Classic Daimler SP250

Cars

Ah, the Daimler SP250 – or ‘Dart’ as it’s known here in the UK. It was, unfortunately, one of many a sad victim to fall foul to a company merger. Danni Bagnall explains.

Daimler – the English firm and no relation to Daimler Benz, which we all know is German – was at the time very well known for its build quality of larger vehicles including the limousines chauffeuring the Royal Family around. It seemed stuck in its ways, favouring the Knight sleeve-valve engine and Wilson pre-select gearbox. That is until after WWII; change was well and truly on the cards for the English car manufacturer.

The firm had a good ole shake up. With first signs of the new lease of life following the appointment of notorious socialite Lady Norah Docker. In 1954, Lady Docker helped to design the Docker convertible in a bid to transform the car maker’s staid image. Following that was the Conquest series, but no one expected the unveil of the Daimler Dart sports car.

Daimler SP250 Dart

Hoping to muscle in on the success Jaguar, MG, Triumph and Austin were all experiencing in the US, Daimler appointed Triumph motorcycle designer Edward Turner to design a car with an interesting engine. And that he did. Enter the SP250, complete with the infamous 2548cc ‘Ted Turner’ V8 engine. Engine drawings were finalised by the start of 1958 and, according to a feasibility study, it was expected that the SP250 would generate more than £700,000 in profits based on 1,500 cars being sold in its first year, with 3,000 in the second and third years. 75% of those were expected to be in the US. The decision was then made to construct the shell from fibreglass in a bid to cut down on production costs (£16,000, as opposed to £120,000 for steel).

Eventually launching in 1959 at the New York Motor Show – where it was ‘unofficially’ voted as the ugliest car at the show – the original ‘A’ model featured a lightweight fibreglass body, four-speed manual gearbox (reverse-engineered from the transmission used in the Triumph TR3A), Girling brake discs to all four corners with hydraulic operation, front independent suspension with coil springs and half-elliptic leaf springs to the rear, along with that all-important 2.5-litre Hemi-head V8 engine. Described as a 2+2, it featured a bench rear seat offering little in the way of leg room. Standard equipment was impressive, with reclining leather seats as standard. Overdrive, wire wheels and hard-top were all available as an option.

Weighing in at 2,910lbs, the SP250 was both quick and agile, managing a 0-60mph of just under nine seconds, before hitting a top speed of 120 mph. Originally called the ‘Dart’, the SP250 never came to market with the name. Chrysler put a stop to it early on as its Dodge division owned the rights to the ‘Dart’ model name and threatened Daimler with legal action unless they changed it. The Dart went to market in the US with its project number of SP250. The ‘Dart’ name did, however, stick in the UK.

Still in 1959, the time came for the full opening of the M1 motorway – Britain’s first full-length motorway. So, the police were in need of a car to chase down any wrong-doing Jaguar XK120s and the like. A police variant of the Dart was introduced. Complete with the Borg-Warner Model 8 3-speed automatic, which police found to be more reliable than the manual option.

The SP250, however, wasn’t perfect. Very early cars experienced bodywork problems, with the fibreglass flexing often to the point of cracking, resulting in doors flying open when cornering and thus dented reputations. Granted, these problems were later sorted in the ‘B’ facelift that came out in 1962 and the ‘C’ in 1963 before ending production in 1964. By that point, though, it was too late. 2,654 SP250s were produced in its five-year production.

In 1960, the Daimler Company was bought out. Jaguar Cars Ltd bought the company from the Birmingham Small Arms Company. Jaguar later used the 2.5-litre V8 engine to power a Daimler saloon, based on the Jaguar Mk2 model. It got a revised interior trim and suspension and was sold as the Daimler 2.5-litre V8 between 1962-1967. From 1967 to 1969, it was badged the Daimler V8 250. The Daimler SP250 was the last car to be launched before Jaguar’s acquisition.

According to www.howmanyleft.co.uk, there’s 510 left in the UK that are taxed. In 1994, there were only 283 on the road so you’d be forgiven for thinking that some variants have made it over to the UK from the US. It is, of course, entirely likely.

 

The basics:

Engine: 2547cc water-cooled V8 iron block (bore 76 mm x stroke 70 mm, Single central camshaft operated valves through short pushrods with double heavy-duty valve springs.

Power: [email protected]

Torque: [email protected]

Top speed: 120mph.

Transmission: 4-speed manual with synchromesh on top three ratios. (Automatic optional).

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