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Perkins-Powered: 1969 Checker Marathon

042716 Barn Finds - 1969 Checker Marathon - 1

This 1969 Checker Marathon is a rare, one-year-only diesel model. It’s located in Murphy, North Carolina and is on eBay with a current bid of $2,225 and a Buy It Now price of $12,000. After looking at the photos on eBay, and the fact that it has a diesel; $12,000 seems like a reasonable price.

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The seller says that this car is his wife’s but she doesn’t like it because it’s too big so that’s why it’s for sale. This is a big car, look at that back door. Even though this example was never a taxi, the rear seat legroom in a Checker Marathon is legendary. Now that’s riding in style! It’s amazing that these cars were only made for about two decades yet they’re so well-known; it’s such a classic design. Everyone knows the look of this car in its taxi garb, but they’re a rare sight when not painted yellow. The seller says that the paint has a few scratches and dings and that there is a bit of rust, but it sure looks great. And those tail lights are fantastic!

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The interior looks great, it’s hard to believe that this isn’t a former taxi, I can’t look at a Marathon without thinking of that. They just “had All New Wheel Cylinders, Master Cylinder and Brake Lines Replaced. Also replaced Cancel Cam for Turn Signals.” That gives me hope for humanity, that at least one person is considering signaling a lane change! They show a photo of a couple of seam separations in the otherwise mint-condition seats. Checker added headrests in 1969 so it’s odd to not see them here. The dash is no-nonsense, pragmatic board-with-gauges, but everything works here other than the original radio.

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Here’s the magic of this car, a one-year only Perkins Diesel. It looks like it’s been at least pulled and painted but there is no word on if it’s been rebuilt. It looks clean in the engine compartment, to say the least. This 4.236 Perkins diesel isn’t a turbo model so there won’t be any burnouts in front of Jay Leno’s garage, especially with a 0-60 time of 23 seconds; but this 88 hp, 210 ft-lb of torque oil-burner should keep ticking away for decades to come. Owning a Checker Marathon will always evoke images of yellow taxi cabs, but this white diesel would sure draw some visitors at any car show. Is this car something that you would drive or is it too taxi-like for your tastes?


  1. Chris in Nashville

    Have always wanted a Marathon, but in my dreams the engine has been swapped for something that would make it a great sleeper… Not a gutless diesel version… Maybe a Cummins turbo swap?

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  2. Dolphin Member

    Perkins diesels have been used in boats for decades, so there should be parts available. With these engines the important number is the torque, and 210 pound-ft should get you around town OK, and with good fuel economy. I don’t know why Checker used the Perkins for only one year, and if there’s a reason other than the dislike of diesels back then, with poor takeup, then I would want to know. If just the dislike of diesels, and if the car/engine check out, it would be an interesting oddball to have, but I’m not a taxi guy, so not at $12K.

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  3. Frankie

    So, he bought her a car without her looking at it? Driving it? Might as well go out and buy her panties.

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  4. redwagon

    im all over this like flies on ….. apple pie.

    will i buy it? no. would i like to test drive it? yes.

    i would be really really interested if it were a checker marathon wagon.

    looses points for auto.

    cannot have everything redwagon.

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  5. John Weinhoeft

    Most the Perkins diesel equipped cars were built for export to Europe, the Middle East, or Israel specifically. The Perkins was officially available in 1969 & 1970. About 1978 through 1982 the GM / Oldsmobile diesel was an option. I only know of a handful of Perkins equipped Checkers in the US.

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  6. Ed P

    I would think the low output of the diesel engine doomed it to be a one year offering. It would seem fine for city driving, but suburban and highway driving would be another thing. Plus the higher cost of the diesel probably limited interest for taxi fleets.

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  7. Steven C

    This is really cool

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  8. Mitch

    I drove a Checker Taxi when I was in college in the mid 70’s. Since I was the young guy my cars were always the most worn out ones in the fleet but they kept on going and were much more comfortable to drive then the mid-size Plymouths that had no leg room for the driver. These cars had the V8 (Chevy 350?) but were still pretty slow though in NYC there was never much need for speed. Can’t say I really want one now but if you like 50’s American cars this one hits the spot. My tastes have always been for the smaller, lighter cars.

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  9. Chebby

    The interior and the body are appealing if it’s truly rust-free, but the color is ugly and the rare but weird engine is a minus. If you change it you lose the originality, if you keep it you have to live with it as is. I’d guess $6K max. We’ll see what eBay says.

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  10. geomechs geomechs Member

    You learn something new every day. I never heard that Checker offered a diesel until now. I take one look at that motor and think that it got plucked right out of a forklift. It uses a Lucas CAV distributor injection pump with a hydraulic governor. I’d of thought that it would be more prudent to have used a DPA pump with a min-max governor similar to that on the earlier Range Rover Defender or Ford Transit. However no one asked me (as if I’d really know anyways). Those hydraulic governors are sluggish at best which made them great for forklifts. This choice of engine makes me think of an old term that’s somewhat off-color. ‘It won’t pull a limp d!X$ out of a pail of lard.’ But they sure won’t break that motor.

    Chrysler used an earlier version of that motor in a Plymouth in ’55 (or ’56). I wouldn’t mind finding one of those that needed a full resto. I’d really enjoy getting the motor back in shape…

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  11. jim s

    i do not see any a/c parts on this one. i hope there is a cover for the battery and fuel pump/filter. i wonder if that is the factory location for both. this would be a great daily driver but i hope the seller is open to offers. great find.

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  12. Steve Y

    How big a job would it be to convert this to a five speed manual? I remember being in one in Williamsport PA years ago with a big old 4 speed floor shift probably out of a pickup.

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  13. SnuffySmiff

    I’ll be in Murphy Saturday if anyone wants a closer pair of eyes on it. The missus simply feel in love with it-until I told her this thing is bigger than my Z-71 pickup.

    Me-I kinda like the diesel setup-but something this heavy I think would benefit greatly if it were turbo’d. And propane injection. And… oh never mind. It’s just far too fugly to contemplate doing any upgrades on…

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  14. Mark S

    I think it is very cool and original car, I’m sure a good diesel shop could do a retrofit to turbo this and improve the governor response, or upgrade governor altogether. As it stands 210 ft lbs of torgue is respectable considering it’s only a 4 banger with no turbo. I’ve always liked the styling of these Cecker boats.

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  15. juan

    Let me inform you about that engines: Here in Argentina when gas went too expensive in thousands of trucks were these engines installed, they were economic but noisy, underpowered, slow, they normally used 1liter of oli for 1000 km of use, an industrial engine is not the best choice for vehicle use; fortunatelly nowadays are really hard to see and if you are a car lover IT´S A BLESSING.
    In the US It will be really hard to find someone who likes these engines, if you evaluate buiyng it make a loooong test drive and see.

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  16. Ed P

    I agree 100%, Juan. Here in the USA we had little concern about fuel mileage until the OPEC oil embargoes of 1970’s. Power and quiet were more important to us. Diesels were to noisey for us.. But that seems to be changing.

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  17. Mark-A

    Definitely won’t have problems getting spares for this engine as I knew that I recognised the 4.236 designation, so checked Wiki & it was used in Marine applications as someone else said & also JCB & Massey Ferguson agricultural vehicles, engine rebuild kits are available for not much cash as well so I’m quite sure that you could get this engine running well for another 55-60yrs! Here’s the Wikipedia page- http://tractors.wikia.com/wiki/Perkins_4.236

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