Monday, September 26, 2016

You talkin' to me?

Few cars are associated with a place, especially if that place differs from where the car was actually produced. The Checker cab is forever thought of as driving around NYC even though it was sold worldwide and originally comes from Kalamazoo, MI. You know what other NYC icon hails from Kalamazoo? Derek Jeter! I rest my case.
This is a Checker Marathon from the last century looking brighter than usual in Empire White. Pinpointing the vintage of one of these is about as difficult as can be for any car, but we'll keep going through the checklist as clues present themselves.
 1961 was the first year they used the Marathon name so it's at least a '61.
Between 1968-'69 they introduced a taller windshield and those round side reflectors so it ought to be at least a '69.
Look at that big bulldog frown. Despite the fact that the Marathon has a bitchy resting face it was THE choice for taxicab companies from its introduction in 1961 through its eventual demise in 1982. There were plans for a new Checker cab to carry the company through the '80s and beyond but it never made it past the mockup stage. A couple of mysterious photos do exist of a stretched Chevy Citation 4 door, a stretched and heavily modified VW Rabbit, and a full size clay model of unique origin that looked like a K-Car in the Checker company lot but alas none even made it to test drive status.
This one happens to be parked in front of Gowanus Wine Merchants which means that all I had to do was walk outside and start snapping when it pulled up!
Boxy and tank-like, the Marathon was built for extreme durability. All of the drivetrain and suspension components were what you'd expect to find in a commercial truck rather than a passenger sedan. Checkers would routinely achieve 500,000 miles in the era when 100,000 was about as much as you could hope for from other cars.
Chances are excellent that this was a taxi when it first hit the streets as the overwhelming majority of them were produced for fleet use. Throughout its long run they were always available for civilians as well but they are rare. I've seen some over the years including a burgundy Marathon that had a black vinyl roof but it looked odd and my brain still said "that's a taxi" even though it wasn't.
Alright we have 1 more clue to the age of this ride on display here as 1970 was the first year for 4 red taillights! This is without a doubt a 1970-1982 Checker at least.
The two round lenses just inside of the lower taillight trim are the reverse lights. On the drivers side between the license plate and the reverse light is the gas cap. The awkward placement just above the huge bumper meant that spilling fuel was basically a given. Supposedly the only way to fill a Checker up completely is to have it parked at a 45 degree downward angle, otherwise just get to 3/4 and call it a day.
I took these shots years ago. The green scaffolding here is covering 2 buildings that have since been torn down and replaced with a new larger one. That is the F & G trains cross 3rd Avenue in the background and downtown Brooklyn is in the distance. There are a few new skyscrapers in the distance now too!
Alright it looks like this Checker is from at least 1973 after all!
One awesome allowance for classic cars registered in NY is that you can use a set of plates that come from the same era as your car as long as they're matching and in decent condition. NY issued license plates in this color scheme from 1973-1985, making these the colors I remember from my childhood. The current design looks remarkably similar to this as the same colors are back in use, however the new ones have EMPIRE STATE on the bottom and a band of blue along the top.
The emblems look delicate compared to the car itself.
More evidence of how much has changed; that smaller white row house has been modernized completely and looks ridiculous today, and that large garage door with no signage is now a thriving mechanic. In addition there is now a new building at the end of the block next to the elevated train.
These bumpers are basically guardrails that look like they could stop a freight train. Whatever caused this dent must've been yuge.
The reason this cab pulled up to the curb was to visit the (then) new pizza place at the other end of the block. I asked the driver if I could take some pics and he was very gracious so I'd like to give him a plug: Famous Fat Dave does eating tours of NYC in this Checker and it looks like he has some repute. Anthony Bourdain gave him props so big ups to Fat Dave.
Inside there's legroom enough to lay down on the floor and sleep. That red round thing pressed up against the front seat is actually one of two jumper seats for additional passengers. I remember riding in a few of these when they were still being used as cabs and I couldn't touch the front seat with my legs outstretched completely! 
*Love the old AIR CONDITIONED for your comfort sticker on the window.
This beast is utilitarian and basic. The a/c unit hangs under the dash looking like it was plucked from a hotel room. Switches and knobs are big and easy to grab onto. This has the automatic transmission as we can see by the little window on the column that shows what gear you're in but if it did have the manual it would be a three-on-the-tree. Imagine driving a manual taxi in NYC!
It's hard to tell but that logo in the center of the hubcap is a crest with C M C around it for Checker Motor Company. Beautiful original caps can't be easy to find for a cab!
Well there you have it; a car associated with Robert DeNiro, Danny DeVito, and NYC itself. I was thrilled to see this beast roll up to the curb like it's designed to do decades after it disappeared from the taxi fleets. Though once ubiquitous these cabs are getting seriously scarce. Their durability meant that they were used until they rusted completely away or had over a half a million miles on them. To see one today is a shock that floods anyone my age or older with nostalgia.
*One last tidbit - these were produced in Aerobus form as well which were 6 and 8 door passenger limos. Picture this exact car with the doors doubled and you get an idea of just how long a 15 passenger Aerobus is. There was one parked in the lot of a church in Paradise California when I was a kid and it fascinated me.

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