Rekindling Your Love is What Happens at Checker-Fest
Story and Photography by Vince Lupo
I had a mission–to sell my classic car. Was the torrid love affair finally over? Had I enough of tracking down elusive parts, yet another trip to the mechanic and the subsequent emptying of my wallet? Was it because having four cars for two people in one household was a bit excessive, and this one had go? Maybe it was all those reasons–and more.
You see, I’m one of those rare creatures who likes ‘weird’ classic cars. No ’57 Chevy or ’69 Chevelle for me. Give me a bullet-nosed Studebaker, a Kaiser Manhattan, or an AMC Marlin any day. But even those might be a bit too mainstream.
What did I end up with? A Checker. A what you say? A Checker. A 1980 Checker Marathon, to be specific. Remember the old NYC taxicabs? The behemoths that roamed the streets of Manhattan during the ’60s and ’70s? Well that’s what I have, albeit the ‘civilian’ Marathon model. Its name is Chunky–no, not Chubby. I never was one to go for the obvious.
Quick history lesson on the Checker: Checker Motors Corporation, based in Kalamazoo, MI, existed from 1922 until 2010. They built their own cars from 1922-1982, using their own bodies, frame and interior (they bought the running gear from other companies). The most recognized models (the A11 taxi and the A12 Marathon) were built from 1962-1982, at which point the rising gas prices and new safety regulations shut the car assembly line down for good. The company continued to make parts for other car companies until it declared bankruptcy in 2009, and sold its assets in 2010.
It’s been an emotionally cyclical three-year relationship for me, and it’s had its share of ups and downs. Right now we’re in an ‘up’ phase–Chunky is running great, looking great, and all the major work has been done. Now we’re getting down to the fine details. Despite this progress, I still had an urge to sell it and move on.
So here I am, on my way to the annual convention of the Checker Car Club of America, this year being held in New York City, its spiritual home. I thought that if I really wanted to sell Chunky, this would be the place to do it. So after having found my way to the host hotel in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I secured a parking spot and slapped the ‘For Sale’ sign on the windshield.
And if you think I’m the only one who showed up, you’re quite mistaken. About 120 other enthusiasts made their way from all over the US. One club member even came from England! In addition to Chunky, fifty Checkers of various flavors were in attendance. Some were battle-scarred survivors of New York taxi duty, while a few others were eat-off-the-floor epitomes of perfection. There were also a couple of examples of the ‘Aerobus’ model – an eight-door, twelve-seat monster that was purpose-built for airport duty. So something for everybody.
Between the Checker-gawking and Checker gearhead talk, there was a real camaraderie between the members. Whether it was strictly the interest in this odd, yet mundane vehicle that created these bonds or if it was something deeper, I can’t exactly say. Perhaps it’s certain personality types that are attracted to these uncommon cars? Nevertheless, the convention was a chance for old friends to re-connect, new friendships to be made, and a chance for the public to see a gathering of beloved vehicles in one location.
Checkers have been called ‘friendly’ cars, and I don’t know if that’s due to their bulbous appearance, their ‘status-free’ demeanor, or their cavernous back seat. Their two-ton mass lumbers down the road, but I don’t think their size necessarily intimidates the Prius in the next lane. They aren’t powerhouses, plus their appearance doesn’t seem to connote a sense of luxury, prestige or entitlement. They just do what they do–no muss, no fuss.
A word about that back seat: it is something else, indeed! It can accommodate three along the bench seat in definite comfort, with more legroom than you could ever imagine. Throw in the two optional folding ‘jump seats’, and you have room for a party of five back there.
After the convention’s Friday car show, Saturday city tours and evening banquet, the convention weekend ended too soon. The club members dispersed until next year in South Bend, Indiana, where they will gather for another Checker-fest.
As I drove over the Verrazano-Narrows bridge into Staten Island, basking in the afterglow of the event, I put those thoughts of selling Chunky behind me. It may have been the enthusiasm of fellow club members that changed my mind. Or perhaps I couldn’t bear the idea of performing all that work on the car simply for someone else to enjoy. Either way, Chunky and I will continue down this bumpy road together.
But if you have an offer I can’t refuse…