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Vintage Checker Cabs Return to NYC Streets for Convention

By Meredith Hoffman | October 21, 2013 8:11am
 Members of the Checker Car Club of America are descending on NYC this summer.
Checker Car Club
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GREENPOINT — The boxy, roomy rides that stuffed New York's streets in the '60s and '70s are about to make a city comeback.

Dedicated owners of vintage checkered cabs are gearing up to return to the city for the Checker Car Club of America's first New York show in about 20 years, members said.

"Checkers were the last taxi everybody loved," reminisced member George Laszlo, 64, a Manhattan resident who convinced the national club to host its annual gathering in Greenpoint and the Flatiron District this summer.

"People say they're like ugly ducklings. They're not the prettiest cars in the world but they're endearing because of their spaciousness and their jump seats and the experience you'd have in them."

Laszlo — who realized his passion for Checkers when he bought a 23-foot, 1973 Checker limousine two years ago — is planning two Checker block parties this June by Greenpoint's Box Hotel and on 25th Street by Lexington Avenue.

Up to 50 cars will be on display with live music to set the mood, he said.

"We want taxi drivers to come to this event...It's open to the public," Laszlo said, noting that cab drivers used to congregate in the area where the Manhattan event will be held.

And Laszlo — a retired pharmaceutical researcher whose purchase of a Checker prompted him to start the non-profit Taxi and Limousine Research Center — selected the Box House Hotel location since the owner has Checker taxis (which guests use for free) and is a member of the national club.

"This is a very close-knit group...And since a lot of people like to drive their cars, we try to move [the annual show] around so people can participate," said Laszlo, noting that last year's convention was in Atlanta and the previous year's was in Dayton, Ohio.

While some members refrain from driving their vintage cars too far, Laszlo prides himself on crossing 19 states when he first purchased his Checker Aerobus limousine in California.

"Now I drive it once every couple of weeks, even in the winter. It needs exercise," said Laszlo, who keeps the 12-seater limo at his country house since there's not enough room in the city.

And even though Checkers are a newfound passion for Laszlo, he said the show guarantees to transport attendees back to their past.

"My wife and her girlfriends, whenever they went out they'd try to get a Checker taxi because they loved the jump seats and the amount of room," he said.

"She could pile five or six of her friends in the car. People can come look and be nostalgic, because the older generation remember them very fondly."