The story of an American taxicab

It’s a famous car in the collective American imagination, particularly thanks to its appearance as a co-star with Robert De Niro in the Martin Scorsese film “Taxi Driver”.

As the first post in my blog, dedicated to historic and defunct marques, I’m going to tell you about a car which many of you will surely know, if only by sight.  It’s a famous car in the collective American imagination, particularly thanks to its appearance as a co-star with Robert De Niro in the Martin Scorsese film “Taxi Driver”.

The car I’m referring to is the Checker Marathon, produced by Checker Motors Corporation of Kalamazoo, Michigan from 1961 to 1982.

The Marathon was introduced in September, 1961 as a replacement for the Superba model, also being made in a station wagon version and remaining in production for over twenty years, almost exclusively in the taxi version.  During the duration of its long life cycle it received very few updates, but it is worth mentioning the most important ones, as follows:

In 1974 the bumpers were redesigned to comply with new American Government legislation requiring them to withstand a 5 mph impact without damage.  This meant the adoption of multiple bumpers in order meet the requirement, making it appear heavier and distorting its original chrome bumper design, which suited the classis lines of the car better.

Between 1980 and 1982 a General Motors V8 Diesel engine, designed by the Oldsmobile division, was introduced to the range following the oil crisis, which led to a fall in sales of the Marathon model.  This drop in the number of orders was also due to fierce competition in the Taxi sector, however, in which there was now a wide choice of more modern models produced by the Big Three, against which the elderly Marathon model was unable to compete.

From 1962 to 1977 a special version of the Marathon, the Aerobus, was offered in two versions: a sedan with 6/8 doors and a 7/9 door station wagon.  In effect it was a very elongated version of the series model, actually as long as 7 metres in the larger version!  Many of the Aerobuses produced were sold to airports, which used them as shuttles to move passengers from one flight to another.  The last version of the Checker Marathon remained in service as a taxicab until 1999.

After the model went out of production in 1982, Checker Motors became a component supplier to General Motors until 2009, when the global financial crisis brought the Kalamazoo plant to final closure.  In 2010 it was shut down, ending the last trace of the history of this non-conformist marque, founded way back in 1922 by Morris Markin.

In 2016 it was announced that a group of Checker fans intended to put three variants of the Marathon model back into production.  So far it seems that the attempt to revive the name has failed and on top of this is the news that many of the Marathons purchased by the new company for restoration have been scrapped.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

Copyright © Cars Forgotten Stories. All rights reserved.


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