Not A Taxi! 1971 Checker Marathon

The Checker Marathon was produced for more than 20 years across three decades. Most of them ended up serving in the taxicab industry, with limited sales to John Q. Public. These cars were built like tanks and had more passenger room inside than just about anything else on the road. This 1971 edition looks mostly solid and doesn’t run but have no fear because most of the mechanical components were sourced from Chevrolet. Located in Petaluma, California, this Checker once made an appearance in a movie and is available here on Barn Finds Classifieds for $3,900.

Checker Motors Corp. of Kalamazoo, Michigan built the Marathon from 1961 to 1982. Over the duration, the Checker would see few changes from year to year, the most noticeable being those bigger bumpers that the Federal Government mandated for all automakers in the mid-1970s. Beginning in 1965, Checker would get their engines and transmissions from GM, the most common being the small-block 350 cubic inch V8. In 1970, Checker borrowed the locking steering column from Chevrolet, so astute car enthusiasts will note the ’71 Chevy steering wheel on the seller’s car.

The company would exit the automobile manufacturing business in 1982, instead choosing to focus on producing body stampings for GM, Ford, and Chrysler until 2009. That’s when Checker went bankrupt as a result of the then-downturn in the USA auto industry. Because most of Checker’s production was for fleet purposes (aka taxis), they didn’t have a nationwide dealer network. We understand that if you wanted a new Checker for personal use, you had to contact Checker directly to make purchase arrangements.

This Checker has a bit of an interesting story. We’re told it played a role in a Hollywood movie (but we don’t know which one) and the prior owner’s daughter took off with it one time and used it as a camper for a week. The engine won’t turn, but the seller believes the motor is still good and only needs a refresh of its top end. It will roll easily but bring a winch with your trailer because they were heavy cars, weighing in at close to 4,000 pounds (pushing it will require at least three men and a small boy).

The undercarriage of this Checker looks to be in good condition, based on the photos provided. There are a few spots of rust here and there on the body, but the sheet metal on these cars was thicker than some of its contemporaries. That meant they took longer to succumb to cancer. The bumpers are crusty, and the vehicle may have been painted white at first, now wearing grey primer or paint of the same color. Inside the Checker, new seat covers, carpeting, and a headliner are a must – and get a load of all the legroom in the backseat!

There doesn’t seem to be a run on Checkers in the collector market, so if you want to show up at Cars & Coffee with something different, arrive in a Checker. While you’re at it, why not paint it yellow and masquerade as a taxi driver!

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Comments

  1. Harvey Member

    A wench might be good,but a winch would be more useful for loading.

    Like 14
    • Russ Dixon Russ Dixon Staff

      When in doubt, bring both!

      (grammar corrected!)

      Like 28
  2. Lothar... of the Hill People

    I’m curious about what movie this car appeared in… also curious as to why the seller didn’t divulge that fact. Maybe it was a dirty movie and that is part of the car’s checkered past.

    Like 17
    • Mike Maue

      booo !!

      Like 3
    • Robert White

      Blue Collar with Richard Prior was a movie from the early 70s that was filmed at the old Checker Cab Company prior to its closing shortly thereafter. Another movie with a Checker Cab as a key feature in the movie was Harry & Tonto which is an excellent film too. This Checker may have been used in Harry & Tonto, but those are the only movies I know about that have Checker Cabs featured.

      Bob

      Like 2
      • Mutt

        How’s about DeNiro in Taxi Driver…
        Still can’t forget that movie’s ending, Yikes

        Like 9
      • Joe

        Checker closed in 2009, not shortly after the movie was made.

      • DON

        How about DC Cab ?

  3. Peter k

    Paint it yellow with a checkerboard roof and use it as the airport Uber/ Lyft special

    Like 3
  4. chrlsful

    luv ta have the wagon.
    How many of these do I say that on? Pacer, Vedub, Pinto, ’83/6 ford fox, chevy II, falcon (well chero is awful nice too ’60 – 70.5).
    Granted the sedan is cavernous but the use & look of the wagon just appeal more to me. Can’t account for style (lookat someada hair styles, clothing and home furnishings).

    Like 3
    • SMS

      When I was in collage a group of us got together and bought a wagon version at auction. Paid nothing for it, had a million miles on it. After replacing bits like filters and plugs, changing fluids, and giving it a good clean it fired right up and ran. We passed it on to the next class, who passed it on. Lost contact after ten years of users. Only thing I recall it needing were belts and hoses.

      May not look it but the car was easy to drive, comfortable and quiet. Also got good milage.

      Like 4
  5. Fred Dodge

    In Carmel, California @ early 80’s, there was a ‘beautiful’ dark burgundy with Black vinyl top Marathon. The rear quarter windows were replaced with limousine portholes. Driven by a sharp looking elderly woman, always well dressed and wearing a Chapeau. Only one on the peninsula then, and it always turned my head – I have since never seen a Marathon trimmed out like it. I think about that car often – oh so many years since.

  6. Bob C.

    These were the good ones, before they put on those awful girder bumpers as the 70s progressed.

    Like 1
  7. 370zpp 370zpp Member

    When I used to commute to work daily on city streets that became increasingly hostile, I would fantasize about buying one of these, and just drive the crap out of it.
    Parallel parking? No problem; Bam! . . . Bam!.

