My interest in Checkers goes back to my childhood and our family business which, as you many have guessed, was a cab company. We had about a dozen Checkers which I under my father’s guidance would help maintain. The business was named Paramus Taxi, located in Paramus, NJ. All the cabs were green with just a long checker strip along the roofline and down to the rear deck. If I remember correctly, we had a one or two cars with over 500K miles on the original motor and transmission (Chevrolet stratight 6 and Turbo 400 transmission). The later cars had V6’s which we always felt were not as good as the straight 6’s, probably because of the emission standards.
A combination of the loss of Checkers cabs in 1982, extremely high insurance costs and new competition for car service resulted in selling the business and getting into fleet service by the mid 80’s. I wish we had kept at least 1 or 2 of the cabs we had but aside from a handful that were sold the rest were junked.
When new cabs came in we could often find these chrome, 2” pins floating around the floor usually under the front or rear seats. We assumed they were some sort of alignment pin left behind by the plant but it’s still a mystery to us. I wonder if anyone else ran into these items? We lamented the loss of jump seats and the inclusion of the seatbelts, warning light and chimes.
One of the immediate tasks for a new car was to pull the back seat our and to buckle all the seatbelts together and tuck them in to the seat, then put the seat back in the seat well. This is often when we’d find those chrome pins. Another modification to a new car would be to add spring loaded hood retention hooks (think the old Jeep CJ hood latched).
The earlier cabs didn’t have a hood safety latch so at highway speed the hood generated lift due its shape and would fly open and off the cab. Remarkably, they would usually only catch the roof light and miss the windshield. Even after the safety latches were incorporated, we would still put the spring latches on, habit, I guess.
I also remember the later cars having the body filler would crack and peel upwards at the intersection of the roofline and the top of the rear truck deck. I can remember many diatribes from my Dad blaming Ralph Nader for the peeling body filler (used to be lead) and the emission equipment on the V-6’s. Of course as you know the achilles heel of these cars was/is their propensity to rust.
Mechanically they were very reliable as long as you maintained them on a regular bases. Common parts to be replaced were idler arms and ball joints, drive shaft U-jointson occasion, headlights dimmer switches (road salt killed these often), shocks, brakes and of course tires. We would also have a problem with the hoods buckling about 1/3 up from the windshield, we’d end up bolting on a Stanley bracket to fix the problem. Not entirely petty but, very functional.
For the bodies aside from rust, it seemed that every other month we would have a crash. Usually right front fender and more so in the winter. I can’t tell you how many grills I installed on those cars. I also had some terrible wrecks, with one of the drivers losing his life. I was too small to remember that one first hand but I do remember a cab hitting the center divider on the highway and flipping onto its side. The door handles and bumper edges were ground down but otherwise not really damaged.
My father’s business was located along a busy highway, in the mid 70’s, one day a teenager was driving while under the influence of something other than alcohol (nobody really knew what) and ran off the highway and took out of three cabs. She walked away unscathed but I think that turned by Dad’s hair gray. There was lots of cursing that day,
Most of the long time drivers all seemed to have bad habits. Smoking of course was the norm, sports betting too. One driver could never seem to keep his left foot off the brake. We put in a small dash mounted brake light for him on one of the Checkers which only he then would drive, the modification saved us from frequent brake jobs.
Christian owns a 1976 Checker Model A1
A bit of an epilogue, sadly the Tuesday before the 2014 Checker Brooklyn convention, Fred Hutter passed away. I had hoped to bring him. I left the funeral on Friday and went right to the convention still in my black suit. I connected with Rick Lucious and Todd Harroun and the next early morning went on a pilgrimage across the Whitestone bridge and down to SOHO with cab 804. It was cathartic for me and such a great experience after a terrible week. Sappy I know but, it’s something I’ll always appreciate and never forget.
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