I first saw a Winkoff Checker on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago in early Spring 1982. My wife and I had an ongoing argument in that she wanted a European auto, but I insisted that we buy American. We realized that the car ahead of us might be our solution, so we chased it down until we were able to read the “Checker Southeast, Ft. Lauderdale, FL” tag on the trunk. The following week, I called Checker Southeast and spoke to Marv Winkoff.
He explained that several years before he used to work at Checker as a sales manager, but these days he bought up taxicabs off the line and customized them to his specifications – previously in New York City, but after his “retirement,” in Florida.
[Editors Note: Winkoff was appointed Executive VP and GM for Checker Motor Sales Corporation in New York in 1970. The territory included all of the East Coast of the USA. He sold the “Winkoff” Checkers between 1977 and 1982.]
He suggested I stop by (hard to do, from up here in Indianapolis, IN). Instead, I had a client and friend from the Miami area swing past to check out the merchandise; I got a call on the spot, while they were onsite, about one in particular – a cream-yellow-colored 1981 that I was told belonged to Marv’s wife. I negotiated the price with Marv and asked one of the guys to put a $500 deposit down in my name. I then had the paperwork sent to me and bought the car… all sight-unseen. (To this day, I’m not sure if Marv’s wife was actually aware that he was selling her car.)
On my next trip down to visit the client in Miami, a month-or-so-later, my wife and dog came with me to Marv’s operation to pick up the car. I sat down and had a nice chit-chat with him; he explained to me among other things that his son did the paint work on most of the Checkers.
We toured the remaining stock on the lot, and I took special note of a particularly appealing silver and blue two-tone Checker with what to me seemed like an amount of chrome and color Elvis would have been proud of (and therefore I loved it). We drove our new cream-yellow 1981 home to Indianapolis, stopping in Cincinnati along the way.
Over the next week or so, a number of people – including my mom, a client, and a car-dealer friend of mine – were really wowed by the Winkoff Checker. My wife asked the car-dealer friend how long the body would last, and he replied, “at least two engines.” She had no idea what that meant!
In any case, by this point we had learned that Checker was no longer making autos, and she was already worried she wouldn’t be able to find a replacement when the time came. In addition, the client wanted one, but the bank refused to finance it because “it wasn’t in their book.” My mom had also decided unquestionably that this was the car she wanted… as long as it came with an eight-track player. Next thing I knew, I had orders for three more Winkoffs, which I decided to buy as a block with a commercial loan, and then resell them.
I already knew that if my wife and I were going to get a second Winkoff, it was my turn to pick it out. And I knew I wanted that Elvis two-tone silver and blue one. The client spoke to Marv and decided on a burgundy V8. My mom wasn’t particularly picky (aside from the 8-track), and chose a light grey-blue one off a list of available options. Marv offered to arrange to have them shipped – I asked, “how does one ship a Checker?” He responded, “same way they came down here – by rail.”
Mine, however, I knew how I was going to get back. (I should probably point out at this part in the story that I don’t actually drive.) Since I was there every month for client work, my wife came down with me again, and we yet again took a road-trip back up to Indianapolis – this time stopping at the Daniel Boone Tavern, somewhere in Kentucky.
(Before the pick up, Marv insisted that when you bought a Winkoff Checker, you purchased a Rusty Jones rustproofing option as well – to help support his son, who now owned a Rusty Jones franchise.)
Once we got home, the car-dealer friend took care of storing our “backup car” until it was needed – presumably in about two or more engines’ worth of time.
A number of months later, I happened to be looking out the kitchen window, and there was a caramel-colored Winkoff Checker in my neighbor’s driveway. I walked over to find out what the heck was going on, and as it turned out, another one of my neighbors – who had a condo in Ft. Lauderdale and had seen Winkoff’s Checkers there – had bought one for his wife as a gift.
She hated it. So… of course I asked if they were interested in selling it; he jumped at the opportunity. It turned out to be a very popular vehicle for transporting children, as protective mothers saw its tank-like mass as a safety feature, and was pretty easy to sell when I was ready to let go of it.
Fast-forward many years – my wife and I divorced, she kept the first Winkoff Checker, and I eventually gave my “Elvis Checker” to my daughter Nancy. When she joined the Checker Car Club of America, she found out that her car had a twin! Owned by Jim and Gwen Garrison, this 1980 gem has even more chrome than ours, and we drool with envy every time we see it at conventions.
After attending the Lima, Dayton and South Bend CCCoA shows, I’ve seen Checkers of all eras, shapes, sizes and paint jobs… but the opera windows, Landau roofs, running lights, rain guards, and chrome trim on the Winkoffs remain my favorite. I heard that he passed away last year. I’m sharing my story in his memory.
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