    Like 3
  8. Glenn C. Schwass Member

    I saw a later one when they were still taxis with a V6. Also GM. I remember my dad shoving everyone in one for my sister’s bridal rehearsal dinner. There were at least 7 of us crushed into it. It was a blast, thinking back…Since my brother in law passed 20 years ago from an aneurysm, it is a bitter sweet memory..

    Like 1
  9. Joe

    Gotta love the Checker! One correction, Checker started building its dealer network in 1958. Dealer could be found in most major markets. At one time Chicagoland has as many as ten dealerships operating. That said, like the article presents, you could contact the corporate store in Kalamazoo and buy direclty from the factory.

    Like 1
  10. Gray Wolf

    Didn’t Sears sell these at one time??

    Like 1
    • Lou Rugani

      That was the Allstate, built by Kaiser-Frazer.

      • Bob C.

        A rebadged Henry J.

  11. Carbob Member

    One of the families in our neighborhood back in the 60’s had eleven children. The dad bought a station wagon so they could all ride together. I wonder how many of those are left?

    Like 1
    • SMS

      My guess is that everyone built is still left. I swear when we took off a front fender it was made out of 3/8” thick sheet. Would take a few centuries to rust through these things.

      They were also dead simple so nothing was in them that could break.

      Like 1
      • Joe

        Sady, Checkers are very rust prone. I have cataloged over 525 used units sold over the last five years. Its estimated that about 2500 survive.

        Like 2
      • DON

        I agree about the rust ;These used to come into our junkyard in the mid 80s from a local cab company. Always stripped of anything that could be used on running cabs, but they were really rusted out . No one had one of these on the roads ,so they always went straight to the crusher

  12. Kenneth Carney

    Boy would I love to get my hands on this
    one! The last time I saw one was about
    30 years ago. It belonged to an elderly
    lady who came into the Taco Bell where
    I worked. Hers was a ’77 model that had a 305 (nice doggy) in it. It was white with a blue interior. I had her talked into selling it to me for $800
    til she changed her mind and left it to
    her housekeeper. I saw it a few years
    later at the Knights Of Columbus one day a few years later. The only real
    damage I saw was the crease in both
    passenger side doors from where it had
    gotten T boned. After that, I never saw
    another one. And yes, I did see one like
    this on The Six Million Dollar Man in ’73.

  13. Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac Diva Member

    It’s hard to tell from Google if this is a ’71.
    My father bought a one year old used Marathon in 1968. It was a ’67 Marathon with a three speed shift on the floor. It had chrome around the headlights and small parking lights, single rear red lenses and backup lights under the taillights and 3 reflectors on each side. No side marker lights.
    There was a Checker dealer in Union, NJ where my father ordered our second Marathon, a 1970. That had painted headlight bezels, larger parking lights, side marker lights with reflectors. Taillights were now doubled, backup lights moved under the trunk and one reflector under the taillights.
    I’m into details.
    I can tell you this, the picture of the rear of this car the taillight lense is wrong. They never looked like bullets. More like caps.
    Anyway, they were built like tanks. I hated the ones my father had, but now, I wish I owned one. Great cars, if not ugly as sin.
    By the 1980s, the bumpers on these cars were awful. So huge and not even chrome.

    Like 1
  14. Howard A Member

    “You talkin’ to me?” Certain cars always bring up our tv/movie past. I can name a dozen. The movies were either so enjoyable or in this case, Taxi Driver, so intense and the cars featured are forever burned in our heads. Well, mine, anyway.
    Checker has always had the moniker of the “generic car”. Year after year, it remained the same, and very few people in the public sector wanted that. Cars were all about change. However, a few did go for that, although, I don’t remember actually seeing one, not in Beer City, anyway. Checkers would routinely rack up literally hundreds of thousands of miles, although, that didn’t mean YOU would get that, but still great cars. I shudder to think of the day that someone may not recognize these, except from old movies, like Taxi Driver,,as Mutt sez, WHAT AN ENDING!!

    Like 1
  15. Ensign Pulver

    My two Checker life references are first, as a later teenaged car guy when I went to NYC I always waited to hail a Checker rather than any other. By 1984 that goal became tougher but still could. The other is as a high school aged Petroleum Transfer Engineer (PTE) …only a job in NJ still!…in 80-82. A old spinster of a woman clothed to the wrist with her husband (yes and oxymoron) would come in for gas driving a beige 66-67 Checker with chrome bumpers that was mint…minus the right front fender. She couldn’t have been over 4’10 and would drive while her husband in the passenger seat looked like a small pile of laundry with a fedora on top. She was abrupt, rigid, and suspicious….ensuring each time that I gave her the exact dollar amount she had requested. These were manual pumps…9/10’s of a gallon and it’s penny. Anything less was thievery…..and she would never pay the penny over.

    Like 1
  16. Dwcisme

    In 76 I somehow got a job as taxi driver despite being under 21 and having no knowledge of my city’s geography (of course, pre GPS). The company was a Checker Taxi but had no relationship to the car. They had a few Marathons on the fleet but to my chagrin they were all privately owned and I never got to drive one. I got stuck usually driving 6 cyl. Coronets or ex police cruiser Bel Aires with 400’s.

  17. Joey Bloey

    I had teacher in high school 1974 had one. We all thought it was strange and different.

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