Monday, April 25, 2011

Last of the Checker Taxi Cabs, 1n11, also known as Janie, made in 1978, retired as the last operating Checker Taxi in 1999

Above is the last Checker Taxi in New York, below is a 3 photo gallery for a good look at all the sides of the taxi

Earl Johnson, an independent taxi cab owner, operated "Janie", NY plate
"1N11"; it was the last Checker in regular service in NYC. Shortly after
a forced retirement (frame wouldn't pass the safety inspection) in 1999,
it was sold at auction (Sotheby's) for the ridiculous amount of $134,500
($120,000 to Earl). In 2006 it was again sold at auction (Christies) for
the more reasonable (but still high for the condition) of $9,400. The
current owner is unknown.

the write-up glosses over (actually, it totally ignores) that Janie failed the safety inspection that was a mandatory part of the ruling grandfathering in the Checkers ... which allowed Checker operators to ignore the NYC "five year" retirement rule.

Also, Janie only "survived" the next to last operating NYC Checker by one or two months; it also was pulled off the road for failing a safety inspection.

John W
Secretary, Editor, SysAdmin, CCCoA, Inc.

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) bid farewell to cab #1N11, the last Checker cab in operation in the City of New York, with a celebratory event held appropriately in Times Square. Participating in the event were TLC Chairperson/Commissioner Diane McGrath-McKechnie, cab #1N11 co-owner/driver Earl Johnson, and his fellow Checker owner Johann Struna, a 63-year-old Slovenian immigrant who had been a cabby for almost two decades and also holds the distinction of being the next-to-last Checker cab driver until his vehicle’s retirement in December, 1998.

Cab #1N11, a 1978 vintage model Checker, was retired as of July 26, 1999 due to safety concerns. Struna’s Checker cab, #3F89, a 1981 model, was retired under similar circumstances on December 15, 1998.

At the height of the vehicle’s popularity in the roaring 20’s, there were as many as 8,000 Checker cabs plying the roads of New York City. The Checker cab virtually ruled the roads from 1921 to the late 1970s, outlasting many other popular taxi types

When the Checker exited the stage, there were 12,187 cabs running in New York info from

Checker’s founder, Morris Markin, was a Russian immigrant who built the company into one of the dominant producers and operators in the taxi industry, employing about 1,000 people and producing about 5,000 cars a year at its peak.

For years the vehicles enjoyed a near monopoly in New York – where Mr. Markin held about 4,000 taxi medallions – and the cars were dominant in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, as well. But when New York authorized the use of smaller cars to be used as taxis in 1954, Checker steadily lost ground as drivers shifted to cheap and fuel-efficient vehicles from spacious and durable – and Mr. Markin sold his taxi medallions for $8 million in the 1960s.
The last cab rolled off the line on July 12, 1982

The last Checker Cab to be in active service in New York City

Chassis No. A11299882936E

In 1922 the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company began production of taxi cabs in Joliet, Illinois. Shortly thereafter the company moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan where the work remained. During this time Checker produced a line of taxi cabs which met New York City's 1929 ordinance that all taxis must be able to carry five passengers behind the partition. During the period of 1956 - 1982 Checker manufactured what is now synonymous with their name, the classic 1950s four door sedan. Production soared and several thousand chugged through the streets of New York and many other large cities. Equipped with high doors allowing passengers easy and considerably more graceful access, they were also fitted with a pair of jump seats meeting the five passenger requirement. Additional room was available for baggage and the ride was notoriously smooth. This was New York's answer to London's Austin taxi and is thus forever linked.

In 1982, production of the Checker Cab ceased and the numbers in New York City began to dwindle. It was at this time that the number of traditionally owner-operated taxis waned and mass-fleets began. As expected, there was one exceptional individual who remained steadfast to his beloved taxi and way of life: Earl Johnson and his taxi 'Janie'. They worked together as a pair for twenty-one years driving the likes of Walter Cronkite and Muhammad Ali. 'Janie' was similarly used for special events including weddings and anniversaries. Finally in July 26, 1999 retirement beckoned and Mr. Johnson and 'Janie' went out of service - effectively ending the era of Checker Cabs in New York. Shortly thereafter, 'Janie' was acquired by its current owner from a Sotheby's auction in December 1999. ($134,500)

Still retaining all the features of a New York City taxi such as the roof light, meter, jump seats, partition and medallion information, this taxi very much embodies its storied history. Once in the thousands, now very limited, this slice of New York history provides a remarkably fun opportunity for its next custodian.

1919, Markin began making inroads into the taxi business by taking over the operations of a Chicago cab fleet about the same time he opened a body plant called Markin Body. Three years later, Markin acquired a chassis company in Joliet, Illinois from a financially troubled friend. In May of 1922, the Checker Cab Manufacturing Corp. began production and by the end of that year was turning out 100-plus cars a month. He looked to expand.

It is said that Markin purchased a pair of vacant plants on north and south Pitcher streets in Kalamazoo for his expansion because the chief engineer he wanted for his motor company wouldn't move to Chicago. The plants had been the former site of production of the Handley-Knight automobile.

Foreign Service
The U. S. State Department turned to Checker Motors for more suitable transportation for its diplomats overseas. It purchased two four-door sedans in the Marathon deluxe series for use in Moscow and San Salvador. The move came about after U. S. Ambassador to Moscow Llewellyn E. Thompson wrote Washington that his big limousines were "...not suitable for the cobblestones and rough roads encountered in the Soviet Union." It also was hard to buy high-octane gas for them. Another advantage was that Thompson could get in and out of the Checker limo without removing his top hat. The new limo looked like a cab painted black, but the inside featured such extras as gray broadcloth upholstery, air conditioning and a glass partition so the driver wouldn't overhear the passengers' talk.

The above is a Checker Aerobus 18 passenger limo, see a gallery of one, and the factory ads and info
In 1978, Hollywood came to Kalamazoo to film a major motion picture, "Blue Collar." The film was set in an auto assembly plant, and all the Detroit car manufacturers refused to allow filming in their facilities. Checker Motors opened its doors, and the film, starring Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto and Ed Begley, Jr., made the crime drama a reality.

Even rarer than a Checker is the diesel version of the Checker — built for a single year only, in 1968


  1. I was just given a 1/43 die cast metal model of 1N11, complete with engine (hood opens), spare tire in trunk (trunk opens) 4 doors open. This model is 11" in length.

  2. I was just given a die-cast metal model (11" in length) of 'Janie' 1N11. Hood opens to view engine, 4 doors open, trunk opens to reveal the spare tire. I spotted it yesterday in a neighbor's yard sale, she had a price of $9 marked on it, but when she saw how much I was admiring it she gave it to me free of charge. Now I'm a 68 year old kid with a new toy.