Daimler SP250Its looking good Published: 24th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!
- Best model: C-spec
- Worst model: A-spec
- Budget buy: B-spec
- OK for unleaded?: Yes; just retard the ignition
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4080 x W1.540mm
- Spares situation: Very good
- DIY ease?: No problem at all
- Club support: Excellent
- Appreciating asset?: Yes – quite rapidly
- Good buy or good-bye?: Good long term bet
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Hardly the prettiest of sports cars, but the Daimler SP250’s real beauty lies under the skin – as many are now discovering
Pros & Cons
There’s no shortage of fast British roadsters from which to choose if you’re after a desirable classic yet the Daimler SP250 is one of the most frequently overlooked. Perhaps it’s because of the rarity; with just 2645 built during a fi ve-year production run, there aren’t many to go round. Perhaps it’s those looks.Whatever the grounds for the SP250 being ignored, there are plenty of reasons why you want one – not least of all the performance on offer. There’s also no body rot to worry about – the glassfi bre shell is tougher than most and rarely needs any signifi cant TLC. They’re strong and with superb parts availability it’s never an issue getting the bits you need. In short, the more you view an SP250 (or Dart as it’s widely known as) the better it looks.
The SP250 made its debut in April 1959 at the New York auto show, where it was unveiled as the Dart. But Dodge had already registered the name and complained, forcing Daimler to come up with the rather bland SP250 moniker instead. Largely honed on the Triumph TR3 it featured the now legendary 2.5-litre V8 which was largely based on the Triumph Speed Twin motorcycle unit for 140bhp and uncanny smoothness. The intention was for the ailing Daimler company to fastrack the car into production, which resulted in a fi bgress body; metal was planned to follow but never did. After some minor re-engineering the car made its debut at the October 1959 Earls Court motor show, where it was announced that production would settle at the rate of 3000 a year, the bulk of cars going to the US. In the event, fewer than 3000 cars were made in a five-year production span, with just 1200 left-hand drive editions being produced. By October 1960 a factory hard top was available, then from February 1961, private UK buyers could specify an auto; previously this was only available to export markets and the police. But the new owners of Daimler – Jaguar – was disgusted at the car’s outdated styling and shoddy build so in April 1961 the B-Spec SP250 was introduced, with an adjustable steering column, front and rear bumpers (previously optional!), reserve fuel tank and windscreen washers. There was also a stronger rear axle, a beefed-up chassis to reduce body fl ex and revised interior trim. This would last two years, at which point the C-Spec SP250 arrived, featuring a standard heater, cigarette lighter and built-in trickle charger socket. There were plans to revamp the styling and a much more attractive car was designed. Known as SP52 one even sported E-type front suspension and steering. However by September 1964 production had ended after Jaguar realised that any new SP250 was in confl ict with its own sleeker cat. And that would never do.
The Dart is a sort of big-engined TR3 and that can’t be bad. Thanks to its novel GRP bodyshell, the SP250 weighs roughly the same as the Triumph and with that superb V8 under the bonnet really gives the Daimler some pace with it cracking 60mph in nine seconds and trucking on to 120mph – eye-opening stuff for its time yet owners easily saw more than 20mpg with silky smoothness into the bargain because top gear can trickle the car along at 20mph or go right up to the ton untroubled. That’s just as well because the gearchange is quite notchy, although it’s got a positive gate which makes it easy to live with. Although the gearbox packs just four ratios and there was no overdrive option (see Improvements section), relaxed high-speed cruising is possible, making the SP250 a brilliant cross-country tourer. It’s got a great ride too; far better than you’d think a Sixties two-seater has any right to be. The fl ip side is severe body fl ex that’s as bad as any pre-war sports car! Add heavy steering; on twisty B-roads and you have to work hard at the wheel although we hear that a conversion to rack and pinion transforms the Dart. The seats also aren’t as supportive as they might be, although the cabin is generally a great place to be as it’s cosseting and snug although best as a roomy two-seater rather than cramped 2+2. It’s warm too if the heater (originally an option) is fi tted!
