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James Waters and Plymouth and DeSoto Taxis

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.

While Chrysler was an innovator in fleet sales, especially in the police and taxi markets, San Francisco DeSoto-Plymouth distributor James F. Waters probably did as much to popularize Chrysler taxis as the factory.

Waters advertised itself as the "World's Largest DeSoto-Plymouth Dealer," and was the only San Francisco car dealership with a branch 3,000 miles away in Long Island City, New York.

Then, as now, New York City was the center of American cab culture, and Waters was a part of that, with a large facility in Long Island set up to do conversions. They had branches in Detroit and Chicago, and other cities as well, but these appear to have been cab marketing offices as opposed to full dealerships. (My information is less than complete at present.)

Large national taxicab fleets like Chicago-based Yellow and Checker expanded in the 1920s to manufacture and provide their own purpose-built taxicabs. The Checker Marathon traces its origins back to this era. There were cabs manufactured under the Yellow name as well, and related "Yellocab" trucks.

Yellow Cab owner John Hertz sought to expand outside the taxi business, and found itself renting cars of its own construction, which were built under the Ambassador name a few years before the first Nash Ambassador. Hertz Rent-A-Car traces its lineage and its yellow color scheme back to this spinoff.

Hertz eventually sold Yellow's manufacturing arm to General Motors, which continued Yellow Truck and Coach as something of a fleet division for GMC Truck. With this deal, Hertz also entered into a deal with GM to provide rental cars, and GM continued as Hertz Rent-A-Car's primary supplier until 1965.

In the 1930s, Checker's purpose-built taxicabs were joined in the market by the General taxicab, a GM-built cab physically resembling an enlarged Chevrolet but using heavy-duty components from all the different GM divisions. GM hoped to take a commanding role in the purpose-built taxi market, but wound up losing a great deal of money on its General models as a result of overly generous extensions of credit.

Chrysler was in no position to offer its own make of taxicab, although Fargo still existed as a fleet division and some Plymouths were built for sale to the government under the Fargo name. At the time, most cabs were bigger than the standard Chevy-Ford-Plymouth models that made up most of the civilian market at the time, in part because of regulations in New York City and other cities that required taxicabs to carry five passengers in a separate compartment to the rear of the driver. Jimmy Waters responded with a taxi version of the long-wheelbase 1935 DeSoto Airstream. While this wasn't quite the purpose-built taxi Checker had been building for years, DeSoto's comfort and typical Chrysler reliability propelled the Waters conversion to a level of popularity that mighty GM could only gasp at.

Bruce Craig wrote that in Portland (Oregon), in the early 1960s, he saw stretched DeSoto airporters, similar to Checker Airporters, that had four doors per side; they were painted gray.

The Waters dealership at 1355-1395 Van Ness Avenue is still standing, and now houses Ellis Brooks, a longtime Chevrolet dealer that now handles all GM makes sold in the US except Saab and Saturn.

The DeSoto "Skyview" taxi, which appears to have been introduced around 1941, was a Waters innovation that was extremely popular in New York and other cities. This consisted of a long-wheelbase DeSoto sedan (the long wheelbase due to an NYC regulation at the time) with a plexiglas roof panel allowing tourists to oooh and ahh at the tall buildings.

Interestingly enough, San Francisco Yellow Cab used DeSotos through 1950 or so, while the Waters-owned DeSoto Cab company used Plymouths in San Francisco, at least from 1939 on!

Also see our Chrysler taxi page, also concentrating on the early years.

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