Checker Motors Files for Bankruptcy

01.20.2008

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.

There are a lot of suppliers to the automotive industry that have gone down in the last 12 months, but Checker stands out among those other suppliers because they used to make an actual car.

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.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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3 Comments

  1. The Checker was a fantastic taxi cab because it was designed with that purpose in mind. Crown Vics, et al, are not and make mediocre cabs. I wonder if there is still a market for a dedicated taxi cab and, if so, whether it would be profitable to make one. The UK clearly has such a market with the London Taxi, but that is probably too expensive for the US. Much cheaper to use the less focused, but inexpensive, Crown Vic.

  2. I miss the Checker, I wonder if someone will buy the rights to the name and all the stuff to revive the Checker in a more modern form like the London Taxi?

    By the way, before switching to Chevy engines in 1965, they used Continental engines and there was some 1964 Checker who got some Chrysler engines
    http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1960-1969-checker1.htm
    http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1960-1969-checker2.htm

    I also heard the Marathon was killed also because of more strict safety standards, that was I saw in an article from Collectible Automobile in the June 2000 issue.

  3. My god, I miss the Checker. I live in New York City and I spend a lot of time in cabs, and the Checker was far superior to what we have now. Whatever happens to the company is sad, but if they were still making cars and they were now going out of business, that would be a catastrophe. Which is what it was when the Checkers slowly left the city previously.

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