Kay Phillips, 70, owner with her husband, Dave, of a working farm in High Point, N.C., on her 1975 Checker Marathon, as told to A.J. Baime.
My husband, Dave, was the one who wanted a Checker. He was inspired by Checker cabs he had seen in New York City. He was always creative; at the time, he was running his own fabric manufacturing business. [Mr. Phillips, years later, became U.S. ambassador to Estonia.]
One day he said to me, “I am going to buy you a new car.” When he told me what he had in mind, I told him he was crazy. He took me to a taxi company in Durham, N.C., and through that taxi company we ordered a car from Checker cab in Kalamazoo, Mich. [The Checker Motors Corp. built huge fleets of taxis for much of the 20th century, ending production in 1982; the Marathon model was aimed more at consumers.] My husband asked me to pick out a color, so I said, “How about navy blue?” The whole thing was bizarre.
Some time later, in 1976, I was mowing my lawn when this Checker Marathon pulled into my driveway. I thought, “Oh my God!” We lived in a small town. This was different. The whole thing was very humorous.
I smoked back then. There was only one ashtray, by the driver’s seat—2 by 2 inches. I thought, this is never going to work. So the taxi dealer screwed ashtrays into the other doors. My husband called me by a nickname, Kayroe, so I painted in small letters on the driver’s side, “Kayroe’s Cab Company.”
My children adored that car. They went to school in it. They went to horse shows in it. I changed diapers on the seats. On Halloweens, back before this was not against the rules, I could fit 14 kids in the back. The car became like a member of the family. Everyone knew everyone in High Point, and people always knew where I was because of that car. Once when I was driving through town, a friend saw me and yelled, “Taxi!”
Recently, after some 40 years, my husband decided to have the Checker redone. Dave has a friend who works on race cars and this man stripped the car down. Back when my kids were young, the car was very plain. Now it has beautiful leather and it smells luscious. It has a movie screen that folds down from the ceiling, for the back seats. We wanted to be safety-conscious too. When our kids are home for the holidays, they love to see the car, and now our grandkids have started to ride in it.
When my husband came up with the idea to buy a Checker back in 1975, I thought he was crazy. But it turned out to be the most fun car ever.