I consider myself a very lucky guy, I own several rare Checkers. Now it’s one thing to own a rare Checker, it’s another thing to find out that your rare Checker is also a movie star! After several years of research, I have been able to piece together the movie history of my 1950 Checker Model A4. Further research links this car to some of the greatest automotive designer that have put pen to a drawing board.
About the Checker
The 1950 Checker Model A4 originally served the good citizens of New York City from 1950 thru 1955. For years it toiled in the mean streets of NYC picking up fares and performing the service it was designed to do as a working taxicab. It may have rolled out of Kalamazoo as a humble taxi, but taxicab work would soon be put aside and this spunky little taxicab would go to Hollywood to work with some of the greatest actors in history.
In 1956 title was transferred to Loews, Inc. of Culver City California. If you don’t recognize the company, it’s a division of MGM Pictures.
This A4 can be found in at least two MGM movies, the first A Catered Affair (1956) starring Ernest Borgnine and Bette Davis. In the movie, Borgnine’s character was trying to buy the taxicab after saving for 20 years while his wife played by Bette Davis was trying to spend the money on a wedding.
Filming was shot on location in NYC with the two cabs, the Checker and a 1952 DeSoto (it too survives), additional indoor filming appears to have been shot in a garage in Hollywood. One can assume that MGM purchased the two cabs in NYC then transported to Hollywood.
The A4 can also be found in a second film, 1957 film Designing Women starring Oscar winner Gregory Peck and Golden Globe winner Lauren Becall. In one short scene this A4 serves as a backdrop for a heated argument between the characters played by Peck and Becall. It also serves in the movie as a backdrop for character actor Jesse White (former TV Maytag Repairman) to make phone call.
The Checker actually appears in scenes with three Oscar winners and one Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee. The Checker’s movie car service is not for some little independent film company: it was MGM! The Checker model A4 movie car credentials are impeccable.
The MGM prop department made significant changes to the A4. The manual transmission was replaced by a Hudson Jet Borg Warner automatic transmission, its assumed that the automatic would be better for driving around the movie lot. Changes were also made in the driver compartment. The elaborate Camber Ross & Lever banjo steering wheel was replaced with a bland black Jeep steering wheel. The Checker bucket seat was removed and replaced with a very simple chair. A wind up taxi meter was mounted in the cab, but positioned in reverse so it can be seen by a camera filling into the windows. It’s not set up so passengers could actually see the meter and fare.
The Checker ultimately was sold into a third party, movie car company in California and in the early 1990’s famed Checker collector Ben Merkel purchased after much haggleing. Haggling include being chase by the moive car company owner with an ax. Ben eventually purchased the Checker A4 via mail. After owning for about 15 years Ben then sold the A4 to me in 2008.
History of the Checker
The Model A4 design is based on a modified version of the 1947 Checker Model A2 and original FWD drive Model D design of 1946.
Styled by Raymond Dietrich the Checker has many styling features similar to Chrysler and General Motors vehicles of the day. Engineering was done by the former head of engineering of Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg, Herbert Snow. By 1947 Snow was now head of engineering at Checker. Snow pioneered the use of X frames at A-C-D and was quick to integrate the design at CCM. The A4 sits on a 124 inch wheelbase and an overall length of 208 inches. making it a fairly small car for livery service.
When compared to the big three pleasure cars (Ford, Chevy and Plymouth) and Packard & DeSoto taxicabs, the Checker had the smallest turning diameter of 39 feet 6 inches making it very maneuverable for city work. Snow and Dietrich came up with quite a taxi!
Introduced in the fall of 1949 the A4 design was a continuation of the Model A2. That said, there were significant changes made warranting a model change. Easy identifiers:
- Massive wrap around bumpers similar to the 40’s era Cadillac
- 40 box egg crate grille
- Increased windshield size
- Beltline lowered on doors to increase the size of the side windows
- Modified rear fender wheel opening3 with chrome fender guard
- Chrome around the greenhouse eliminate
- Contoured rocker panels removed, new flat rocker with a thick chrome strip.
The Model A4 was produced from 1949 till 1952 being replace by the Checker Model A6.
As of 2016, the Model A4 is the only known running Checker Model A4. Fay also owns a second former NYC 1952 Checker Model A4, a parts car, it currently questionable in terms whether it is economically feasible to save.
Essentially a rolling restoration, it was restored to bring it back from its entry into the movie car market. Thankfully there were no major rust issues due to west coast move in 1956. A new drivers bucket seat was built to exacting specifications and donor parts supplied by a fleet of A2 that survive today in Finland. Mechanically, the Continental 225 cubic inch flathead six was rebuilt.
The interior has been totally replaced. All bright work has been rechromed and restored. The grille was fabricated in stainless steel utilizing Checker unique tongue and groove assembly. Paint work and livery is consistent with NYC standard independent fleet offerings.
The Checker A4 is scheduled to be completed in 2016 and will be on display at the upcoming Checker At Auburn show on August 12th through the 14th. Don’t miss out on a chance to see this movie star created by the likes of the two top luxury cars designers in automotive history
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We are not associated with the Checker Car Club of America