June 19, 2010
LIMA — The iconic Checker cars, most commonly associated with taxi cabs, came to Lima for a national convention Friday.
About 40 to 45 cars will cruise the area through the end of the day today as Checker Car Club of America members visit local attractions. Participants come from as many as 15 different states, and five cars parked outside Happy Daz on Cable Road started the convention’s events.
Checker Motors Corp. manufactured consumer and commercial vehicles from 1922 to 1982 in Kalamazoo, Mich. Some rare cars seen at the Happy Daz cruise-in included civilian Checker cars like the station wagon and sedan.
“At one time, Checker had 1,200 employees and the cars were all over the world,” said convention chairperson Ron Leatz. “They were the only car built to last a million miles.”
But the cars couldn’t keep up with modern requirements.
“They made changes, but they could not compete with the Big 3,” Leatz said.
After ending car production, the motor company made parts for General Motors.
Wayne Brown, 67, of Paris, Ky., drove Checker cabs from 1963 to 1996. Toward the end of his time as a taxi driver, not all the cars were Checkers, but he said those that were had been made for cab driving.
“Checkers are a little bit stiffer and hold up a lot better than a regular car,” Brown said.
Owner of a 1982 black Checker, Gary Lohsen, of Atlanta, said the parts in Checker cars are easily interchangeable and factories equipped cars as requested.
“If you ordered the car with mud tires, you got mud tires. If you ordered it with three-tone paint, you got three-tone paint,” he said.
Lohsen’s car is unique, even to Checker, because it runs on propane. One of 750 made in 1982, Lohsen said he knows of only 12 still around.
He’s owned the vehicle for three years and has since been keeping the car in good condition.
“You’re constantly fiddling with something,” he said. “It’s a labor of love.”
Checker cars cost about $500 to $15,000, Lohsen said.
Planning for the event started in August 2009, and the Lima/Allen County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau competed against five larger communities to win this year’s convention.
10 a.m.: Tour of Accubuilt Inc.
Noon: Cruise-In at Kewpee Hamburgers on Bellefontaine Avenue
6 p.m.: Dinner at Old Barn Out Back