Challenger Corporation - 1950s-1970s - Memphis, Tennessee


    In 1959, General Motors purchased the name "Comet" from the coachbuilder for use on Mercury's version of the Ford Falcon. Starting with the 1960 model year the former Comet Coach Co. was called Cotner/Bevington, named so after the company's two founders. They moved from Memphis a few miles North to Blytheville, Arkansas and stayed in business through the 1975 model year, building only on Oldsmobile chassis after about 1964. They were bought out by Divco-Wayne (of school bus, milk truck, step van, and Miller-Meteor fame) in about 1964.

Wayne's line of truck-based ambulances ("Sentinel" Suburbans starting for the 1968 model year, "Vanguard" Chevrolet vans for 1971, and "Medicruiser" Dodge vans for 1973) were built in the Blytheville facility until the ambulance product line was sold in about 1980. It was sold to Gene Knisley, owner of Mid-Continent Conversion Co., which was an ambulance/medicar builder in Kansas City, Mo. The name of that company was later changed to Stratus Specialty Vehicles, which no longer builds ambulances.

The Sentinel Suburbans received a headroom increase for 1971, but were only built through the 1972 model year. After that, the name was used on Wayne's line of Type I (pickup chassis) modular ambulances.

Steve Lichtman or Terry Lange, help me on this...were the Challenger (Memphis, Tenn.) Suburban ambulances known as "Centurions?" I have a vague memory of their logo showing a medieval-type warrior, but I don't have time to dig one out to look at.

Challenger was in business from the late 1950s (I think) through about 1974. Even though they built some standard Suburbans, they were famous for their stretched Suburban hightop ambulances. For many years, they used 1963 Plymouth taillights as their standard front and rear flashers.

ad 1963 GMC Truck Equipment Catalog pp52 - Challenger Centurion Rescue Ambulance

Challenger Corp., 4933 Lamar Ave, Memphis, Tennessee

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Yes, Challenger ambulances were Centurions. I have an ad for the Challenger Corporation of Memphis, TN, which shows a long '65 Suburban ambulance, and it states they are the "Manufacturers of the Centurion Ambulance". There is no logo. Interestingly, rather than custom building a side door for the ambulance, as National did, Challenger used another front door for the back door, complete with the vent window. There is a triangular sheet metal plate with a round side flasher that covers the space where the door angles for the windshield.

Interestingly, in the ranks of Suburban ambulances named for early warriors, Christopher's hightop Suburban ambulance/rescue was known as the Trojan.

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Challenger Corporation... Challenger dates back to at least 1957, as I was shown a photocopy of a newspaper article about a fleet of Challenger DeSoto sedan ambulances when I was there in 1974, and it concerned the last of those ambulances being retired and crushed. By the mid-'60's, the mainstay of Challenger's work was ambulance conversions of Suburbans and panel trucks, and that work went on at least as far as 1974. This firm did a Suburban stretched ambulance for the Cincinnati suburb of Evendale, and it even had a sink with running water in the left front corner of the partition, as well as a custom built step bumper with compartments in its face.

2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com, with special thanks to Bernie DeWinter IV.

 

    For more information please read:

The Professional Car (Quarterly Journal of the Professional car Society)

Gregg D. Merksamer - Professional Cars: Ambulances, Funeral Cars and Flower Cars

Thomas A. McPherson - American Funeral Cars & Ambulances Since 1900

Carriage Museum of America - Horse-Drawn Funeral Vehicles: 19th Century Funerals

Carriage Museum of America -  Horse Drawn - Military, Civilian, Veterinary - Ambulances

Gunter-Michael Koch - Bestattungswagen im Wandel der Zeit

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Ambulances 1900-1979: Photo Archive

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Funeral Vehicles 1900-1980 Photo Archive

Walter M. P. McCall - The American Ambulance 1900-2002

Walter M.P. McCall - American Funeral Vehicles 1883-2003

Michael L. Bromley & Tom Mazza - Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine

Richard J. Conjalka - Classic American Limousines: 1955 Through 2000 Photo Archive

Richard J. Conjalka - Stretch Limousines 1928-2001 Photo Archive

Thomas A. McPherson - Eureka: The Eureka Company : a complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Superior: The complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Flxible: The Complete History

Thomas A. McPherson - Miller-Meteor: The Complete History

Robert R. Ebert  - Flxible: A History of the Bus and the Company

Hearses - Automobile Quarterly Vol 36 No 3

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Automobile Manufacturers Worldwide Registry

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark Jr. - Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942

John Gunnell - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975

James M. Flammang & Ron Kowalke - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999

 



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