Longtime Checker fans will recognize the Checker Superba wagon in the header of this blog. It’s a 1961 Checker Superba wagon owned by Checker Car Club of America founder Don McHenry. This writer first met Don about twenty-four years ago, he’s quite a character. A friendship developed that ultimately led to long phone calls and the sharing of Checker memorabilia. All press clippings and memorabilia have been filed safely away for future presentation.
Recently after going over the many news clippings that Don sent me, a great new item was found. A news clipping from a June 23, 1985 article that appeared in the Buffalo Sunday News. This blog presents a the full article.
He’s Preserving the Mystique And Fun of Owning a Checker Car
By David Robinson
Beauty, so the saying goes, is in the eyes of the beholder.
That’s what the owners of Checker cars tell people who ask why they drive the family around in one of those boxy and bulky taxis that seem better suited to terrorize pedestrians as they whip down New York City streets than tocart the kids and the dog to a picnic in the park.
“a lot of people say they’re homely,” said Donald E. McHenry of Kenmore, who started the Checker Car Club of America two years ago. “that’s one persons opinion.”
Senior citizens like the Checker’s high body, which makes it easier to get in and out of thecar. Some backyard mechanixs like them because it’s easier to do you own maintenance. And taller or heavier people like the Checkers because of they roomy interiors, built to hold six passengers.
For people who drive Checkers, practically is chic.
“They’re so ugley, they’re beautiful,” said Victor D. D’Ambrosia of Kenmore, a club member who owns two Checkers. “I think, car for car, it’s as well made a cars as there is…..It’s a functional and practical car.”
BUT IT wasn’t popular enough to prevent the Checker Cab Manufacturing Co. from closing its assembly line in Kalamzoo, Mich. On July 12, 1982 after 60 years of producing taxis.
“Checker is like Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, I’d hate to see it die,” McHenry said. “When a person has a car, I want to help them keep it going.”
So McHenry, at the urging of two other Checker owners, started the club in May, 1983, after retiring from the Chevrolet Forge Plant in the town of Tonawanda in 1982.
The idea was to help preserve Checker and assist owners in finding parts or buyers for their cars. McHenry said.
The club now has 285 members, said McHenry, who runs the organization from his house on 479 Tremaine Ave., Kenmore, New York. Membership in the club has nearly tripled since February, boosted by the national publicity it received after being mentioned in a recent issue of Money Magazine.
“It really starting to grow,” McHenry said. “At first, I was getting three or four (letters) a day from people who wanted to join. Now it’s down to about one a day.”
The club has about six members in the Buffalo area, McHenry said. California, with 27 members, has the largest representation in the club, followed by Florida, with 18 enthusiats who have paid the $5 membership fee.
“if they have a problem, I try to help them with their problem.” McHenry said. “You might say I’m a c clearing house of sorts.”
ABOUT 4,500 Checker were produced each year during the 1970’s, with production dropping to 3,500 cars annually in 1980-81 and to 2,000 in 1982, according to Rodney Walton a spokesman for Checker. Of those cars, only about 3 percent were sold to private individuals. The rest were used as taxis, he said.
And since the company has closed its assembly lines, finding parts can be a problem, as McHenry discovered. Recently when he looked for a new frame for his 1960 Checker.
“It took me a long time to find that”, he said, describing how he finally bought a frame from a friend in Ohio, who had purchased it from a man in Colorado ho had moved there from Alaska.
Bu McHenry said he likes dealing with Checker owners and their problems. “it’s a lot of fun, it’s a challenge,” he said. I enjoy talking to a lot of people and I try to answer their questions to the best of my ability.”
McHenry admits, however. That “some of them are doozies.”
One man called McHenry from San Francisco to ask for help securing a loan to buy a Checker which the bank thought was overpriced. McHenry’s solution was to refer the man to a current price guide that valued the car at an even higher price.
ANOTHER WOMAN called to find out where she could buy a Checekr so she could convert it into a sort of mobile party room, MeHenry said. He gave her some names of club members.
“I am not a lawyer, I’am no a banker. I am trying to use common sense,” he said. “You do the best you can.”
To keep the club members informed, McHenry sends out a newsletter four times a year, featuring advertisements for parts and used Checkers as well as club news.
McHenry puts our the newsletter himself – a task that forced him to attend night classes to learn how to type. He also address each envelop individually.
The club depends on its members to inform other Checker enthusiast about the organization.
“There’s a nice camaraderie with people who have a common interest,” D’Ambrosia said. “At first you feel sort of like an outcast,” he said, “Later , you’re sort of proud to drive one. You don’t think of yourself as an outcast.”
And should the unlikely happen and two Checkers drive past on the street, it’s customary to flash their headlights at the other car.
It would seem that, as the back of McHenry’s business cars says, “a Checker owner is never alone”
We’ver recently have heard from Don’s family, he’s doing well and is in fine health. According to his son ” Don McHenry (Dad) is still kicking. He turned 95 on 4/20/19. We won Grand National with his 33 Plymouth at the Meet (2018 Pittsburgh ACAA show) as well. As Dad says “A Checker Owner is Never Alone!”