BRITS BEHIND THE USA’S FIRST DIESEL
How the UK helped create an oil-burning car for America
America’s first-ever diesel-engined production car hit the road 48 years ago – and literature that’s recently surfaced proves it was thanks to British engineering know-how. Classic Car Weekly’s discovery of a super-rare brochure for the Checker Marathon reveals its totally overlooked historic status.
For just two years, it was offered with a beefy Perkins 4.236 – so-called because it’s four cylinders and 236 cubic inches – diesel engine, making this the first US car with such a factory-fitted option.
The DERV-happy motor, more usually found in commercial vehicles, was designed and made in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire – CCW’s home city. It was then shipped to Kalamazoo in Michigan, USA, to be fitted to the Marathon, world-famous as the iconic New York cab.
UK-based American car experts expressed surprise at the existence of this forgotten pioneer. ‘I must say, I’ve never heard of it,’ says Stewart Homan of Dream Cars in Redhill, Surrey, an American car dealer for 31 years. ‘Genuinely, I am really surprised. It must have been very unsuccessful.’
He has a point. Although Checker had produced a batch of Perkins diesel-engined taxis for export to Israel in 1967, the car was only on sale as part of its official line-up of sedans and station wagons in 1968 and 1969, when just 324 were sold.
Richard Miller, chief executive of the American Auto Club UK adds: ‘Americans never took to diesels. They liked their engines smooth and refined. But the real problem was getting the fuel. Hardly any petrol stations had a diesel pump, and even if there was space to install one, most owners would rather open a coffee shop!’ Giles Chapman
This brochure for the Checker, recently found by CCW, reveals the Perkins Diesel engine option.