It’s a summertime Saturday night in the 1950s, and teenagers are hopping with hot rods all across the U.S., ex-GIs are bent over their coupes doing last-minute checks before heading out to the drag strip. Soon they’ll aim their headlights for the excitement of speed and the camaraderie that goes with running the straight, dusty road. The classic images of the early days or rodding and customizers enjoying theirs rides in the US. Who knew that thousands miles away across an ocean in Finland, another group of rodders and customizers were preparing custom rods, but not based on your typical Ford coupe but a Checker Taxicab!
Yes, a Checker. A significant number of used Checker Model A2’s were imported by the Chicago Checker Taxi Company a division of Checker Cab Manufacturing to serve tourists and visitors at the Olympic games in Helsinki of 1952.
After the Olympics, many of the Checkers would soon be placed in the hands of new Finnish owners who would put the used taxis to good use. While the hot rod and custom car craze was well on its way in the US, one man in Finland is credited with creating the first Finland customize hot rod and it was based on one of the old Checker taxis from Chicago!
That man was Arvi Hänninen of Suonenjoki, Finland. At the time Mr. Hänninen owned a bus body fabricating company called “Suonenjoen Autoasennus”. Hänninen took on the major challenge of creating a two door custom coupe based on a Checker four door sedan. The modifications would be significant.
The car would be chopped and channeled, meaning that the roof was lower and the entire body was reduced in height. Not only was the roof chopped, it was converted to a coupe style. Beyond channeling the body, the Checker body was shortened and rear doors were removed. Front doors were extended to allow for a large passenger compartment entry.
During down time at the bus facilities Hänninen deployed his team of employees to perform the customization The work between 1953 and 1956. Many Finland customizers believe it was one of the first custom coupe built, if not THE first custom car ever built in Finland. According to one of the fabricated: Jaakko Miettinen. the bodywork was finely crafted by hammer welding and fabricated with lead.
The body was channeled over the frame and the front fenders were reshaped. Many parts on the car were built from scratch, while others were taken from various donor cars. The bumpers were sourced from a Kaiser and the taillights were lifted from a 1952 Chevrolet.
According to Finland authorities the Checker was last registered in 1961. Years later it was parked outdoors for an extended period of time becoming a victim of street hoodlums breaking the windshields and kicking in some body panels. The current owner believes that the car changed hands during the early 1960s, and then again it swapped hands a couple of times in the 1980s.
Unfortunately according to sources, one of the guys that bought the car in the 1980s was a novice Finnish custom car enthusiast who tried to restore the car, but ended up cutting off and loosing vital parts on the car. He would later give up on the car and would change hands a couple more times in the early 2000s.
By 2005 the car was again sold to its current owner and again is in the middle of a restoration of the car. Thankfully the new owner has collected a lot of vital parts required to finish the Checker. Additionally some of body panels have already been rebuilt.
We at the ICTA will continue to follow the story and provide updates whenever possible. More excting times in the Checker hobby, we could soon see a true customized historically significant Checker!
For further evidence of Finnish Checker hot rodding we present the following