The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away … and Came Back! Jo Wood’s Checker Taxi

by Charlotte Vowden
29 February 2024 3 min read
The One That Got Away … and Came Back! Jo Wood’s Checker Taxi
Jo's Checker shortly after she had it shipped from New York to England.

“She’s alive! She’s alive! After 34 years in Ronnie’s garage doing nothing, Lily started just like that. Vrooom! Unbelievable! I didn’t think I was going to get her back. I don’t know why he suddenly changed his mind. I nagged him and I nagged him, I drove him mad. That might have had something to do with it.

Lily is my Checker Taxi, and she’s the one that got away and came back. The morning I got her was so great. It was March 1981, we were in Los Angeles. I went outside, and he [Ronnie Wood, Rolling Stones guitarist] said ‘Here you are. Happy birthday.’ Oh, it was fab, I loved it! It was so big and unusual. I was 26. That was one of the last Checker cabs they made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and it came straight from the factory to me, all white, jump seats, V8 engine – she was such a beautiful car. Well, she is such a beautiful car. It was the best present Ronnie ever bought me.

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Checker taxi Jo Wood
Jo is reunited with Lily after 34 years.

That year, 1981, was a particularly crazy year because we were on tour a lot, and it was a real crazy tour. We didn’t sleep, we just stayed up and drank; I was drinking Jack Daniels, so revolting, and if I smell it now I’ll be sick. When I got the car, we used it to hop around Los Angeles, going to this person’s house, that person’s house – mostly to dealers’ houses – or over to Keith’s, who was renting there at the time. I would always drive because Ronnie hated driving, and we used to blast the radio; Ronnie would be [switching stations] looking for his songs. It was fun! We used to drink and have joints in it. It was a mad time.

And then we moved to New York for five years. The Checker cab came with us but I hardly used it. New York wasn’t as fun to drive in because of the competition with all the other cars. After that we moved to England and the Checker cab came with us to Wimbledon. My brother, Paul, who was an airbrush artist, painted it yellow like the proper Checker cabs, and I hated it. She looked too commercial so I made him make her white again.

In 1989, we moved to Ireland. Lily came with us and I used her a little bit, but I put her in the garage and left her there [when Jo and Ronnie split up in 2008] until last year, when I said to Ronnie: ‘Can I have my car back?’ And I got it back! Woo hoo! Watch out! Woman driver in a large car!

Checker taxi
Lily the Checker cab in Ronnie Wood’s garage in Ireland.

So Lily is the one that nearly got away. At the moment, she’s with my cousin’s friend, who is a car mechanic, and he’s doing all the bits and pieces that need doing. Then I’m going to wrap her in black. The interior is blue and light blue. She’s going to look great. I’ve got a Fiat Abarth that’s wrapped in black, and I’ve got my Mercedes AMG 550 in Spain that’s also wrapped in black, so it’s kind of a theme.

When I go to collect her and bring her home, it would be great to have Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” on the radio – I love that song. I can’t wait to drive her and for my grandkids to see her for the first time and jump in. She’s only done 30,000 miles in 40 years. My son is getting married in August, and I’m hoping she’ll be ready so I can drive her to London on the wedding day. She’s left-hand drive, has good power steering and bouncy suspension.

My love of cars goes back to my dad, because he was a Lambretta fanatic. He had a Lambretta museum in Devon and restored every model made since 1947. Every year, as a kid, we’d go to the Isle of Man and watch him do the TT on his Lambretta with a sidecar. We would say goodbye to him, and neeowwww, off he went, and then we’d go back as he pulled in at the end and shout: ‘Yayy! You’ve done it!’ I’ve got lots of his medals.

I just love the smell of petrol and I like to hear an engine. I won’t buy an electric car, I just won’t. The most sustainable car is the car that you’ve had for years, and years, and years. You repair it, and it still goes. And as for cars that will drive us, I don’t think so! Artificial intelligence is all around us, but we can’t let it take over.

I love to drive, and you don’t drive for months when you’re on tour, so for me, not having that control was always quite hard. There were two things I would always do as soon as I got home: make baked beans on toast (with lots of butter) and get in the car and go for a drive. I’d drive anywhere, just to sort of re-establish myself. It’s the simple things in life.”

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