By on February 18, 2013

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

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16 Comments on “Save This 1969 Checker Aerobus From Getting Made Into Chinese Washing Machines...”

  • avatar

    Nuns, that’s what I remember about the Checker Aerobus.

    The nuns who taught at the grade school I attended all lived in a convent across the parking lot from the school. This was in the late 1950s, and nuns didn’t often venture out of the convent. The nuns who taught at my grade school decided that they needed to get out once in a while to attend events at other parishes, to visit other nuns, and so forth. One nun was chosen to learn how to drive and obtain a drivers license.

    When that had been completed the nuns held fund raisers to finance the purchase of a Checker Aerobus. After its arrival we’d see them on occasion all crammed into their Aerobus, windows all down, smiling, wimples blowing in the wind as they drove past headed God-knows-where.

    We second graders named it the nunmobile. The name stuck, and parish members would schedule times to wash and wax the nunmobile, change the nunmobile oil, set the nunmobile points, rotate the nunmobile tires, and so on.

    Being a Checker living in the salt belt, it rusted apart in a few short years. By then several more nuns had learned to drive and the Checker was replaced with an assortment of Ramblers, Dodges, Fords and Chevys, usually loaned to the nuns for a year or two by parishoners who were car dealers.

    None were as cool young boys’ eyes as the nunmobile.

    • 0 avatar

      Great story. Hey TTAC, any more new writer slots open?

    • 0 avatar

      i never seen one nor rode in an aerobus HOWEVER i bought one about 5 weeks ago…..and i am LOVING IT! i saw an episode of Auction Kings and they had the “wacky taxi” on there….i decided that day i wanted one! Mine is a 1977, 8-door, so it is extremely unusual, i beleive they only made 77 of them and it was the last year they made the aerobus! My question is: is this aerobus still for sale? where would i find it at? i kind of want a 9-door also!

  • avatar

    SWEET ! I actually rode in one of these on a regular basis back in 1969…..

    Sadly the folks in charge of it decided the battery hold down was
    ” for fags ” (what they said when I asked) , left it off so the battery fell into the fan and a month later there was no paint anywhere under the hood , this being New England , I’m sure it’s long gone now .

    This was a very good snow car , I never saw it skid nor slip on those snowy rural roads .


  • avatar

    Whoa- brings back some memories for me.

    Kalamazoo College (my alma mater) used Aerobuses as athletic team transport vehicles for a time. They were odd ducks, but served the purpose.

    We used to roll all the windows down and have the riders next to the doors all stick their arms out the windows and flap their arms like wings. Sounds lame, but looked pretty awesome, and never failed to get a thumbs up!

    • 0 avatar

      So you will remember that the tennis coach at Kalamazoo College got a new Checker from the company every year — always some horrendous metallic color not found in nature, with a black vinyl roof and the rear quarter windows filled in with oval Mark IV-style opera windows? What beasts.

      In the mid-’70s I was on an assignment at the National Institutes of Health and needed to travel downtown from the Bethesda medical campus a few times a week. The government had a fleet of flat grey Aerobuses in shuttle service. I will always remember our driver — a grizzled old guy named Abner — flying down Foxhall Road, then the toniest neighborhood in DC, terrorizing the rich old bats in their Benzes. Great times!

  • avatar

    Well I see 8 door frames – so “door frames rusted out” takes on a new meaning here. A beauty though.

  • avatar

    “I’ll walk right past a half dozen ’57 Chevys and ’69 Camaros to see a single 1961 Rambler American.”

    I spend most of my summer weekends going to car shows. Unfortunately, the ration of Camaros and Tri-Fives to Ramblers is usually 30:1.

  • avatar

    Pretty cool to have an airport limo/car-rental pickup bus where each passenger gets his or her own door…no climbing over the other passengers.

    • 0 avatar

      Connecticut Limo, which does airport transport from Connecticut to CT and NY airports, uses 8-door Suburbans, or at least used to. They put crappy taxicab seats in them, but they work well for the intended purpose. I believe it was an 11 passenger configuration.

  • avatar

    Thanks for including the great brochures and photos – glad some one hung on to these!

  • avatar

    This year is the final Big Apple to Big Easy Rally (aka BABE 8).

    This thing would be EPIC!!!!

  • avatar

    It seems to use up a lot of road space to move 12 people around. A lot more than a modern van, anyway. A whole lot cooler, though.

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