In an attempt to pay tribute to the Checker Cab survivors, the next few blogs will cover Checkers survivors produced between 1922 and 1958. A small list each car has an interesting story of survival. It’s amazing that any vintage Checker survives as all, the end of any any taxi’s useful life, typically ends in recycling yards The blog will cover the grandfather of the Checker A11, the Checker A8.
To be competitive, Checker would develop and introduce a new taxi to the market in 1955 that could compete and comply with the new New York City Taxi commission rules. So serious was the problem, in 1955 Checker took one year off to develop a new cab and introduce it 1956.
Two models were introduced, the Checker Model A8 Standard and the Models A8 Drivermatic Special. The special was the higher end vehicle equipped with power steering, a Borg Warner automatic transmission and power brakes. The standard was a bare bones taxi with manual brakes, steering and transmission. Both models were purpose built taxi with comparable interior trimming from the previous Model A6. Both vehicle could be equipped with an opening electric rear window. The body was totally new in 1956
There are only four known survivors and one unrestored A8 known to exist in 2018 and here they are.
Douglas Klauck’s, Checker Model A8 Standard
According to Doug “My Checker A8 was purchased from Checker Collector Ben Merkel back in 1999. When I picked up the car, most of it was in boxes. While I appreciate the car already being disassembled, it made the task of building the car a little more challenging since I didn’t know where half the parts belonged. Ben acquired the car in the early 80s after sending out notice to the cab companies that there was a finder’s fee to anyone who knew the whereabouts of an A8.
One was located in Nebraska with 786,000 hard miles on it. A frame off restoration was started in 1983. Fast forward to 2010, I completed the restoration. Car has been restored to New York City colors, complete with original NYC rate decals, provided by Chris Monier in France. Without the invention of the internet, I don’t think I ever could have restored this car (thanks Al Gore). It took a lot of web searching to find what was the correct, or equivalent, parts for the A8. Ebay was a daily hunt. I took a trip out to Joe Pollard’s place in California to scrounge up parts and then to Chicago for Continental Engine parts. I visited Bruce Uhrich in Philadelphia and Joe Fay in Illinois to photograph their A8s”
Joe Fay’s Drivermatic Special
The only known Model A8 Drivermatic Special, this Checker was ordered by Yellow Cab of Oakland, California and was field tested for potential service. The results of the test were poor, judged as not being able to handle steep San Francisco hills. Yellow Cab executive Bill Rothchild purchased the car when Westgate Corporation took over Yellow in 1962. Mr. Rothchild kept the Checker for the next 30 years as his personal car. Originally painted navy blue the car is currently restored in Chicago Checker livery.
Fay purchased the car for Checker collector Ben Merkel. Extremely solid, the A8 only needed a cosmetic restoration. A Chevy 350 V8 (that did not run) was replaced with a Continetal OHV 6 cylinder engine.
Bruce Uhrich’s Checker Model A8 Standard
Bruce’s A8 required significant work in rust repair, particularly in the roof. So bad was the roof panel, the entire panel was removed and replaced with an A11 roof. The gaps between the roof rails and A11 panel was filled in with sheet metal in order to recreate a A8 roof.
The A8 Standard received a full mechanical restoration: Engine rebuilt, brakes and electircal. The body was finished in standard Checker fleet green and yellow two tone with an Philladelphia rate card.
Bruce had to totally rebuild the interior and repair the floors. Extensive searching yeilded fabric that was comparable to the material in the Fay Drivermatic Special. Bruce was also able to find comparable door panelling material. Once he had the material, a block pattern was sewn an applied to the panel to simulate the die electric seaming seen on original panels. The best way to describe Bruce’s cab is pristine. No attention to detail was missed.
Unrestored Checker A8 Standard
About 10 years ago, Joe Fay found another Checker A8 Standard parked in a barn in Salem, Missouri. In extremely rough shape the A8 required a total restoration. Fay never started the restoration and ultimately sold the Standard to David Sunstein. As of 2018, this A8 is owned by Sun Coach Line of McKeesport, Pennsylvania.
The other unique aspect of the A8 restorations was that all three vehicles were essentially restored at the same time. This allowed for communication, collaboration and bonding with all three A8 owners. The climax of the restoration came when all three finished cars were displayed in Brooklyn, New York in 2014. This writer is very thankful for the friendship and bond among the three owners, this friendship among Checker owners is very rare now, considering the actions of 2017.
Special Thanks to Vince Lupo for the use of the header photo.