Above: 1959 Bishop Sheen Checker Limo

Reprinted from a State Department Article Fall 1961

The Department of State has extended the compact car trend to the limousine.  This has been done by transforming a new medium weight sedan by the addition of such “extras” as gray broadcloth upholstery, a glass partition between driver and passenger areas, and an air conditioning unit.  The result is a very presentable and rigged limousine that may prove especially useful in countries where rough roads are prevalent, where maintenance facilities are scarce and high octane gasoline is hard to come by.


Llewellyn E. Thompson and President Kennedy discussing Checker’s expansion into Russia, the secret weapon to end the Cold War

Such a car, in fact, was suggested last March as a proper one for use in Russia.  Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson told the Department that the embassy in Moscow has had considerable difficulty with the maintenance of passenger cars, one expensive make in particular assigned to him.   “These cars,” he said, “are not suitable for the cobblestones and rough roads encountered in the Soviet Union.  While they can be used in Moscow and its environs they are not suitable for any long distance travel, and there is always the problem of obtaining a high octane gasoline which they require.”   The Ambassador said he had learned that Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, wife of the New York Governor, wanting such a car in which she could sit upright, had purchased one of the new medium weight sedans. She had it painted black and re-upholstered.

61 Marathon
One of the original State Dept. Checkers in service in Russia in 1962

Mr. Thompson said he understood the was “highly presentable and that its rigid construction made it practical for use on rough roads. “ He suggested that the Department “may wish to look into the possibility of a similar purchase for this and other missions having comparable conditions.”   It so happened that the division of Supply Management had already investigated the vehicle manufactured by the Checker Motors Corporation in the course of a long search for an acceptable automobile for assignment to chiefs of missions at posts restricted to cars that cost no more than $3800.

The first of the two experimental limousines was delivered to the Department on August 21.   It was shipped to Moscow early this month.   The second unit purchased will be sent to San Salvador. The Division of Supply Management lists these favorable features:   The price of $3800 is within the legislative price ceiling. Its six cylinder engine, standard transmission and generally uncomplicated construction should reduce post mechanical problems. And its high silhouette makes it easy to enter and leave.

The basic sedan was shipped from Kalamazoo to New York where an automobile body firm fabricated and installed a center glass partition-deemed necessary for security reasons—and upholstered the rear compartment in the same broadcloth used in very expensive limousines.   The two experimental models bought so far contain two utility jump seats. More satisfactory auxiliary seating and some other improvements are under consideration.

An advantage emphasized by the manufacturer is that many of its parts are interchangeable with those used in other makes.  This it was suggested, would be useful in foreign posts when replacements parts are needed.

town car 1 (4)
State Department use of Checker clearly lead to the introduction of the Checker A12E limo

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