BRITS BE­HIND THE USA’S FIRST DIESEL

How the UK helped cre­ate an oil-burn­ing car for Amer­ica

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week -

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.

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