Decked-out Checker hits road
By Jim Schlosser
Greensboro News & Record, August 6, 2007
Dennis Quaintance and his newly-restored cab.
Dennis Quaintance loves the toys on his latest toy, a 1975 Checker Cab a few people might remember from another era in Greensboro.
From behind the wheel, Quaintance fools with a lever that adjusts a spotlight on the car.
"When you cut it on, you tell people they are supposed to get their butt out here," he said.
This Checker is about to become a taxi for the first time since the Checker Motor Corp. built it in Kalamazoo, Mich.
It will join two English-made cabs now hauling guests at the O.Henry Hotel, owned by Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels. The English cabs and the Checker will also work the nearby Proximity Hotel that Quaintance-Weaver plans to open in October.
Guests at the airport or elsewhere will find the Checker Cab waiting with "hello" on its roof placard.
From 1975 until his death in 1980, the car belonged to Starmount Co. founder Edward Benjamin.
It was then blue and without taxi riggings. Benjamin motored about, inspecting his vast holdings, including Friendly Center, Starmount Country Club and many northwest Greensboro subdivisions.
Benjamin was eccentric. In buying a Checker, he perhaps wanted something different. He may also have liked the Checker for its ruggedness, with cabs lasting 200,000-plus miles.
Quaintance says Benjamin kept two Checkers: one at Starmount Farm, his Greensboro home; the other at his estate in New Orleans.
Until about 1959, Checker limited itself mostly to cab making. When its near monopoly on the taxi business in New York, Detroit and other cities began slipping, Checker started making a few personal cars, including Marathons, which Benjamin drove.
Hefty, roomy and air-conditioned, the car's backseat has legroom sufficient to make three NBA players comfortable.
Benjamin's family drove the car after he died, before Greensboro stockbroker Sam Hummel bought it.
"Dennis, you got to buy it and put it in service," Hummel later would say, keeping after Quaintance.
"He just wore me down," Quaintance said.
Hummel sold it to him for $6,000, which he considers a discount. It has relatively low mileage — 82,000. Quaintance says Hummel wanted the Checker preserved as part of the city's past, present and future.
The car and hotels are linked. The O.Henry stands across from Benjamin's Friendly Center. Benjamin also owned what's now Green Valley Office Park, the Proximity's location.
The hotel is named for the cotton mill the Cone family founded, along with others.
The Checker arrived Thursday after being overhauled and repainted by Sterling Carriage Vintage Limousines of Greensboro. The car now features the checker stripe and other taxi features.
Quaintance says the total cost is about $30,000, money well spent. He likes period pieces to draw attention to his hotels, which have historical themes.
Checker quit making cars in the early 1980s, but its vehicles remain workhorses. The 1976 movie "Taxi Driver," with Robert De Niro, immortalized the Checker.
Quaintance took the car for a spin Thursday through Irving Park and Fisher Park. Hot weather made for empty sidewalks.
But when people are outside, Quaintance said, and you're a passenger in the Checker, "you'd better pretend you are in a parade because everyone is going to be waving at you."