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Chrysler-based Taxis and Jitneys

by Curtis Redgap

Around 1935, Chrysler recognized that taxi owners were concerned by their lack of longevity and the high cost of replacement parts. Then, as now, some taxis came from used police fleets; and some cities, like New York, had taxi regulations covering the wheelbases, engines, and passenger space.

1971 Plymouth taxi brochure

In all likelihood, Chrysler was driven to the taxi fleet business because of the disastrous introduction of the 1934 Airflow cars. DeSoto didn’t have an alternate to the "Airflow" design, and its sales plummeted. Chrysler had not completely eliminated conventionally styled cars; and out of the conventional Chrysler line came the car that would put DeSoto into the taxi fleet business.

1967 dodge cabs

In 1934, DeSoto produced 13,940 cars; in 1935, they sold 26,800 cars, twice as many — and 5,014 were taxis. They handled five passengers (not counting the driver) with ease, riding on a 116 inch wheelbase. It had a 241 cubic inch, straight-six engine that put out an honest 100 horsepower, with low-end torque perfect for hauling passengers and luggage — while getting 18-20 miles per gallon on tetraethyl gasoline. It had larger brakes that Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth, so they stopped faster but brakes wore out more slowly.

Valiant taxis - 1960

Plymouth sold 2,563 taxi cabs in 1937, with the makings of increased durability in the chassis and body, in the first year that specially marked chassis were recorded as Plymouth taxis. It was also the last year that 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.]

eurocab

Plymouth also had standard hydraulic four wheel brakes that needed no special attention, and were easy to adjust as well as powerful in stopping ability. Ford had mechanical brakes that required adjustment of rods, were not as powerful, and easily went out of adjustment. Chevrolet also had mechanical brakes, with an archaic set of external contracting brakes on the rear and internal expanding brakes on the front.

by Mike Sealey

Postwar, Chrysler still stayed involved in taxi making, even making longer-wheelbase cars for that purpose from 1946 to at leat 1948 and possibly beyond. MoPar part #1879 660 was the clutch package kit for 1949-54 DeSoto taxicabs, for example (it was used on other cars as well). Rockwell/Ohmer, Viking and Cabometer all made mechanical meters which fit neatly in the speaker cavity of 1949-50 Plymouths and Dodges. Around 1954, a DeSoto Retailer article stated that seven out of every ten cabs in NYC were DeSotos, a figure much like those achieved by MoPar police cars in later years, and a strong testimony to Chrysler reliability.

The Plymouth seemed ideal as a taxi — reliable, durable, inexpensive to purchase and to operate — but some operators spent the extra money to purchase Dodges or DeSotos, because of the Fluid Drive semi-automatic; it added to clutch life, especially in hilly cities such as San Francisco. A 1953 DeSoto Retailer claimed that Waters Manufacturing Company [details] converted 2,000 DeSotos per year into New York cabs; they were made without trim, seats, or even window glass, with an eight-passenger sedan body, six cylinder engine, and manual transmission. The NYC cabs averaged over 100,000 miles per year. (Thanks, Dave Duricy.)

1957 taxi

By 1956, the nation had clearly chosen Chrysler Corporation cabs, mainly Plymouths, Dodges, and DeSotos; and the company went back to publicizing specific taxi packages with the 1956 model year (the “Plaza Taxicab” and “Coronet Taxicab,” both sold in I-6 and V8 forms. Chrysler’s internal magazine claimed dominance of the field:

City% Chrysler City% Chrysler City% Chrysler
Los Angeles99.9%San Francisco86.5%Washington72%
Kansas City97.%Portland80%Baltimore64%
Cincinatti91%Boston79%Detroit58%
Cleveland88%Denver73%New York58%

plymouth taxi

The 1963 parts book showed numerous special Plymouth and Dodge taxi-package parts, including heavy duty torsion bars and springs, rear axles, service and parking brakes, cooling systems, slant six and 318 engines, manual and automatic transmissions, torque converters, exhaust systems, oil-bath air cleaners, special carburetors, steering systems, mirrors, and (narrower) wheels. Alternators were available — 40, 60, and 100 amp units, from Leece-Neville.

1973 Cabs Polara Coronet
Wheelbase 122 118
Length 226.6 212.9
Legroom, F/R 41.8/39.1 41.9/36.7

In 1973, both Plymouth and Dodge had numerous taxi packages (though it was supposedly a near-luxury brand, Dodge competed with Plymouth at all levels.)

