If you see a rust-colored ‘26 Dodge emblazoned with “Chicago Park Taxi” toodling by, don’t try to wave it down to take you to town. It’s a whimsical piece of automotive creativity by Mike Butler. When he bought it about eight years ago and hauled it up from SoCal, he thought, “That would be great as Chicago Park taxi and that’s how it worked out.”
The Dodge was only a rolling chassis and body at the time. He set about to make it a “fun” car. He dropped in a ‘75 Chrysler 360 CID engine and 727 auto trans that had been pulled from a motor home. While the valve covers are rather deceitfully labeled “Oldsmobile Rocket,” that’s just a bit of Mike’s off-the-wall humor. Although he kept the Dodge frame, he went with a Ford 8-inch rear end and ‘41 Ford front suspension and hydraulic brakes. It rides on Kelsey Hayes spoke wheels. Inside, a pair of Model A buckets in the front and a Model A bench in the back provide seating. The only window is a windshield. Mike said that makes it “totally air conditioned.” The paint he described as “rusty stock with a linseed oil clear coat.” Automotive paint stores might have trouble filling that order. The firewall in the engine compartment is painted Checker-cab black and white. From there, it only gets crazier.
“It’s a goofy car,” Mike said. “That was my idea when I bought it. People have fun with it. I have fun with it. I’m into antiques and the Dodge is crammed full of them.”
For a roof, he used old California license plates. Many years are represented. It is topped off with an antique, lighted taxi sign. The radiator cap came from the ‘20s and had a propellor that made two bicyclists pedal from the flow of air as the car goes down the road. The only problem is, Mike said, that it wasn’t designed for 60 miles per hour and the propeller took off. Now the cyclists remain at rest, rather than wildly pedaling at freeway speed. Another interesting item is a 1950 Pontiac Indian hood ornament mounted on the cowl that lights up. Both of these are rare collectibles. The taxi has two horns. One is a classic “oogah” and the other is an air horn from a big rig that is hooked to an air pump.
Mike said that it is “loud, very loud.”
So don’t cut him off on the highway.
The four door handles are old house door knobs, but they work. The same cannot be said for many of the gauges on the dash. Most are dummies, including a clock spring with wires running to it that Mike called a “voltage drop differentiator.” He said some people even believe him. For lighting, the original cowl lights serve as front turn signals and the headlights, well, he has no idea from whence they originally came. He could not find a replacement for one of the lenses, so he had new ones made with an etching of Kilroy, the character made famous by G.I.’s in World War II with “Kilroy was here.”
It took about four or five years for Mike to finish his project. Having joined the Roadents car club, known for rat rods like Mike’s, he had a little help from his friends. The taxi was Mike’s first rat rod and he still likes other hot rods. In fact, he is nearing completion of a ‘34 Ford five-window coupe with a Mercury engine, done in the ‘50s style. ut he does enjoy rat rods.
“I like rat rods because you don’t have to wash them,” he said.
Their dull finish doesn’t require hours of waxing and detailing, yet his taxi is a favorite at parades. He also sometimes takes it to the Cars and Coffee in front of Daily Donut in the K-Mart shopping center between 8 and 10 a.m. Saturdays. But if you see him there, don’t expect a cab ride to Chicago Park. The meter won’t be working.
Ron Cherry has published two books, a mystery titled Christmas Cracker and a noirish suspense titled Foul Shot. For more about his writing, go to www.rlcherry.com.