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Daimler SP250

Published: 5th Sep 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Daimler SP250
Daimler SP250
Daimler SP250
Daimler SP250
Daimler SP250
Daimler SP250
Daimler SP250

Buyer Beware

  • The glass fibre body can’t rust of course, but as with all GRP cars, the shell suffers from ‘cobwebbs’ as the outer skin micro-blisters, but worse still thanks to the inherent body-flexing that’s worse on the earliest cars, don’t be surprised to find significant stress-cracks.
  • The most serious problem with poorly maintained SP250s is a real danger of the bonnet flying open due to corroded check straps – so inspect this area. The built-in body flex can also cause doors to fly open, but the car has to be in a particularly bad state to achieve this.
  • Most SPs are fairly well looked after these days but, that said, the box-sectioned chassis will rot with ease; usually at the suspension pick-up points (especially the front wishbones) and the rear axle. Get underneath to check well.
  • Because initial body flex was so dire, added strengthening members were fitted to B and C-Spec cars around the windscreen, while door posts were actually bolted on. If the strengthening members are badly rotted, they don’t have to be replaced to comply with the MOT but wise to.
  • That simple, yet sugar-sweet V8, is long-lasting with it, if serviced properly. Lowly oil pressure (you need to see in the region of 40psi if good), general decay and hot running due to corroding alloy waterways can occur if anti-freeze has gone stale and allowed to eat into the water works.
  • The Triumph-derived transmission isn’t as robust as the real thing, although fitting proper Triumph hardware (2000/GT6 etc is regarded best) isn’t the straight swap you think it might be. It’s worth persevering though, particularly if the gearbox contains overdrive – something the SP250 always strangely lacked. It’s claimed that 20 per cent of SP250s were autos as it suits the car well.
  • The Triumph-coined front suspension suffers from similar maladies, such as MOT failing trunnion wear, usually stemming from a lack of proper greasing, although repairs can be extremely expensive. When checking the car, see that the front doesn’t dip, especially on A-Spec cars, says the SP250 Owners Club:
  • The Dart’s steering is lorry like and replacing it with a lighter, sharper Triumph rack-and-pinion set up is a popular mod, and well covered by the SP250 Owners Club. It’s not cheap or easy though - expect to spend around £500 on the upgrade if you are doing your own spannering or perhaps £1500 if a specialist does it. The results are well worth while though.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 3/5

    Super engine is the Dart’s trump card but it’s a tourer not a sports car

  • Usability: 3/5

    Needs power steering but SP250 is no worse than any of its 1950s rivals

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    One of the simplest sports cars to maintain with good parts supply.

  • Owning: 3/5

    Appreciation for the Daimler is soaring and there’s good club support

  • Value: 4/5

    Not the bargains they once were but still strong value for money

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Never the prettiest of sports cars but the real beauty is how this Daimler performs says Robert Couldwell

The Daimler Dart, as it was called at launch, was supposed to be Daimler’s route to success in the USA. After a night of the long knives at Daimler’s parent company, BSA, in 1956, Sir Bernard Docker (of Docker Daimler fame) was ousted as chairman and gifted engineer, Edward Turner, was appointed MD. He rapidly designed 2½, 3½ and 4½ litre V8s and, to save development time and cost, cobbled together modified TR2 underpinnings and a glassfibre body to create the Dart. When Dodge objected to Daimler pinching its name, the car simply became the SP250 – officially anyway. This used the 2½ litre version of the engine, which had rather clever single camshafts, with inclined pushrods and overhead valves with crossflow hemispherical heads. This gave the efficiency of a twin-cam, with the light weight of a single. It is said that the bottom end was based on a Cadillac design and the combustion chambers came from Turner’s Triumph vertical twin motorcycle engine.

Which model to buy?

Back in 1959, Daimler was desperate to get this car launched and consequently it was under-developed, with little testing. This showed in the early cars, with frightening scuttle shake and cracking body work. Fitting the optional hardtop certainly stiffened things up enormously, and you can imagine buyers on a sunny day making the choice between frying under the hard top or watching the car shake itself to pieces.

Contemporary road testers could see the potential, however, thanks to that wonderful engine, 123mph top speed, 100 mph cruising and rapid acceleration. In price and performance it fell between the Austin Healey 3000 / TR3A and the Jaguar XK150/ E-type. In performance terms its nearest competitor was the AC Ace, but that was much more expensive and was made in even smaller numbers. In this sort of company, if the SP250 hadn’t been fitted with that fabulous V8, it would surely have been a total flop. There can be no doubt that AC would love to have used the engine rather than venerable AC, Bristol and Ford lumps. Where would AC be now?

Thankfully, Jaguar acquired Daimler in 1960 and, among other things, sorted the SP250. In 1961, it created the B-specification version, which had extra outriggers, a strengthening hoop between the A posts and an adjustable steering column. The leather trimmed seats were also improved, as was the general fit and finish, and full-width bumpers with overriders were now standard!

Few sports cars in the sixties had the option of automatic transmission, so if you prefer lazy two-pedal driving, the SP250 may be for you. The big problem might be finding one, just 20 per cent were produced. Overdrive was also offered, which really did transform the car; the 140bhp of the superb V8 well able to handle the high gearing and this car punched well above its engine size. In 1963 a C-spec was introduced, but was little changed, offering a standard heater, cigar lighter and, unusually, a trickle charge socket. Just 256 were made and the Daimler SP250 was finally dropped in 1964. When it comes to choosing, you need to bear in mind that 72 per cent of cars produced were the original version, and it is important to check carefully that modifications have been carried out to stiffen the chassis and body. All cars came with all-round disc brakes and cam-and-lever steering, although rack-and-pinion kits are now available and transform the car. If you can find a B- or C-Spec cars with overdrive and rack-and-pinion, which has been well restored and protected from the dreaded rust, you will not be disappointed.

Behind the wheel?

The Daimler SP250 drives much better than those looks suggest

Most of the original cars should have been modified to B-Spec by now and, in fact, Jaguar, after the takeover, brought back some unsold original specification cars from the USA to upgrade them. Even when modified, this is a heavy car to drive, particularly when parking, but provided you don’t expect it to feel like an Elan or MX-5, it will reward on the open road. It has wishbone front suspension with telescopic dampers but the ubiquitous cart springs at the back, which tend to limit the handling and ride quality. Fortunately, on a summer’s day with the hood down, you can hear the wonderful V8, which compensates for a lot, and allows you to revel in what is very good performance even by today’s standards.

Half a century ago, when the SP250 was nearly a third cheaper than AC Aces and Jaguar’s XK150 and E-types, the grunt and value for money was such that the police bought them as high-speed patrol cars and were not disappointed – unlike the motorists they caught! Certainly the ride, handling and steering are well up to the Healeys and TRs, and the brakes were far better. It is only when pitched against the delightful AC Ace and Jaguar XK/E-types that it struggles. The four-wheel disc brakes, if properly maintained, really are excellent however, hauling the car down from the high speeds of which it is capable. They are a match for anything of the time. The bucket seats are supportive, thanks to the shape of the backrest, and good under-thigh padding, and there is plenty of room in the cockpit for touring.

The Daily Option?

The SP250 comes with a good hood and wind-up windows, so winter driving should be no problem and summer use, hood down, is a complete joy. As far as costs are concerned, 30mpg is quite easily achieved with some restraint and insurance should be as reasonable as any sports classic, plus there’s no road tax either. The Daimler is certainly roomy and comfortable enough to use daily, and on long runs, with relaxed cruising particularly with overdrive fitted. There is a reasonable boot and the bonus of so-called seats in the back that can accommodate extra luggage, or small children. There are lots of upgrades to make the daily drive even better, with rack-and-pinion steering kits, antitramp bars, brake servos, radial tyres, electronic ignition and electric fans with overflow tanks to keep you cool in hot weather congestion. Specialist David Manners is your man for all things Daimler SP250.

Ease of Ownership?

A Healey 3000, TR3A/4 or Jaguar XK/E-type is easier to own, with better specialist and parts support. The only other car to use the same engine was the V8 250, and it is likely some of the 18,000 made gave up their engines to more valuable SP 250s. Rebuilding one of these engines costs around £6000 and some of the chrome or stainless steel trim parts cost a fortune and are hard to find. But actual mechanical work is pretty simple indeed. Although it once was, this is not a car for the impoverished or faint hearted and it is vital to buy an example which has been fully and properly restored otherwise it will just be a money pit.



Debuts in America at the New York show, but Dart name upsets Dodge so it’s changed to the SP250 at short notice. Almost a clone of the TR3 in terms of running gear design, it used a delightful 2.5-litre V8 engine clothed in a fibreglass body. Original plan was to convert production to metal but slow sales meant that production costs could not be justified.


To counter the numerous criticisms and design shortcomings, such as a floppy chassis a B-spec model is launched, which made the chassis more rigid, plus the car had detail styling changes to improve those old fashioned looks and build quality. Jaguar, who bought Daimler a year before, launched the sexy E-type that April and had its mind on other things…


Revised C-spec is introduced, the changes majoring on added equipment than any mechanical improvements. Jag head Sir William Lyons has a go at improving the looks by way of a major facelift and a much prettier emerges but in the end he decides to cull the car to protect E-type sales and the last SP250s leave the showrooms during 1964.

We Reckon...

This is a rare car, so ugly that it is almost beautiful and will always be a talking point with enthusiasts and the population at large. But the SP 250 drives much better than it looks and a well sorted car will be a delight to own and drive. If you’ve had your fill of TRs, Healeys etc, this could be the car for you.

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