In an attempt to pay tribute to the Checker Cab survivors, part four in a series of blogs will cover Checkers survivors produced between 1950 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 taxi’s useful life, typically ends in recycling yards, the survival rates are ridiculously low, considering that Checker produced about 5000 units a years from 1923 through 1958.
The 1950 Checker Model A4 originally served the good citizens of New York City from 1950 thru 1955. For years it toiled in the mean streets of NYC picking up fares and performing the service it was designed to do as a working taxicab. It may have rolled out of Kalamazoo as a humble taxi, but taxicab work would soon be put aside and this spunky little taxicab would go to Hollywood to work with some of the greatest actors in history.
In 1956 title was transferred to Loews, Inc. of Culver City California. If you don’t recognize the company, it’s a division of MGM Pictures. This A4 can be found in at least three MGM movies, the first A Catered Affair (1956) , Designing Women (1957) and Slander (1957).
The MGM prop department made significant changes to the A4. The manual transmission was replaced by a Hudson Jet Borg Warner automatic transmission, its assumed that the automatic would be better for driving around the movie lot. Changes were also made in the driver compartment. The elaborate Camber Ross & Lever banjo steering wheel was replaced with a bland black Jeep steering wheel. The Checker bucket seat was removed and replaced with a very simple chair. A windup taxi meter was mounted in the cab, but positioned in reverse so it can be seen by a camera filling into the windows. It’s not set up so passengers could actually see the meter and fare.
The Checker ultimately was sold into a third party, movie car company in California and in the early 1990’s famed Checker collector Ben Merkel purchased after much haggling. Haggling include being chase by the moive car company owner with a baseball bat. Ben eventually purchased the Checker A4 via mail. After owning for about 15 years Ben then sold the A4 to Joe Fay in 2008.
The vehicle has been fully restored and is currently being shown at car shows across the country. About 8 years ago another Checker A4 popped up. Also purchased by Joe Fay, little is known about the former NYC taxicab. The car is in the process of being dismantled. Parts have been used to restore the Fay Checker A4 and A3.
Checker Collector Hannu Kyttänen owns the only known surviving Checker Model A5. The A6, was introduced in 1953 as a replacement for the Model A4. The most significant change was in the rear roof passenger area. The entire roof was raised to improve rear headroom clearance, the resulting change squaring up the appearance of the rear section. Other changes to the Model A6 taxi included the introduction of fiberglass, plastic and vinyl and linoleum floors in the passenger compartment. These changes allowed taxi operators to hose down the interiors nightly for hygiene purposes.
The Kyttänen Model A6 originally serviced in New York City, unlike most Checkers, it was not recycled, it would wind up in a salvage yard in New Jersey after service and remain in the yard for close to 35 years. In the 1990’s ICTA member and taxi fan Chris Monier would export the Checker from New Jersey to France. Some time later, Chris sold the A6 to Mano Forsman.
Ultimately Mano would sell the A6 to Hannu Kyttänen in Finland and the Checker would be stored with the many other Finland Checker A4s that were exported to Finland in 1952. Still unrestored, its not clear that the A6 is salvageable. It currently has a rusted frame and there is extensive damage in the rear roof section. According to Hannu, the Checker A6 is for sale if anyone is interested in restoring.
The YouTube video below is from the time period when the Checker A6 was owned by Chris Monier
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
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 a Philladelphia rate card placed on the side of the front door.
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 paneling 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 2019, 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.
In 2016 the ICTA learned of another Checker A8, but have been unable to get in touch with the owner. Its unclear if the A8 still exists or has been crushed. See pictures below. If it still exists additional information would be greatly appreciated, please contact the ICTA at the email above.
Additionally Hannu Kyttänen, Sami Lassila, the Finland Checker Club and Chris Monier have all collaborated to get the A2, A3 and A4s restored.
Special Thanks to Vince Lupo for the use of the header photo.