Checker Marathon (1961-1982)

Click to enlarge pictureTaxi 07 - A Design Trust Project (© Rod Hatfield)

1975 Checker Marathon

The last American car designed specifically for taxi duty, the Checker Marathon once prowled the streets of every major city. Checker Motor Co. started building custom taxis in 1922. Its last model, the Marathon, remained virtually unchanged throughout its production. Built on a rugged frame designed to absorb Manhattan potholes, the Marathon had a flat floor with two fold-up jump seats, so it could accommodate five passengers. Checker sales declined after cities like New York approved the use of less expensive Ford and Chevrolet sedans for taxi use.

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Geo Prizm (1989-1997)

A rebadged Toyota Corolla, the Prizm was introduced in 1989 by Geo, a General Motors brand. Manufactured in Fremont, Calif., as a joint venture with Toyota, the Prizm was an economical and very reliable sedan that got high ratings for quality. The upscale LSi version could be had with a zippy 1.8-liter twin-cam 4-cylinder engine and aluminum wheels. The Prizm was basic transportation done well. When the Geo brand was discontinued in 1998, a redesigned Prizm became a Chevrolet and stayed in production until 2002.

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Oldsmobile Aurora (1994-2003)

Click to enlarge picture2001 Oldsmobile Aurora (© General Motors)

2001 Oldsmobile Aurora

The last flagship of a proud, 107-year-old brand, the Aurora debuted in 1994 and was redesigned in 2001. Though not as exciting to look at, the later version was a better all-around car and could still be had with a sophisticated 250-horsepower 4.0-liter DOHC V8 engine. The exterior was trim and understated, and the Aurora luxury sedan seemed poised to lead Olds out of its fuddy-duddy, grandpa's-car past and into the same bright future that embraces Cadillac. The GM bean counters thought otherwise.

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Hummer H1 (1992-2006)

Inspired by the performance of the military Humvee in the Persian Gulf War, the original Hummer was produced for civilian consumption by AM General beginning in 1992, for those who had to have the biggest, baddest 4-wheeling rig that $50,000 could buy. Enormous, underpowered and impossibly primitive, the Hummer was almost unstoppable off-road. GM bought the rights to the Hummer brand in 1999, and by 2006 the H1 Alpha was more refined and had a 300-horsepower 6.6-liter turbo-diesel engine. The later, Chevy-based Hummer H2 and H3 were more practical, but the H1 was the original article.

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Pontiac G8 GXP (2008-2009)

Click to enlarge picture2009 Pontiac G8 GXP (© General Motors)

2009 Pontiac G8 GXP

Like the classic Bonneville models of the 1960s, this powerful, full-size sedan offered a nice balance of comfort and sport, with crisp, distinctive styling. Based on the Commodore model offered by Holden, the GM subsidiary in Australia, the G8 featured a large, comfortable rear seat and nicer interior than most U.S.-built GM cars. The hot GXP version featured the 6.2-liter Corvette V8 engine detuned to 402 horsepower, plus sport suspension and 19-inch wheels — a last gasp of excitement from Pontiac.

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Veteran moto-journalist and Wisconsin-native Charles Plueddeman has been driving, riding and testing automobiles, motorcycles, boats, ATVs and snowmobiles for more than 20 years. He is a regular contributor to Boating Magazine and Outdoor Life, and his product evaluation articles have appeared in Popular Mechanics, Men's Journal, AutoWorld, Playboy, and many other national publications and Web sites.