Even though many reckon the SP250 is ugly, that doesn’t stop demand outstripping supply to a massive degree. Although most buyers want something really nice that needs nothing doing, values of all cars are high. Even a complete box of parts will cost at least £6000; expect to pay at least double this for a usable car that’s a bit tatty. Really nice SP250s cost at least £16,000 while a superb example is around the £25,000 mark. The best (we mean exceptional) cars are now changing hands for around £30,000 – and there’s every sign of values creeping even higher.
For various reasons, SP250s bonnets have a habit of fl ying open on the move, so you need to check for damage. As well as its securing latch wearing, the radiator supports can corrode. They are made of steel but coated in glassfi bre and are structural; if they rot, the car’s nose can fl ex leading to the bonnet opening as the car is being driven. A caring owner will have fi tted a safety latch; if this hasn’t been done, then it’s well worth investing in one for just £20 or so; they’re available from the Owners’ Club. Unusually, the steel wheels can also give problems as they’re prone to cracking around the mounting holes – which is why many owners fi t Miniites or wires. However, some owners substitute Triumph TR items instead if they’re keen to stick with pressed steel. Other useful updates include grafting on a more modern rack and pinion steering(Triumph derived; £1200), overdrive (TR) and perhaps another engine. Some SPs run on alien V8s or the larger 220bhp 4.5-litre Daimler lump, which Jaguar also tried in development Mk10 saloons. In the lightweight Dart it makes the SP a real E-type-eater although the stock 2.5-litre has amazing tuning potential. But if 140bhp is enough for you, simply invest in an electronic ignition.
What To Look For
- Considering their lack of popularity, there’s around 1800 cars left – an amazing figure. There’s a fair choice around if you are prepared to look. As their values increase there’s far more realism for properly restoring one as well.
- The key bodywork affl iction is crazing of the gel coat, although the SP250’s skin is so thick that serious cracking is unlikely. If major it’s more likely that the car has been crunched at some point, so check the inner wings aren’t rippled.
- If the car has never been pranged, any crazing will be cosmetic only, and it will affect the bodywork forward of the windscreen the most. However, the plastic around the door handles as well as the boot hinges can also be affected.
- The steel chassis rusts, so start at the front and work backwards, examining every area; putting it up on ramps is the best move.
- The tubular cross member at the front is usually rusty; this houses the mountings for the body as well as the steering box. New crossmembers are available and easy to replace. Nearby are the front suspension turrets which also rot.
- Both sides are susceptible to a degree. Plating is usually perfectly acceptable, but if the corrosion has really taken a hold (which is rare), it will be necessary to replace the entire turret. That’s not a problem at all – once you’ve removed the bodyshell to gain access to it…
- Rust weakens the turrets, but even if the metal is untouched by corrosion there’s a chance that the welds will have cracked around the mounting brackets for the lower wishbones. If it’s caked in grime or oil you could miss them – which could prove costly. That’s because fi xing them properly means fully stripping the car.
- Post-1961 cars have a stronger chassis, extra bracing for the B-posts and stiffening beams underneath the door apertures. It’s all rot susceptible rot although all the necessary parts are available new, they can be fi ddly to replace. If the whole lot needs renewing you’ll have to remove over 50 sets of nuts and bolts fi rst – and if they’re all seized up that’s not a quick job or cheap; £130 for the beam but the thick end of a grand if new B pillars are required.
- There’s a substantial crossmember immediately behind the back axle. This can rust, although it’s less likely than the two supplementary strengthening beams behind it suffering from corrosion. At least it’s easy repairing these areas – unlike those around the hangers for the rear springs. These corrode and accessibility is an issue unless the bodyshell is lifted; things are made even trickier by precise alignment being absolutely key. Until recently it was possible to buy a new chassis made on the original jigs.
- If your car is sans bumpers, don’t think fi tting them is a minor issue – they cost well over £1100 a pop!
- The V8 is a fabulous unit, with superb durability if properly maintained. While the V8 saloon sometimes suffered from worn engines after surprisingly low mileages, the SP250’s powerplant isn’t as stressed (as the car is much lighter) so it keeps going for much longer.
- A truly amazing engine, it’s quite normal for an SP250 engine to cover 250,000 miles between rebuilds, but allowing the unit’s coolant or antifreeze levels to drop will have the fi nal say.
