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Four-Links – Harrod Blank and the art car, Shing Yin Khor and Route 66, MG and its prototypes, Checker and the Parmelee limos

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Photo by Brian Bennett.

Following up on a prior post about VW Beetles as art cars, John Heitmann at The Automobile and American Life spent some time this week discussing the one art car that made Volkswagens known for their blank canvases: Harrod Blank’s “Oh My God!”

While it can be argued that art cars have been around since the model T, in order to understand the movement, we need to look at Harrod Blank’s personality and career, and his first bug art car, “Oh My God!” When, during the late 1980s, Blank found himself owning a battered VW Beetle, he came to the realization that he could use it as a blank canvas to do something different. His work began by painting a rooster on the driver’s side door, but the product kept growing and changing. With a globe added as a front ornament, television mounted to the roof, a bumper made of plastic chickens and fruit, and a sticker on the back exclaiming “Question Authority,” the car evolved into what became “Oh My God,” a reference to Blank’s eventual realization that his vehicle was not the only art car in America.

* Route 66 as a physical thing might be more or less static, as alluring as it might be, but as a metaphor for (and a reflection of) America and Americans, it’s constantly evolving, as this Roadtrippers story on Shing Yin Khor’s graphic memoir about her Route 66 road trip argues.

In the midst of such loneliness and searching, Khor found community and cultural connections in unexpected places. One of their favorite stops on Route 66 was Amarillo, Texas, where they were pleasantly surprised to learn that the city is home to one of the largest refugee populations in the country.

“I’m driving through Texas and I’m expecting very stereotypical Texas stuff. Are there going to be cowboys? Are there going to be a lot of steaks?” Khor says. “Yes—but in Amarillo, those cowboys are from Somalia.”

Refugee relocation in Amarillo is challenging the stereotypes of Route 66, and is producing an environment in which diverse new travelers are able to feel at home throughout the length of the Mother Road. For Khor, this taste of comfort and belonging came in the form of food: “At nine in the morning [in Amarillo], I had some of the best Burmese food I’d ever had while driving through an Asian market.”

* Regarding the MG prototypes that Keith Adams at AROnline has recently been following, they’re reportedly safe from destruction, but still out of public sight.

While I can’t say I’m not relieved that it took the threat of a BBC interview to get something out of MG’s management, I think it’s disappointing that this minor PR fiasco (which made it to the television, remember) couldn’t be turned around into something more positive with a more community-friendly statement that told us where they were going live, or what purpose they are going to serve.

I stand by my original position that these cars really do belong at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon. There, they would sit alongside cars such as the Triumph SD2, BL Technology ECV3 and Rover SD1 estate as important dead-ends in the firm’s history – tales of what might have been had things been different. The MG Rover RDX60 and Rover TCV prototype really do tell similar stories of paradise (perhaps) lost…

* Speaking of automotive history lost, the Internet Checker Taxi Association seems to believe that no Parmelee Checkers – six-door limousine versions of the A5 – exist to this day. Photos are even hard to come by.

So the first big question that came to mind was: is this a one off prototype or did Checker produce a a larger production run for this wagon? The second question was, did Checker produce this car, or did they sub contract production to a limo company.

Years later we have an answer to the prototype question, recently ICTA member Laddie Vetek shared a color photo of a fleet of the “mystery 6 door wagon” on our Facebook page. A beautiful color photo, (see header) the limos are parked at a Chicago taxicab staging area with other Checkers. Clearly a Chicago photo, the taxicabs depicted are Checker Motor’s Chicago Checker and Yellow fleet taxicabs. So now we know that these cars were produced in number and appear to be all operated by Checker’s Parmelee fleet.

Did Checker produce these cars. My educated guess is: yes. Checker typically produced there own bodies and also operated a third party stamping business. This writer just can’t imagine that Checker would farm out stamping that they could have done themselves.

* Finally, a lap of Le Mans in 1977 at the wheel of the Porsche 936/77 that won the race that year.