According to an article in Hemming Motor News blog in 2005 Ben Merkel purchased his first Checker back in the 70’s. “ Ben, of Middlefield, Ohio, east of Cleveland in Amish country, discovered Checkers from a collector’s standpoint when he bought his first Marathon for $600 in 1977 while in Santa Monica, California. He had a yen (“a latent disease,” is how he described it) for Checkers, and saw his opportunity to enter the hobby with that car. “It was one of those deals where I drove away waving, and the dealer and I were both thinking, So long, sucker, Ben said.”
Over the next thirty years Ben would amass one of the biggest collections of Checkers in the world. Ben would ultimately become the leading suppliers of Checker parts to Checker collectors worldwide.
Over time, the interest in Checkers has waned. There are just not that many collectors still around to support a viable Checker recycling business. If you were fifty when you bought your new Checker in 1982, you’d be over 85 today.
Ben started to wind down his Checker parts business over ten years ago. According to the article written by Dan Strohl in 2005:
“ He at least has his own private Checker junkyard out back from which he can pluck the parts he needs. At one point, more than 500 Checkers covered his three-acre property, but as suburbia encroaches on Middlefield, he has throttled back the collection, preparing for a time when the local authorities become less tolerant of the collection. About 30 cars remain, tucked behind the shop. The parts he could scavenge from those fleet cars now hang from the walls of the pole barn; steering columns gather in one area, wiring harnesses string from nails in another. A row of doors displaying livery logos mounts to an outside wall like so many hunting trophies.
That was 2005, as would be expected, in 2017 Ben has since reduced his Checker collection further. At this time Ben has about ten Checker parts cars and eight running show presentable Checkers. In this blog, we’ll showcase those eight Checker. All eighties era Checkers, in chronological order, here they are:
1980 Checker A11 diesel taxicab, a former Fort Cab from Missouri the 5.7 Olds powered engine is one of a handful of rare Checker diesel survivors.
1981 Checker A11 graffiti taxicab, another former Fort Cab, this cab was recently used in a Cleveland festival where graffiti a artist painted up the old taxi warhorse. This cab would fit in perfectly at how in Wynwood, Florida.
1981 Checker A11e Supercab, a former Washington DC cab, in very good shape, this a great example of a non-yellow cab, so often restored cabs are painted yellow, it’s nice to see a non-yellow cab for a change.
1981 Checker A11 Taxicab, a former Norfolk Black and White Cab Company, in very good shape, a great example of one of the four taxi companies that used Checkers in a very competitive taxicab market.
1982 Checker A11 Taxicab, a New York City clone, this cab has been restored as a tribute to the famous New York cabs of the 70’s and 80’s
1982 Checker A11 Taxicab, this is an interesting one, as Ben purchased this cab new in 1982 . As reported in Hemmings in 2005 “ It’s nothing special, with its optional propane-powered 229-cu.in. V-6 and typical crooked headlamp pods, except that Ben had it painted in a shade of taxi yellow and fitted with taxi equipment. Oh, and he’s kept the mileage to about 2,100 in the last 23 years by driving the car just once or twice a year.” Today in 2017 it has 2300 miles.
1982 Checker A11 Taxicab, another former Norfolk, Virginia taxicab this one is painted a bright orange.
1982 Checker A11e, this cab is interesting as it was sold new by Marvin Winkoff out of his NYC store, like most Winkoff’s, it’s been modified in civilian dress, but unlike most Winkoff Checkers it’s very sedate and classic in appearance.
In informal Checker circles, Ben Merkel has been referred to a the “Taxi God”. Quite frankly, he truly is an icon in the Checker hobby. If Ben, had not aggressively save every Checker he found, over a span of twenty years, the Checker hobby would not be as vibrant as it is today.
This writer has personally purchased four Checkers from Ben, three of those Checkers have been restored and are actively used in the Checker collector hobby. Thank you Ben for saving so many Checkers!
In part II of the blog, we’ll present the current state of Ben’s Checker parts business……or non business, depending on how you look at it.