if the body was anywhere near sound, at a near 24 Hrs of LeMons claiming price, it might be worth getting on the road, or at least salvaging as an artifact. Since Checker used an assortment of Chrysler, Continental and Chevrolet engines over the 3 decades that they made the A8/Marathon, a small block Chevy and Turbo Hydramatic drivetrain would be a relatively inexpensive no-brainer.
So I called the number listed in the Craigs ad. I asked him one question, “how bad is the rust?” His answer was kind of scary. Apparently the door frames are rusted out. He didn’t say just how badly, but I got the impression that some of the many, many doors might fall off if they were unlatched. Still, in the photos in the ad the doors seem to be sitting more or less straight. How bad could it be? Surely it could be shored up with some creative welding.
Even if this Aerobus really is beyond repair, I’m hoping that some Checker enthusiast will see this post and buy the car as an actual parts car. I doubt Checker spent the money on unique doors for the Aerobus and I’m sure that those doors and many of the other parts will indeed fit one of the shorter wheelbase Checkers. They belong on another Checker, not as part of another Chinese made appliance.
If you are interested in saving this historic artifact, and potentially beyond way cool cruisemobile, a word of caution about price. I first spotted the car when it was $900 and in talking with the seller about how firm his price is, it’s clear that any potential buyer would be competing with the price of scrap steel. The remark about Chinese appliances was no joke. A 9 door Aerobus wagon has a curb weight of over 5,300 lbs. At $250/ton for scrap steel, do the math.
Murilee’s Junkyard Finds often elicit “someone should save that car” comments. While Murilee has a fine eye for cool cars, many of those ‘restoration candidates’ are nowhere near as rare, or register anywhere near the coolness factor that any Checker has today, let alone a 9 door gazillion passenger Checker station wagon. Think of it. Enough room for the band, the roadies and a couple of groupies, plus cargo room for the amps. Though 1969 was the Aerobus’ highest production year, Checker still only made 436 of them that year, out of about 3,300 Aerobus wagons that were made in Checker’s Kalamazoo factory from 1962 to 1974. That’s not as rare as other notable depot hacks, the 1959 Cadillac Broadmoor Skyview station wagon, or the Miller-Meteor Oldsmobile Toronado based Jetway 707, but it’s still uncommon. How many other cars have D pillars, let alone Es and Fs too? Checkers have an active enthusiast community and how can you not love a car that makes people smile? Save this Aerobus!
*Brochures touted the Aerobus as “for businesses, institutions, resorts, service firms, schools… even big families!”
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS