The holiday season often reminds me of returning home from college, catching up with friends, and showing my family just how cool I was becoming. I seriously couldn’t wait to show off my new nose-piercing to my folks when I was eighteen and had come home for Thanksgiving. There I stood in the foyer by the front door in the overhead light, practically sticking my nose out and trying to act like I didn’t know there was a shiny, metal ring poking through a tiny hole in my left nostril. “Oh, this?…” (The hole is still there, by the way.) My dad had glaucoma and his eyesight wasn’t the best, so needless to say, he didn’t notice, or at least he acted like it. My conservative mom ignored it at first probably just to rob me of any shock-value I felt I had earned, but I digress.
Around this same time, both out of a general lack of funds and also a need to set myself apart in a sea of grunge-inspired flannel, ripped jeans and baggy b-boy clothes worn by fellow students, I had started to dress head-to-toe in vintage t-shirts, corduroy, and polyester. This was back in the early/mid-90’s, a time when decent examples of such items could be easily found on the cheap in thrift stores. It seemed then like the 70’s had revolved back into the consciousness of the underground in my college town of Gainesville, Florida, and in many other places where clove cigarettes were smoked and incense was burned. I was one of many other kids who were busy showing the rest of the world just how much we didn’t care about being cool, while believing with complete conviction that we had to have been the coolest kids, ever.
Unlike some of the vintage, thrift-store clothes I sported over half my life ago (and still do occasionally, these days), the Checker Marathon was never chic, at least in a traditional sense. Manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan with a design that dated from the dawn of the 1960’s, it underwent few significant changes in its design before going out of production after ’81. With a style as innately sexy as a pair of orthopedic oxfords even when new, the introduction of safety bumpers for ’74 made the Marathon only a little less attractive (in my opinion), if at all.
I’m completely guessing as to the model year of our featured car. All I can recognize is that it’s got side marker lights and reasonably-sized bumpers. If it was manufactured in or around 1970, it’s likely Chevy-powered by a 250-c.i. 6-cylinder or a 350 V8, both of which got progressively weaker over the years. (The 1970 versions of these engines rated at 155 hp for the Six, and 250 hp for the Eight.) Most Marathons of this era weighed about 3,500 lbs. at the curb.
All of which brings me to this: Why do I actually like the style of the Marathon, despite its upright, thick, blocky profile? I mean, I genuinely dig it. I wonder if it’s the positive mental association I have that connects images of the Marathon, once thick on the streets of large cities, with exciting places like Manhattan. “Driver, take me to the HoJo’s restaurant in Times Square…” when Times Square was still gloriously gritty.
Maybe it’s the utter lack of pretense the Marathon seems to exude. It was tall and boxy (in an era of ever longer-lower-wider) for easy ingress and egress, and for a light and airy cabin. Its near-bulletproof Chevy powertrains were sure to be reliable in many instances of harsh traffic conditions. Also, I feel the tank-like Marathon is one car whose appearance might actually not be hampered by a few dents. We call this “character” when applied to human beings, and I’ve got a few dents of my own, these days.
I think the simple truth is that the Checker Marathon never went out of style because it was never in style, to being with. I’ve got nothing but respect for a car that doesn’t appear to care about even playing the game of trying to be cool. Sporting the same suit for over two decades with almost no alterations, this black Marathon, spotted in my neighborhood just a few weeks ago, is the very epitome of cool. It’s like black licorice…not for everybody, and definitely old-school. And I love it all the more for just those reasons.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016.
Related reading from:
- Paul Niedermeyer: Automotive History: An Illustrated History Of Checker Motors;
- William Stopford: Curbside Classic: Checker Marathon – The Brooklyn Bruiser; and
- Kevin Martin: CC Feature: My Checkered Career With Checker Cabs.