A Tale of Two Cars

Jan 18, 2010

RAY: This was from my automotive history series and it was sent in by a fellow named Tom Lilly. Here it is:

My cousin Vinnie is kind of a pain in the butt, but from time to time he comes across vintage automobiles which he can buy, then flip and make a quick buck. He seldom owns more than two or three at any given time and his flipping rate is often determined by whether his wife has contacted the divorce lawyer.

One Sunday, Vinnie called the house and told me he had just purchased two American-made cars at an auction, and that I should come right over to check them out. He went on to say that one of them is made in the early 60's and the other was manufactured in the mid 70's. And, get this, he didn't think that I'd be able to tell which was which! I told him he was nuts. I mean, I grew up in the 60's, and I know all the cars from the 60's and the 70's . I was positive I could tell them apart. He bet me 50 bucks I wouldn't be able to.

Now, before I took the bet I had to ask a few questions, like, 'Are you going to put a bag over my head?' 'Were these real passenger cars? They're not trucks, they're not buses, they're not toy cars?'

'No, it's legit,' he said.

'These cars are actually made and manufactured in the USA?'

'Yes,' he said.

'They're not modified in any way? They haven't been turned into hot rods or made into something unrecognizable?

'No, they're all original equipment.'

Then I asked, 'Could anyone have bought either of these cars?'

And he said, 'Absolutely.'

'Have I ever driven either one of these cars?'

'I'm not sure,' he said. 'But I bet you've probably seen them.'

'Really,' I thought. 'How about we make that bet 100 bucks? And you know what, I'm so confident, I won't have to get any closer than 50 feet to these things to tell which is which.'

He said, 'You're on!'

A few minutes later, I pulled into Vinnie's driveway. Of course, he was outside waiting for me. 'Well,' I said. 'Show me these things! And if I can't figure out which is which, I'm going to pay you 200 bucks.'

He pressed the button on their garage door opener, and when I saw the cars, my jaw dropped. All of a sudden, a sure thing was now at best a 50/50 proposition and if I lost, I was going to lose 200 bucks to this dope.

What were the two cars that he had bought?
RAY: The cars that Vinnie bought were two Checkers.

TOM: Checker taxis?

RAY: Exactly! They were made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and for a while, you could just buy them only if you had a taxicab business.

But after a while private citizens could buy them, and I think the company went out of business around 1982 or '83.

Basically, the cars were unchanged, and the only difference between the early ones and the later ones was that they originally had single headlights, and then in '58 or '59 they went to the double headlights on each side.

TOM: Give me a little yellow!

RAY: In fact, there were many colors, and you could get any color you wanted as long as it was yellow or red. And that's what he had bought, and they were virtually indistinguishable from one year to the next.

Who's our winner?

TOM: Our winner this week is Stephen Ranyall from Johnson, Vermont. And for having his answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, Stephen is going to get a 26-dollar gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division at cartalk.com, with which Stephen can get a set of four Car Talk reusable shopping bags.

RAY: These are a wonderful contrast to the other bags you see in your supermarket, which have uplifting slogans about saving the planet, you know things like that.

TOM: Yeah. Our bags say, 'A reusable bag from NPR's windbags.'

RAY: And, 'My other reusable bag is from a good NPR show.'

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