Curbside Capsule: 1969-73 Checker Marathon – A Sensible Taxi Purchase, A Strange Private Purchase

The spotless aqua paint and full wheel covers of this Checker Marathon make me think this wasn’t once a taxi cab, as so many of its brethren were. Which makes me wonder: just who was buying Checkers besides taxi companies?

Not that buying a Checker as a private buyer was foolhardy. In fact, it was pretty sensible. There were proven mechanicals, including a range of Chevrolet engines from 1965 onwards. Parts were never an issue as the sheetmetal was unchanged for its 21-year production run. And just look at that rear seat – talk about legroom! Nevertheless, typically 90% of Marathon production was destined for taxi use.

The lack of visual changes makes it hard to pin down the exact year of this Marathon. The slim bumpers peg it as being pre-1974, while the presence of front seat headrests would indicate it was built in 1969 or later.

That means under the hood is either a 250 cubic-inch Chevy six with a two-barrel carburetor or a 350 cubic-inch Chevy V8 with either a two or four barrel carb. If it’s a ’69 model, that would mean it’d have the 327 cubic-inch V8.

If you haven’t read the late Kevin Martin’s brilliant feature on his years driving Checker cabs, do so. In it, he praises the Checker for its durability and passenger room but criticizes it for their manoeuvrability. These were big cars albeit not full-size – measuring approximately 199 inches long, pre-5MPH bumpers, they were about as long as a GM A-Body sedan. However, they weighed a good 300-400 pounds more than an A-Body thanks to the Checker’s rugged X-frame construction.

Unlike an A-Body sedan, there was no pretence of style. The Checker was blocky and upright like a K.T. Keller-era Plymouth, designed to provide as spacious a cabin for passengers as possible. A Marathon was almost 10 inches taller than an A-Body sedan.

The first year Checker sales broke out taxi and non-taxi sales was 1967. That year, Checker built 5,622 Marathons but only 935 weren’t taxis. This held throughout the 1970s, with a few thousand Checkers being built each year but only a few hundred going to buyers who weren’t taxi companies. Those figures include the other members of the Checker line-up: the wagon and the Town Custom (later Marathon Deluxe), which boasted a 9-inch longer wheelbase (for a total of 129 inches). There was also an eight-door Aerobus wagon which Paul covered here.

One thing that would have discouraged private buyers, however, was the Marathon’s price. In 1969, a Marathon sedan retailed for $3,290. That was almost $800 more than the cheapest Chevelle sedan with the same 250 cubic-inch six under the hood. Any private sales, therefore, were minuscule while even taxi volumes began to decline as taxi companies embraced regular sedans from Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth.

The one bonus a Marathon sedan had over, say, a Chevelle sedan – besides the more upright cabin – was the availability of a couple of jump seats to bring total passenger capacity to eight. But wouldn’t most families have bought an intermediate station wagon with a third row of seats?

Considering the Marathon’s heft, price premium and cumbersome handling, just who were the few hundred people each year buying these for non-taxi use? Whoever bought this one, however, deserves kudos for keeping it in such lovely condition all these years.

Photographed in Mount Pleasant, Vancouver, BC in June 2019.

Related Reading:

My full-length historical piece on the Checker Marathon.

Automotive History: An Illustrated History Of Checker Motors