Would-be passengers got a good look at the Nissan’s NV200 minivan — New York’s “taxi of tomorrow,” during its recent stint on display at the New York International Auto Show last year.

As expected, opinions positive and negative have rolled in, and more than a few people are waxing nostalgic for a de facto official Big Apple taxi of the past: the Checker Marathon.

The big, roomy Checker sedan was one of the visual elements that came to represent New York in the 1970s and 1980s. When directors of film, television and commercials wanted to convey the New York mood they’d use shots of the ubiquitous cabs.

Opening credits for the long-running ’70s sitcom “Taxi” were set against memorable footage of a Checker cab. The vehicle also played a strong supporting role to Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in the 1976 film ”Taxi Driver.”

Like graffiti-swathed subway cars and streets buzzing with illicit trade, the Checker was an element that symbolized an edgy and exciting, though often darker and more dangerous version of New York for which some people pine today. But the sturdy car’s seemingly friendly face and big interior often made it a refuge from the dicey streets.

Checker Marathon’s faded from the scene in the 1990s and about the only ones you see today are film props or collector cars adorned with “not for hire” signs. The one in the photo turned up in a suburban New Jersey driveway.

Looking back on numerous rides in Checkers I’m sure people’s selective  memories are better than their actual passenger experience. After all, the clunky cars often rode and ran poorly. Their swing-out jump seats — jump stools, really – were favorites for a grade-school kid in the 1970s but I wouldn’t be thrilled to sit on one today.

If the Nissan van, which enters service next year, really winds up being the only taxi on New York streets, I’ll miss the diversity of today’s fleet. But I won’t miss the Checker Taxi in NYC.

Category: Blog, New York City

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