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New York's last Checker cab sells for $134,500

New York City's last Checker cab was sold at auction Saturday for $134,500 -- much higher than Sotheby's had estimated for the 21-year-old car.

The winner, an anonymous telephone bidder, and losing bidder Andy Murstein were neck and neck until the price got to $110,000, when Murstein quit.

"I'm a little disappointed. It was the last one on the streets," Murstein said. "People love Checkers. The cabs today are sub-par. They have zero leg room and are bumpy," said Murstein, whose family has been financing taxi medallions since 1937.

As the bidding ended in a round of applause, the cab, complete with a taxi meter and a string of pearls on the dashboard, sat with its engine running outside the auction house.

"We had hoped for around $50,000," said C. Hugh Hildesley, executive vice president of Sotheby's. "I knew it would do well. It's a very romantic thing."

Its pre-sale estimate was $20,000 to $30,000. All prices include the auction house's commission of 15 percent of the first $50,000 and 10 percent of the rest.

Earl Johnson, the former owner and driver of the cab for more than two decades, named the car "Janie," after an old girlfriend. He and the car retired July 26.

Johnson bought the Checker for $9,000, but says he spent about $100,000 during the years for bolting, welding and other tinkering that kept it road-worthy; the V-8 block engine alone was changed three times.

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