For the past 2 decades a rather special Checker A11 New York taxi has been cruising the streets of Cape Town. It's the only such cab in all of Africa, but that's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interesting trivia related to this particular car.
Images by Justin Pinto
With production that spanned from 1959 to 1982, the Checker A-series taxi is one of the most recognisable American cars of all time, even though most people don't know much about the company that made them, Checker Motors. Owner Dieter Losskarn highlights the Checker A11's long production run and largely unchanged styling as one of its core historical attractions, but a young Losskarn first fell in love with the Checker when he was a small boy growing up in Germany, and saw "its friendly eyes" in a movie. He told his dad back then that he'd own one in the future.
Many years later at the dawn of the new millennium Dieter found the car he wanted – a Checker A11 for sale in New York. He jumped on a plane and bought the car you see here – not in the best shape back then – from a Colombian who had been renting it out to the film industry. It turns out that Dieter's car has had quite an incredible Hollywood career, starring in films such as Carlito's Way (Al Pacino sat in the back of this car) and 200 Cigarettes with Ben Affleck.
But that's not all... Dieter's Checker is rather different to the ones that had been doing normal taxi service in the streets of New York. This particular Checker was used by the New York drug enforcement agency as an undercover police car, with one agent always in the back... To make sure it could keep up with the "baddies" it was fitted with a small-block Chevy V8, as opposed to the inline-6 cylinder engines fitted to most working taxis. That's why Dieter's Checker is no slouch off the line, and can unleash an almighty roar.
After its purchase Dieter undertook a 15 000 km journey through America, documenting the trip as he went and ultimately ended up producing a lovely coffee table book on his adventure. "It was a rolling restoration," he jokes. The Checker had to be fixed and refurbished as he travelled. He recalls when driving through the sweltering Death Valley that the air-conditioning broke, and so he had to keep his 6-month old daughter cool by wrapping wet towels around her head.
Now the Checker takes pride of place in Dieter's beautiful Hout Bay residence, and is a common sight on Cape Town's roads and at local motoring events. "I don't think I can ever sell this car," he says. "It is a part of me." Should he ever wish to sell it, however, this car may turn out to be quite a desirable item. Just over 100 000 were made, and very few remain these days. Most were scrapped after completing their stints as taxis. To find a Checker A11 in the condition of Dieter's car, and with such a cool history, is incredibly rare.