It’s very clear that the Checker is an icon in the US. Clearly the Checker is most famous for being the taxicab of choice in New York city from 1958-1982. That said, there are Checker stories and memories all over the world. In Finland, the Checker is closely linked to the Helsinki Olympics of 1952. Many Scandinavias remember the Checkers used as school buses in the 60’s and 70’s. In Israel, yes the Checker has its own icon status.
In Israel, back in the 1960’s Checker were popular as intercity taxicabs! The Marathon served as a taxi, joining various other Chrysler products: the Plymouth Coronado and DeSoto Diplomat. But rather than serving passengers in towns (although some did), the Checkers were mostly used as transportation between major cities, for those who had deep pockets and wouldn’t ride the bus. They were far more convenient, faster and comfortable than any bus of the day.
In the early 1960s, cab drivers in Tel Aviv managed to influence law-makers to pass a regulation preventing other taxi drivers from outside the city to come and work in it, claiming they were losing work to these “outsiders”. So Israel was divided to eight taxi areas and cab drivers were instructed to serve passengers only within their designated area. There was even a specific paint scheme assigned to each area, as all cabs were adorned by a thick painted line surrounding the cab at the base of the windows, with a different color to each area- North was blue, Haifa was red, Jerusalem was white, Tel Aviv was yellow and so on. That regulation allowed for inter-city cabs permitted to serve passengers both in-between and within cities. The inter-city taxis were painted black, with yellow trim.
In 1967 Checker would produce 90 Checker Model A11 diesel conversions for export. The customer was N. Feldman & Son, Checker’s agent in Israel, over the next 15 years Checker would have many success and failures with the Haifa, Israel based company selling diesel taxicabs.
The Israel cabs featured the Perkins Model 4-236 engine which featured a high-strength, cast-iron, cylinder block, which was cast with heavy-duty ribbing and a deep skirt that extended below the crankshaft centerline for additional strength. This block utilized cast-iron, dry-type cylinder liners that were pressed into the block. The inline mill featured direct injection of the fuel into the toroidal chamber in the piston crown to ensure faster starting and maximum fuel economy very important for Taxicab service
The mill used a high-strength, cast-iron, case-hardened, precision-ground camshaft. The timing gear was of the helical-gear type. The unit drove the camshaft and the fuel-injection pump. The intake manifold was cast aluminum, with the exhaust manifold made of cast iron. The 4-236 utilized a rotary distributor injection pump. The pump provided what the company called “precision fuel delivery to each cylinder, with smooth performance covering idle to the full power range.” Automatic advance and retard mechanicals ensured faster starting, acceleration, and, most importantly, quiet operation in this passenger-type application.
In 1968 and 1969, Checker produced 175 and 149 diesels respectively. That said, Checker would end consumer car sales of the diesel in the US after 1969, but the end had yet to come for diesel equipped Checkers.
Despite exiting the US market, Checker would still produce the Checker diesels, but solely for export out of the US. Between 1970 and 1972, Checker exported 200 diesels to N. Feldman & Son for taxi service in Israel.
Checker ended Diesel production for 1973, but the small independent manufacturer would never pass up on a niche market. So was the case for Israel and the diesel Checker. In the late 70’s as a result of the energy crisis, General Motors would develop new power plants that utilized diesel fuel. Between 1978 and 1985, GM produced three versions of a diesel engine: a 5.7 litre V8 1978-85, a 4.3 litre V8 in 1979, and a 4.3 litre V6 1982-1985.
In May of 1979, Checker Engineering Memo announced that for the 1980 model years Checker would again offer a diesel powered Checker. The memo also indicated that four prototypes were in production to fulfill production order number 681 thru 684. In calendar year 1979 Checker produced 139 taxis as 1980 models. In calendar year 1980 Checker reduced diesel production to only 77 units.
GM diesel production peaked in 1981 at approximately 310,000 units, which represented 60% of the total U.S. passenger vehicle diesel market. However, this success was short-lived due to the decline in gas prices and difficulties resulting from large volumes of diesel fuel containing water or foreign particles being sold in the US fuel marketplace.
The problems described above had a significant impact on the Israel export Checkers. The Israeli Checker equipped with the GM diesel experienced significant failures. The Feldman company claimed that Checker and GM both represented the 350 cubic inch, 5.7 liter diesels made by GM to be in good condition and free of defects. At the time this representation was made, Feldman claimed, both companies were aware that the engines were identical to those in the Oldsmobile taxis previously sold in Israel which were acknowledged by GM to be defective.
Feldman said he bought 17 such taxis in 1979 and 1980 for $280,000 and resold them in Israel mostly to disabled Israel war veterans. As of May of 1981, Feldman claimed, the cabs have cost him $75,000 in repairs, and Checker has reimbursed him for only $10,000.
Angry cab drivers, Feldman claimed, are seeking support for their cause from the Israeli government. Needless to say, the end of the diesel as well as the Checker was near.
The Oldsmobile diesel subsequently gained a reputation for unreliability and anemic performance that damaged the North American passenger diesel market for the next 30 years. It would also have a major impact on Checker.
Checker dropped the diesel engine for 1982. In the end it didn’t really matter, Checker lost the lawsuit with Feldman and would exit automobile production in June of 1982.