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Despite scrapping dozens of cars, Checker replica effort still in progress

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Photo courtesy Internet Checker Taxicab Archive.

Over the years, cab companies have sent entire fleets of Checker taxis — worn out to the brink of literally falling apart, rusted, and scavenged for parts to keep other cabs ticking — to the crusher. So it goes. But the recent decommissioning of a fleet of about two dozen Checkers in Massachusetts has lit a controversy in the Checker collector community and led some to question the future of the effort to resurrect the Checker brand.

Steve Contarino, head of Checker Motor Cars in Haverhill, Massachusetts, said he disposed of as many as 40 vintage Checkers last month as part of a renovation of his building on Haverhill’s Research Drive, from which he also runs Adamson Industries, which outfits lighting and emergency equipment on public safety vehicles.

“We’re deleting parts cars that are too far gone for restoration,” he said.

The Checkers’ appearance last month at 495 Auto Salvagers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, however, set off a firestorm among Checker enthusiasts and restorers, who — like many other owners of orphan cars — rely on a dwindling stock of unrestorable cars for parts to maintain, repair, and restore their cars.

“It is a big deal,” said Checker collector John Weinhoeft, noting that the disposal of the cars has triggered much speculation among the Checker community.

Joe Fay, writing for the Internet Checker Taxicab Archive, noted that the group of Checkers included a number of rarities — among them an A12 limousine, at least three eight-door Aerobuses, a six-door Aerobus, and a MediCar — and that plenty of useable parts remain on the cars, “parts that a true Checker fan would cherish.” None of the cars appear easily restorable, if at all restorable, judging from a video tour of the collection.

“It is mind boggling to this writer that any Checker fan would send at least 16 Checkers to a salvage yard without first posting… that these Checkers were available for a quick sale,” Fay wrote. “(Contarino) has certainly harmed the Checker hobby, and has effectively deserted other Checker fans by his selfish actions.”

Fay reported that 495 Auto Salvagers has agreed to sell the cars individually, but the company has already started to crush some of the cars.

Based on the removal of signs from the the Research Drive building, Fay also speculated that Contarino canceled the Checker replica project. In 2015, Contarino announced that he had obtained the rights to the Checker automobile and intended to build new Checkers in two body styles: as a sport pickup and as a six-door limousine.

Contarino initially expected to begin production sometime late this year. However, his plans hinged on the issuance of regulations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as mandated by the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act. To date no such regulations have been issued or even proposed.

“NHTSA remains mired in bureaucratic delays, missing deadlines for many rulemakings including the replica car rule,” Stuart Gosswein, senior director of Federal Government Affairs for the Specialty Equipment Market Association, told replica carmakers in an email last month. “NHTSA has not allowed companies to hire workers, expand facilities and begin producing and selling replica cars despite a Congressional directive that the program begin by December 2016.”

The Environmental Protection Agency, also expected to issue guidelines for replica carmakers, is expected to do so this month. The California Air Resources Board will hold a public hearing on its own proposed rules for replica carmakers later this month.

Contarino said his plans to reintroduce the Checker have not changed despite the delay caused by the NHTSA. The sign removal, he said, is part of the building renovation.

At least one car from the group, a station wagon, has been sold by the salvage yard, and a Checker enthusiast from Arizona has reportedly made plans to save as many parts and cars as possible before the collection is scrapped.