This Checker Cab race car has seen it all, and it can now be yours

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Murilee Martin

Every Checker Cab has a history—an inevitable consequence of crawling the streets in search of fares over the course of decades, and hundreds of thousands of miles. While most wind up as scrap when their serviceable life ends, a Checker occasionally survives, reborn as a collector car. But we’d wager none have seen what one example’s quad headlights have seen, a cab that owner Rich von Sneidern gave way more than a new lease on life. He gave it a charter to a world very few automobiles have ever experienced.

1978 Checker Marathon race car
Murilee Martin

It started innocently enough back in 2012, when von Sneidern purchased a 1978 Checker Taxi from a Denver-area Checker collector/hoarder. Checkers have a deservedly loyal following, thanks in part to their decades-long service in taxi fleets (making it a bit of a pop culture icon) and modest success as a family sedan for retail buyers. Consider it a cult classic. von Sneidern also acquired three more Checkers for needed parts to get his running and legal (mostly to get bits like a good windshield and gas tank). From the factory, the Taxi likely had a small-block Chevrolet along with a three-speed automatic, which was commonplace for Checkers back then. The interior was worn, and the yellow paint job was fried from the Colorado sun, but such wear and tear is expected from a vehicle that spent most of its life in livery service in nearby Pueblo. Ultimately the rough cosmetic condition was irrelevant, or at least suitable; its future was as a dual-purpose street and race car.

Luckily, this Checker’s life under von Sneidern’s tenure has been documented and photographed by automotive journalist Murilee Martin. It is known far and wide, famous from the road trip with a K-car and an E63 AMG (both wagons), where a polar vortex froze/shattered its battery along the way. Or perhaps its trip up Pikes Peak holds more interest for some folks. It’s been an Index of Effluency winner at the 24 Hours of Lemons at the 2013 at High Plains Raceway in Colorado, along with numerous endurance races under its belt.

1978 Checker Marathon race car
Murilee Martin

All things, however, run their course, and von Sneidern is ready to put his Checker up for sale. His classified post goes into detail of the car’s attributes, like the small-block Chevy with the wholly-unconventional pairing of a Ford Toploader transmission. It runs and drives, is titled and street legal in Colorado, passed emissions (has catalytic converters), and contains two race seats with belts. As von Sneidern put it, “the classic plates just expired and I feel more interested in the next project than continuing this one.”

von Sneidern isn’t sure what the cab needs, but it’s “either everything or not much depending on your perspective.” I’d recommend leaving it as-is, except for a return back to a yellow livery paint job. (The 2018 blackout re-theme as an Addams Family hauler does the taxi cab’s provenance no justice.) Given that it’s still a street-legal ride guaranteed to impress onlookers (von Sneidern claims it gets “stupid amounts of attention on the street”), a proper shade of yellow is essential.

But going back to yellow, even if it’s only with house paint and a roller brush, will also make it into a cooler race car. What better way to make a statement on the front straight of a race course than in a yellow Checker? This gem defies most people’s definition of a classic machine, a race car, or perhaps even our societal constructs of a taxicab. With such a checkered history (sorry), I can only imagine the tales this vehicle could tell.

Martin told me that von Sneidern has also been using it as a street car for the last decade. It’s his beater, and I mean that quite literally; a few years ago a drunk driver smashed the rear quarter panel. Insurance made short work of the repair, and that’s where Checkers truly shine. The rear fenders are a bolt-on affair and can be pounded out just like a front fender on a more conventional car. And really, will this Checker ever be worth world-class nut-and-bolt concours restoration?

Of course not. Either way, an asking price of $5000 is not too bad for any race car equipped with a roll cage. And for one that is sure to blow people’s minds out on the street, with the decades of stories that have passed through its monumental interior? Good luck finding that in a spec Miata or an E46 BMW.

This 1978 Checker needs to be saved to cruise and race another day, lest it meets the very real possibility of being parted out to keep other Checkers on the road. Wherever it lands, I for one hope it’s with someone who keeps the proverbial meter running.

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