- Overheating and potentially head to warping is a worry. That’s why you need to check for emulsion on the underside of the oil fi ller cap, signalling that big bills are imminent and a full rebuild, meaning a cheque for up to £5000. If the top end sounds tappety, it could be that the valve clearances need adjusting, but it’s more likely to be problems with the valve guides, which can move in the head. Lumpy running may be down to the exhaust valves sticking; some Redex in the fuel tank normally sorts this. If it doesn’t, it’s time for a decoke.
- Most SP250 engines have an appetite for oil, with the earliest cars guzzling at the rate of 300-400 miles per pint. The B and C-Spec cars are a bit better, but they’ll still get through a pint every 600 miles. To check the health of the bottom end, it’s worth ensuring there’s at least 15psi on the dial at tickover; expect to see 35-45psi at 40mph.
- The SP250’s gearbox shares some bits with the Triumph TR, although the units aren’t interchangeable as the casings are different; the Daimler uses an integral bellhousing while the Triumph doesn’t. A shame as the gearbox struggles to cope with the V8’s torque, especially fi rst, and a full rebuild can cost two grand.
- Although the Daimler’s axle is simple and easy to work on, it’s also fragile with a worn crown wheel and pinion assembly likely. That’s especially so with pre-1961 cars; B and C-spec SP250s featured stronger rear axles.
- It’s likely that the axles tubes will have started to separate from the axle casing, as they’re not especially well secured. The obvious sign is leaking oil, but there’s a good chance there’ll be plenty of clonking and wheel wobble.
- There’s little to worry about at the rear, aside from leaking dampers and sagging leaf springs. At the front though there are potential problems because the trunnions and vertical links can both wear if they haven’t been greased every 1000 miles or so. While the trunnions are available new at just £35 each (they’re TR3/4), the vertical links are only available on a refurbished basis and are a horrifi c £1350 apiece. You can check for wear by jacking up the front and using a crowbar to check for play between the wheel and the vertical link.
- There are Girling disc brakes at the front and rear,sans servo. There’s not much to go wrong, although you need to check for the usual problems of scored, warped or worn discs along with sticking callipers.
- Another reason why the car might come to a halt prematurely is a partially seized handbrake mechanism. The cable needs to be kept greased in its guides, but this is often overlooked.
- The SP250’s electrical system is straightforward, but after all this time the wiring may have gone brittle and some of the connections will probably not be that great. While emery paper will fi x the latter, a brittle loom needs to be replaced; new ones cost around £200.
- The SP250’s interior is luxuriously trimmed, although it’s not as expensively fi nished as Jags. Think around £3000 to put it all right, including a new set of carpets.
Three Of A Kind
Alfa Romeo 2600If you thought the SP250 was rare, they’re positively ubiquitous compared with this gorgeous Italian, styled by Touring and offered in open or closed forms. Right-hand drive cars are even rarer, so you’ll probably fi nd left hookers only; don’t be frightened off by that as the straight-six in the Alfa’s nose is a true great that powers the car to an impressive 125mph.
Austin Healey 3000You’ll have no trouble fi nding a big Healey for sale – the problem may be in paying for it. Despite the 3000 having survived in big numbers, they’re massively sought after so prices are high. There were three editions of the 3000, the newer the model, the more valuable it is. With a muscular 3-litre straight-six up front, performance is on a par with the Daimler SP250.
Sunbeam TigerWith its fi n-tailed styling and a V8 up front, there’s fair similarity between the Daimler and the Sunbeam Tiger and that goes for performance, too. American Fordpowered this audacious Alpine was also tried with the Daimler engine during development by Jack Brabham! Aimed at the US market, most went there and less than 30 MK2s were made for the UK. Highly prized, all of them.
While it may not be the prettiest sporting classic ever, the SP250 has got a huge amount going for it as many enthusiasts are discovering. Affordability and exclusivity are just two of its key attributes, but it’s fun yet frugal to drive, too. Considering the price many lesser rivals sell for the SP250 looks a bit of a bargain. All things told, the Daimler Dart scores a bulls-eye.
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