Chrysler-based Taxis and Jitneys
- Mike Sealey's guide to taxis: 1948-1959, covering both Chrysler and other makes
- DeSoto and early Plymouth cabs
- Jitneys of San Francisco, from the 1940s to the present
Origin of the taxi package (Curtis Redgap)
Around 1935, someone at Chrysler recognized that, around the country, taxis sold in the hundreds. However, the main complaint was the lack of longevity combined with the high cost of replacement parts to keep the cabs running. Then, as in some cases, even today, taxis came from the best of the less beat up used police fleets! Further, some cities, like New York had restrictive regulations concerning taxis, such as wheelbases, engine sizes, and amount of interior room for passengers.
In all likelihood the taxi fleet business was noted because Chrysler was looking for markets to buoy itself up with the disastrous introduction of the Chrysler "Airflow" in 1934. The DeSoto division didn't have an alternate to the "Airflow" design, and its sales went right to the bottom. To someone's credit, Chrysler division had not eliminated conventionally styled cars, keeping a couple models called "Airstreams" in production. Out of the Chrysler conventional "Airstream" line came the right wheelbase car that would put DeSoto into the taxi fleet business. What a difference a year makes. In 1934, DeSoto managed a total production run of 13,940 cars. These were all Airflows. Total! In 1935, they sold 26,800 cars, a 100 per cent increase. Of those, 5,014 4 door sedans were taxis. And why not? They handled 5 passengers (not counting the driver here) with ease. It rode on a 116 inch wheelbase. It had a 241 cubic inch 6 cylinder engine that put out an honest 100 horsepower. Its low end torque characteristics made it perfect for hauling passengers, along with their luggage, and deliver reliable performance while getting 18-20 miles per gallon on tetraethyl gasoline! It had larger brakes that Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth.
Plymouth sold 2563 units as taxi cabs in 1937, with the makings of increased durability in the chassis and body, in the first year that specially marked chassis were destined and recorded as taxi vehicles in the Plymouth line. It was also the last [year Chrysler recorded taxi sales separately] for the next 20 years or so!
Plymouth's first 6 cylinder engine in 1933 was designed to compete directly with the Ford V-8 that was introduced in 1932. The first Ford V-8 engines were far from the best, especially in durability. They burned pistons like marshmallows at a campfire girls meeting, used tremendous amounts of oil from poor piston ring sealing, and threw water due to cooling jackets that surrounded and had to pass by the exhaust ports. They were also not as fast as people were lead to believe. Even in 1933, a good tuned Plymouth could wax a good tuned Ford V-8. The 189 cubic inch Plymouth 6 put out an honest 70 horsepower, five more than the vaulted Ford V-8. Plymouth's 6 also had more low end torque. There was an optional aluminum head for the engine that boosted compression, and horsepower to 76.
[British magazine Auto Guide tested the Ford V8, Chevrolet six, and Plymouth six. The Plymouth six beat the Ford V8 to both 40 mph and 60 mph by half a second, and had a top speed two mph faster than the Ford. Both beat the Chevy by about five seconds 0-40, ten seconds 0-60, and 20 mph top speed.]
There was one other area of concern for those fleet buyers that were thinking safety in 1933. Plymouth had the Lockheed hydraulic 4 wheel brakes as standard equipment. They needed no real special attention, and were easy to adjust as well as powerful in stopping ability. With the hydraulic step up, all four wheels received full braking in a even manner. Ford had mechanical brakes that required adjustment of rods. They were not as powerful, and easily became out of adjustment causing uneven braking problems. Chevrolet also had mechanical brakes with an archaic set of external contracting brakes on the rear and internal expanding brakes on the front.
1956 taxi popularity
By 1956, the nation had clearly chosen Chrysler Corporation cabs, mainly Plymouths, Dodges, and DeSotos. Chrysler's internal magazine showed the proportions:
|City||% Chrysler||City||% Chrysler||City||% Chrysler|
|Los Angeles||99.9%||San Francisco||86.5%||Washington||72%|
|Shoulder room, F/R||63.2/62.7||59.2/59.3|
In 1973, a variety of Plymouth and Dodge taxi packages were available (though it attempted to be a semi-luxury make, Dodge happily competed with Plymouth for police and taxi fleets.) For Dodge, the standard taxi engine was the slant six, the optional engine was the 318 V8; no other engines were available. All Dodge taxis came with a heavy duty automatic, dome lights switches on all doors, electronic ignition, thick rubber bumper guards front and rear, fan shroud with seven-blade fan, roof light wiring, heavy duty front and rear seats with heavy duty springs, heavy duty suspension, and durable vinyl trim without unnecessary seams. The 318 came with a heavy-duty radiator. The rear axle had a 2.94:1 ratio.
The mainstream taxi was the Coronet, the base model B-body, a relatively inexpensive but large car. The Polara cost more, but provided 2.5 inches more leg room in back, with a somewhat larger trunk, and around 3 inches more shoulder room — at the cost of 13 inches in exterior length, and 2 inches in width. The Polara added a door-open warning light for all doors; because of the Polara's size and weight, the V8 was required for air conditioning or the California clean air package. Coronet owners could get green or black seats; Polara owners got a dark gray.
Optional equipment included air conditioning, bigger alternators, quick-release and remote-control deck lids, manual fast-idle throttle control, spotlight, heavier duty suspension with a front sway bar, the ability to have all cars in a fleet keyed the same, a locking gas cap, the "maximum cooling package," a steering wheel with a partial horn ring, and various other tire-and-wheel sets.
The Dodge fleet people also marketed the Sportsman passenger van, with either slant six or 318; it appeared to be unchanged from the standard vans. New features for 1973 were electronic ignition and longer-lasting front disc brakes.
2003 cabs (by Mike Sealey)
San Francisco's DeSoto Cab was founded by James F. Waters, "World's Largest DeSoto-Plymouth Dealer", and despite the Waters connection having fallen by the wayside many years ago, DeSoto [Cab] still runs test vehicles for Chrysler.
The last few years have seen Neons, PT Cruisers, 300Ms, Grand Cherokees, and Durangos on the street as DeSoto Cabs, in addition to the more typical Intrepids and minivans. I guess this had to happen at some point. They finally made a taxi out of a Dakota Club Cab.
Big thanks to DeSoto driver Cliff Lundberg for making this picture available.
Webmaster note: Chrysler made the Intrepid available as a squad car, but has no specific taxi package at the moment. There are a number of cars with fleet packages including such amenities as bench seats. The Plymouth Acclaim had some popularity as a taxi / car service vehicle, but we do not believe an official package was offered.
Thanks to Mr. Latuff for permission to use this photo, taken in 2009. This appears to be a 1975 model with a 1980s hood ornament replacing the original one. Note the Mopar-OEM locking gas cap. Bumper guards were standard.