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Daimler SP 250

Published: 10th May 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Daimler SP 250
Daimler SP 250
Daimler SP 250
Daimler SP 250
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Quaint sports car from a most prim and proper car maker. Oddball looks are countered by a wonderful engine with fine performance and economy potential. Good club and specialist support and values are still keen – but for how long?

It is said that the main reason Sir William Lyons killed off the Daimler Dart, which his company unwittingly inherited, was because it could have wounded sales of his own sporty cats. Jaguar supremo Lyons acquired the ailing Daimler company a year after the (hardly drop dead gorgeous) SP250 was introduced, and after turning it into the car it should have been in the first place by ‘64, decided to drop it like a hot brick, in case it reduced E-type sales.

After decades in the doldrums people are seriously taking a closer look at this Daimler which, along with the Triumph TR strain it is said to be based upon, was the last of the ‘vintage’ sports cars.

For today’s buyer the SP250 holds real appeal. Values are cheap compared to E-types and XKs, yet are on the rise. Granted, unlike the current Audi A5 TV advert, this Daimler isn’t an ugly duckling that’s turning into a beautiful swan. But at least the SP250 is distinctive, decidedly different and there’s no argument that it certainly goes better than it looks!


The history of the Dart goes back to the late 1950s when Daimler wanted a sexy sports car to rid itself of a justified fuddy-duddy image. 1958 The SP250 is given the green light by Daimler’s board who calculated that it would make the company a profit of £750,000 in just three years. Further number crunching reckoned that a plastic body would cost just £16,000 to tool up against £120k for normal steel production.

1959 Car is launched after a hasty development period and put on the UK market for a highly competitive £1395, slap in the middle between a TR3 and Jaguar’s XK. It was widely reported that Daimler simply bought a Triumph and cloned it – especially the chassis, suspension (independent front, leaf spring rear but with discs all round) topped by a body that the Americans labelled the ugliest car of the New York motor show! Dodge rubbed more salt in the wounds claiming the ‘Dart’ name as its own, so SP250 it officially remained!

The looks were such a turn off for many that they never savoured the car’s face-saver; its brilliant engine. Designed by Edward Turner, it became a design benchmark. It is said that the unit’s bottom end was based on a Cadillac design and the cylinder heads aped Turner’s Triumph vertical twin bike engine. Whatever, it sure delivered the goods, yielding a healthy 140bhp from its 2.5-litres, which was nough to give the heavier E-Type that it beat to the showrooms by two years, a run for its money. Further development by Daimler using bike carbs (which is now very modern thinking by engine tuners-ed!) yielded almost 200bhp, while   camshaft, said to replicate that of the Triumph Bonneville motorcycle, saw the power figure go right off the scale!

1960 Having now bought the ailing Daimler outfit, Lyons was so disgusted by the SP250’s ugly styling, out of date engineering and poor build quality that he considered dropping the car immediately.

1961 Instead, a hurriedly revised B-Spec version is introduced in April, after Jaguar demanded that the chassis was made more rigid (to stop the doors from flying open when cornering or going over rough ground!) along with something to be done about that old-hat 1950s styling. Extra outriggers, plus a strengthening hoop
between the A posts, largely addressed the former worries but the car looked much the same. The standard leather trimmed seats were improved however, as was the general fit and finish, and full-width bumpers with over-riders were now fitted as standard, where previously they were a £33 option.

A heater and demister system was still a £12.25p extra fit mind but the previously adjustable steering column accessory became standard to improve driver comfort.

Daimler originally played with an Austin- Healey manual gearbox, before opting for a modified Triumph TR3 one, yet there was never the official option of overdrive which would have made the car into an unbeatable tourer for its day. The alternative was automatic transmission for an additional £181. Now the lucrative American market finally accepted the car but only after Jaguar had 130 unsold models shipped back and quickly altered to B-Spec!

1963 Poor sales led Jaguar to making a C-Spec version that February, priced at £1355. The reduction in price was caused by purchase tax being lessened and masked the fact that Lyons had hiked the price up to cover costs for the improvements, which were at best detail changes. The car lasted barely a year before Lyons, after having a completely revamped SP252 mocked up featuring an E-type like dash and much smoother ines, dropped the car, after only 2654 models were made. Yet, some 1800 are thought to survive.


If you view the SP250 as a smoother Austin-Healey 3000 then you’re pretty much on the right road. Thanks to its GRP bodyshell, the SP250 weighs roughly the same as the TR3 it was based upon, so that superb V8 gives the Daimler quite sparkling performance. Despite its cloned Triumph transmission. overdrive was never an option. The fairly easy addition of overdrive and transforms the drive, while a Triumph ‘box may well improve the Daimler’s rather tedious cog swapper. As a grand tourer the Daimler fares very well, despite that heavy gearchange and steering, being both roomy, comfortable and far more civilised than sports cars were expected to be at the time.

Everybody bangs on about that V8 and rightly so because it remains the Daimler’s most impressive feature. A jewel of a small bore V8, it also made the Mk2 Jaguar a mini Roller. The press wanted to like the SP250, it really did. When Motor got hold of a pre- production model it thought that the public were going to hear a lot more about the car. Autocar was similarly enthusiastic in one of the first road tests, despite having the doors fly open at speed! It commented that the car had “unusual appearance” but praised its fast yet docile nature as well as its economy.

After criticising original versions as “not entirely satisfactory” Motor Sport had this to say of the later cars; “When all is said and done the SP250 offers the usual remarkable Jaguar value for money. At a price of £1400 it is difficult to think of a car providing more performance in such an acceptable form. And could it be endowed with a chassis better suited to its performance capabilities, and a gearbox less insulting to keen and skilled drivers, it would indeed be a car worthy of the great Daimler name”.


Handling can be usefully improved with modern adjustable dampers, while grafting on a more modern rack and pinion steering (usually Triumph) is said to aid handling and make the steering effort far more bearable but this costs well over £1000. An EZ PAS set up can be considered as a further step to cure the car’s heavy steering.

The 2.5 V8 has seemingly enormous tuning potential by the usual breathing mods and attention to the cylinder heads but even if its 140 horses are ample for you it is still wise to fit electronic ignition and get rid of the quirky points set up for reliability sake. Fitting a Triumph overdrive is worthwhile as it allows 70mph cruising at only 2500rpm. If however you want to turn yours into a real E-type eater, simply slot in the 4.5 found on the Majestic limos!


Even a basket case is worth £6000, as a box of bits, with half decent roadworthy alternatives adding ten grand to this. Bank on another ten grand for a truly nice car with the most desirable Darts now dealing in the £30,000 sector. In terms of best model, the later spec cars are the more civilised although there is a certain snob value in the original versions, despite the design’s deficiencies, which has probably been rectified by now anyway.

We Reckon...

You know what they say about beauty being in the eye of the beholder and it certainly applies to the SP250. Striking rather than attractive but it grows on you, as does the car’s driving and owning appeal. As an investment, it’s difficult to go wrong because prices are rising. Dart hits the target, if not quite scoring a bulls-eye.

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