The standard taxi engine was the slant six, the optional engine was the 318 V8; no other engines were available. The taxis came with a heavy duty automatic, dome light switches on all doors, electronic ignition, thick rubber bumper guards, a fan shroud and seven-blade fan, roof light wiring, front and rear seats with heavy duty springs and thick vinyl (without unnecessary seams), and a heavy duty suspension; the 318 came with a heavy-duty radiator.

1973 dodge taxi

The mainstream taxi was the Coronet, the base model midsize car. The larger Polara cost more, but provided 2.5 inches more leg room in back, a larger trunk, and around 3 inches more shoulder room — at the cost of 13 inches in exterior length, and 2 inches in width. 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.

diesel plymouth taxi

Options 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, heavier-duty cooling, a steering wheel with a partial horn ring, and various other tire-and-wheel sets.

Starting in 1984, according to Pete Kranz, Mopar taxis have used sales code AHA. The police package is still AHB.

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 [last updated, 2003].

Dodge Dakota cab

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.

Plymouth Valiant taxi

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.

Taxi links

 

What was in a taxi package?

by Bill Watson

The 1958 Plymouth order code list (USA) that lists the various items in the Heavy Duty Packages - Taxicab and Police :

399 - Non-Slip Differential - 350-cid V8 only
451 - Heavy Duty Package for 3-speed manual and overdrive transmissions
452 - Heavy Duty Package for automatics
437 - Universal Key Package (Taxicab)
455 - Heavy-Duty Springs and Shock Absorbers
394 - Automatic Dome Light Switch - All Doors (Taxicab)
400 - Fuel Tank - 23 gallons
225 - Vinyl Trim - Seat and Door Panels
609 - City Traffic Carburetor (Taxicab)
359 - Heavy Duty Crankcase Ventilation Package
585 - Battery - 70 Ampere Hour
571 - 30-Ampere generator - city police
572 - 40-Ampere generator - city police (N/A 6 with PS)
574 - 50-Ampere generator - Leece Neville (N/A 6 with PS)
573 - 50-Ampere generator - Bosch (N/A 6 with PS)
378 - Governor (35 to 60 miles) - 6-cylinder only
309 - Handle - Door Pull-To - Taxicab - right rear door

Packages 451 and 452 included such heavy duty equipment as springs, shocks, clutch, battery, seat cushion springs, and wheels (14x5*). Taxis also included an economy carburetor and head on the straight-six.

Taxi and police cars in this era were fairly unique (at Chrysler) in having optional 15” rims and tires in those days, using a variation on the ’50s Plymouth “poverty cap” that looked like the original but did not have the ship logo. This practice continued until 1969, when civilian C-bodies became available with 15” wheels once again. Bigger wheels were much more common on police models than taxis, but some cabs had these too.

Taxi specifications

Bill Watson derived the number of taxis produced from Chrysler Canada’s model chart and serial number guide and published production figures:
1936 : 5997501 - 6000000 * : (NY - 2,500)
1936 : 6004101 - 6004200 : (California - 451)
1937 : 5094001 - 5094225 : (225)
1938 : 5095001 - 5095372 : (372)
1939 : 5095401 - 5096648 : (1,250)
1940 : 5096701 - 5099021 : (2,323)
1941 : 5099101 - 5101600 : (2,502)
1942 : 5101701 - 5102456 : (756)
1946 : 5102501 - 5105413 : (2,913)
1947 : 5105414 - 5110107 : (4,694)
1948 : 5110108 - 5113457 : (3,350)
1949 : 5113458 - 5114100 : (643)
1949 : 5115001 - 5115680 : (680)
1950 : 5116001 - 5118530 : (2,350)
1951 : 5119001 - 5121266 : (2,266)
1952 : 5121401 - 5122684 : (1,284)
1953 : 5124001 - 5125711 : (1,700)
1954 : 5126001 - 5128005 : (2,000)
1955 : 5130001 - ** : (0)
1956 : (none) : (0)
1957 : 59001001 - 59001139
1958 : LS1T-1001 - *** : (?)
1959 : (none)
* - Numbers 6000001 to 6000714 were used on the 1930 DeSoto Six (CF) while the 1931 DeSoto Six (CF) used 6000801 to 6004022. Thus the break
in numbers. The numbers 5000001 to 5093971 were used by various DeSoto models from 1930 (Eight - CK) through 1936 (Airflow - S2).
** - This was listed in the October 1954 edition, so I suspect someone had plans to build a DeSoto taxi. However none were built and no numbers for 1955 are listed in the April 1957 edition.
*** - This was listed in Chrysler of Canada’s 1958 parts book (March 1959 edition). Unable to locate any ending numbers.

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