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How Checker Cars Work

Checker Cars of the 1960s
The Checker Marathon, shown here as a 1963 model, was an upgraded version of the Superba.

Seeking higher nonfleet sales, Checker applied the Marathon name to the Superba Special for 1961, substituted 14-inch wheels on both Superba and Marathon sedans, and standardized the ohv engine for wagons. Prices stood pat: $2542 for the base Superba sedan to $3004 for the Marathon wagon. Air conditioning cost $411 extra, power steering $64.

The model quartet returned for 1962, the only change being a return to 15-inch wheels for sedans. But Checker now further plied the consumer market with a special new Town Custom limousine on a 129-inch wheelbase.

Optimistically priced at $7500, it came with vinyl roof and a division window between front and rear compartments; there was also a full range of power options. But production was limited by low demand -- understandable, as even the most-expensive nonlimousine Cadillac cost less. The only change for '63 was boosting the ohv engine to 141 bhp for all models.

In 1964, prices rose about $100 and Superba was dropped from the Checker line. The following year, Checker switched to more-modern Chevrolet engines: standard 140-bhp, 230-cid six and optional 283 and 327 V-8s with 195 and 250 bhp, respectively. The Town Custom limo was still around, but only by special order. The 283 cost $110 extra, automatic transmission $248, overdrive $108. For 1966, Checker added a Marathon Deluxe sedan and a lower-priced limousine ($4541), thus re-establishing a four-model line. Both were dropped the following year, but the Deluxe sedan returned for '68, the limousine for 1969.

Checker produced a limousine for sale to the public at various times; this Marathon DeLuxe Limousine was manufactured between 1965 to 1967.

The Chevy V-8s naturally made post-1964 Checkers much faster than the earlier six-cylinder cars. And there was more power to come. The 283 was dropped for '67, and a 307-cid replacement with 200 bhp was available for 1968 only. For 1969, the 327 was joined by a new 350 Chevy small-block with 300 bhp. Emissions tuning cut horses to 250 for 1970. Prices for the optional engines were usually low: in 1968, $108 for the 307 and $195 for the 327. Checker sales were always moderate in the '60s, though adequate to sustain the firm's desired annual volume of 6000-7000 units. Checker's best year of the decade was 1962, when it built 8173 cars, though most were taxis.

Checker founder Morris Markin never wavered from his mission of building taxi-tough cars. It isn't widely known, but Nathan Altman once approached Checker about building his Avanti II. Markin replied that the Avanti was too ugly to bother with.

For more on defunct American cars, see: