By Brendan Moore
Checker Motors, the maker of the famous Checker Marathon taxi, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Although Checker ceased production of the Marathon in 1982, the 87 year-old firm has soldiered on since that time as a manufacturer of welded assemblies and metal stampings that it supplies to the domestic auto industry.
Checker has 246 employees affected by the bankruptcy.
Checker’s bankruptcy filing cited the falling market share of its automaker customers, uncompetitive wage structures compared to other bankrupt suppliers that are their competition and rising raw material costs. The company stated it the filing that it intends to reorganize and continue doing business during the reorganization.
And not just any car, but the Checker Marathon, an urban icon to millions of people in the United States.
Even though Checker produced its last Marathon in 1982 (mainly because they thought a proposed gas-guzzler tax would kill the small manufacturer), and the last Checker in the NYC taxi fleet was retired in 1999, that hasn’t stopped the cars from being used still in current print ads, commercials and films.
Apparently the car was such an enduring figure of urban life that the media types still want the car in their ads. The recognizable Checker was used as a taxi in almost every major city in the United States, and even well after production ceased, Checker Marathons roamed the streets for years afterward because of their noted durability (and the equally durable GM engines and transmissions in the Marathons). It was not unusual for a Checker to have close to a million miles on the odometer when it was finally taken out of service, which is just about how many miles the aforementioned Robert Johnson’s cab in NYC had on the clock when he retired both the Checker Marathon and himself in 1999, seventeen years after the last Marathon rolled off the line.
If you have never taken a cab ride in a Checker, you just don’t know what you’re missing. It was the ultimate affordable urban luxury. There was a staggering amount of headroom and legroom in the back seat of a Checker, ingress and egress was easy and elegant, and after only one ride, you don’t ever want to ride in one of those cramped and loathsome Crown Victoria taxis ever again.
Just as an aside, there is a single Checker Marathon on a taxi medallion in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live. A mature but energetic woman both owns and pilots the Marathon around Oakland and San Francisco, and appointments are required if you want to be ferried around in the Checker.
Most people don’t know it, but you could also buy a Checker Marathon for yourself, that is, for private use. Any color in the PPG auto paint palette was available, in any of 4 body styles, with any amount of the options that Checker offered. Checker never sold more than 1230 in one year to “civilians” as the company categorized those buyers, and a typical year’s worth of sales to private owners was somewhere around 400 units.
You could also buy a station wagon version of the Marathon, and you could also shell out major bucks for the Checker Aerobus, a massive eight-door monster used by airport fleets, tour guides, etc.
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