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World’s only running and restored Checker A-4 to debut at Checker Cab Convention

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Photos courtesy Joe Fay.

For all the glamour of Hollywood, movie cars generally have a much rougher time: Kept running just long enough to make the next scene without breaking down, many get repainted, re-engined, and reused incessantly. Compared to the punishing and short service life of a taxi, however, it’s almost like a vacation, and just such a vacation may have ultimately led to the survival and restoration of one of the last remaining Checker A-4s.

Offered from June 1950 through January 1953, the A-4 was a slightly updated version of the A-2 sedan, Checker’s first new postwar car, itself introduced in February 1947. Even then, the A-2 wasn’t entirely new. As James Hinckley wrote in his Checker Cab Co. Photo History, Checker Motors had intended to produce a “cab of the future” for the anticipated postwar taxi market and considered a rear-engine Model B and a front-engine, front-wheel-drive Model D to replace the prewar conventional Model A. However, realizing it couldn’t develop either quick enough to make it to market in a reasonable amount of time, the company simply revised the styling of the Model D enough to fit it on the Model A chassis.

Of the thousands of A-2s, A-4s, and A-6s (and their limousine counterparts, the A-3, A-5, and A-7) that Checker built until December 1954, only a handful remain today. Most of those – a half-dozen A-2s discovered in 2005 – come from a contingent of a few hundred used Chicago cabs sent to Helsinki for the 1952 summer Olympics, but most of the rest reside with Checker collector Joe Fay in varying states of decay.


Except, of course, for his 1950 A-4. From 1950 through 1955, it made the rounds in New York City, picking up passengers and earning its keep like any other Checker cab. It likely would have headed to a retirement supplying other Checkers with parts if Loew’s Inc. of Culver City, California – a division of MGM Studios – hadn’t bought the Checker in 1956 and shipped it out West.

To prep it for its film career, MGM swapped out the original transmission for a Borg-Warner automatic nabbed from a Hudson Jet – apparently done as a concession to driveability on set – and removed the original ornate steering wheel for a plain black one from a Jeep. A few other modifications and the Checker was ready for its first role alongside Ernest Borgnine and Bette Davis in the 1956 film The Catered Affair, in which Borgnine’s character tries to save up enough money to buy the cab.

A second MGM film featuring the Checker, Designing Woman, starring Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall, came out a year later. The Checker very well may have appeared in other films throughout the years: According to Fay’s research, MGM sold it to a movie car company and it remained in Southern California, still powered by a Continental flathead straight-six, until the early 1990s when Checker collector Ben Merkel bought it.

As Merkel pointed out in his book, “The American Taxi: A Century of Service,” Hollywood was responsible for preserving from extinction more than just Checker cabs. He pointed to the 1936 De Soto Sunshine cabs, kept around as props until the 1970s but unseen elsewhere, as one example.

Fay then bought the A-4 from Merkel in 2008 and though it had remained in decent shape he began a full restoration on it using parts obtained from the Finnish A-2s. Perhaps the most damage the Checker had incurred, dented rear bodywork, actually helped him positively identify the Checker as the one used in the above-mentioned films, in which he could see the matching sheetmetal and bumper damage. While Fay had that damage repaired and had the A-4 painted in a period-correct New York taxi scheme, he kept the Jeep steering wheel and Hudson Jet automatic transmission.


Though he had it running as far back as 2010, Fay said he’s just now finishing up the A-4’s restoration and plans to have it complete in time for the Checker Cab Club Convention, scheduled for August 12-14 in Auburn, Indiana. (Not to be confused with the Checker Car Club of America’s annual convention, scheduled for June 23-26 in Hershey.)

For more information about the Checker Cab Club, visit