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Daimler SP250

Daimler SP250 Published: 12th Sep 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Daimler SP250

Fast Facts

  • Best model: C-spec
  • Worst model: A-spec (but lighter and faster)
  • Budget buy: B-spec
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 4077 x W 1537mm
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: No problem
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes – quite rapidly
  • Good buy or good-bye?: It’s plastic fantastic
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Dowdy but delightful offbeat sports car that is becoming highly collectable. An impressive performer that enjoys a high survival rate plus is surprisingly easy to own. Values can only go one way so buy now

There once was an ugly duckling… which turned into a beautiful swan. No, it’s not a fairytale – it’s the story of one of the quirkiest sports cars of the 1960s, the Daimler SP250. For years, these cars were out in the cold, but in recent years they’ve finally started to become appreciated – a situation that’s long overdue. After all, why wouldn’t you want to own a rust-resistant V8-powered sports car that’s exclusive, surprisingly good to drive and comes with a fabulous soundtrack?

But it wasn’t always like this, as for years many potential SP250 buyers couldn’t get past those unusual looks; the Daimler was even christened the Tupperware Pig. As a result values have risen sharply to the point where you’ll now need deep pockets if you want to acquire one. But with the sporty Daimler also a lot rarer than you might think, current values will probably seem low in a few years’ time…


1959 The SP250 makes its début in April at the New York auto show, where it’s unveiled as the Dart. But Dodge had already registered the name and complains when the new car is unveiled, forcing Daimler to rename its sports car the SP250 instead. After some minor bits of re-engineering the car makes its UK début at the October 1959 Earls Court motor show, where it’s announced that 7500 would be sold in the first three years. Production would then settle down 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.

1960 Now in full production with its now legendary 140bhp Edward Turner 2.5-litre V8 sitting on a chassis cloned heavily from the Triumph TR design, that October a hardly pretty factory hard top is introduced to sit on the fibreglass body; the initial plan was to make the first batch of SPs in GRP then switch to cheaper metal (as Ferrari did with its 308 during the 1980s) but poor sales and lack of funds put this on an eternal back burner.

1961 From February, private UK buyers can specify an automatic gearbox; previously this was available only to export markets. Soon after, the police would buy numerous SP250s, most of which would feature an automatic gearbox which in police spec featured a hold button. This would enable second gear to be retained all the way up to 100mph, so the cops could catch the café boy racers. In April the B-Spec SP250 reaches showrooms, with an adjustable steering column, front and rear bumpers, heater, reserve fuel tank and optional (later standard) windscreen washers. There’s also a stronger rear axle, a beefed-up chassis and revised interior trim.

1963 The final C-Spec SP250 arrives in February, featuring luxuries such as a standard cigaratte lighter and built-in trickle charger socket – but otherwise the car is sadly left unchanged.

1964 Production officially ends during September, although two more cars are made in October for the Australian police. Even before Jaguar’s takeover of Daimler a few years before, efforts were made to improve the Dart’s dreary looks. Designer Tom Karen was commissioned to facelift the car, and while Daimler rejected his proposals, the basic designs were taken up by Reliant for its Sabre and later Scimitar models.

Jaguar’s legendary head Bill Lyons did an even better job with a vastly revamped model named SP252 but it was feared that this vastly improved model might compete far too closely with his beloved E-type and so it was more playing Darts!

Driving and press comments

The most significant and noticeable facet of the SP250 is that brilliant V8 engine and its flexibility. When Motor first tested the SP250 in 1960 the review began: “This is not so much a road test report upon a car as upon an engine. Applying lessons which were learned on vertical twin-cylinder motorcycle engines, a V8 power unit of 2 ½-litre size has been produced, which is quite exceptional in its torque output and in its turbine-like smoothness over an incredibly wide range of speeds. Other aspects of this car are overshadowed by the performance, both quantitative and qualitative, which the engine provides, for although the car as a whole can be fun to drive and fits sensibly into the price-performance spectrum of fast two-seaters, its chassis and coachwork are made to seem undistinguished by the engine which propels them”.

When the magazine did its performance testing, it notched up a 0-100mph time of 25.6 seconds, achieved 30-50mph in top gear in just 6.8 seconds and wound the car up to a 123mph top speed. Intriguingly, the magazine also noted that its test car was only really happy when running on 100 octane petrol (the car wouldn’t run well on 96 octane fuel). That’s despite the owner’s manual specifically stating that the engine should be run on commercial fuel, a low compression ratio having been adopted so US owners could run their cars on the low-grade petrol that prevailed at the time.

Where the car wasn’t so impressive was its firm ride, which was felt too harsh for the UK’s poorly surfaced roads. The brakes also needed a good shove to slow the car sharply from high speeds, although once warmed up they were effective enough. Refinement levels were also disappointing – and that was on a car fitted with a factory hard top.

But the standard of fit and finish was felt to be good and the seating comfortable too, with plenty of fore/aft adjustment, and the optional adjustment for the steering wheel would potentially increase comfort levels noticeably. Throw in a decent-sized boot and a 12-gallon fuel tank to give a decent range and the SP250 got a cautious thumbs up, the summary running:

“As the lowest-priced 120mph sports car on the market, the Daimler appeals primarily as very good value for money. If the qualities of its chassis and bodywork are average rather than particularly commendable, a smoothly potent engine allied to a gearbox providing notably wellchosen ratios can be named as singularly attractive features”.

Value and marketplace

Laurence Jones is the archivist and historian for the SP250 Owners’ Club ( Owner of three SP250s along with the unique what-might-have-been SP252, Laurence bought his first SP250 almost 50 years ago. He comments: “A project worth saving starts at £15,000-£18,000 whereas reasonable examples are £22,000-£29,000 – these are the SP250s that you’re most likely to find for sale.

Something really nice will sell for £38,000- £43,000 while the very best examples are £50,000-£55,000”

By definition, the top SP250s don’t come onto the market all that often. When they do there’s little point worrying about its specification as A, B and C-Spec cars are all worth the same as they’re so similar. The earliest A-Spec cars featured significantly thinner plastic panels and the cars are around 100kg lighter as a result. Consequently, these are sought after by anyone wanting to race, but otherwise SP250s are priced according to their condition rather than their specification.

Automatics are sought after but don’t carry a premium – what does add value is if it’s an ex-police car. Says Laurence Jones: “The Met ran 26 SP250s and 25 of them survive; one was written off in period. All of those cars were autos whereas the SP250 that Cambridgeshire Police ran had a manual gearbox – that survives too. Values of ex-police cars have been boosted by Chris Evans selling his last year for £82,000, making it the most expensive SP250 ever. But no other example has come close to achieving that sort of price yet”.


SP250’s bonnets have a habit of flying open on the move, so you need to check for damage. As well as its securing latch wearing, the radiator supports can corrode. They’re made of steel coated in glassfibre and are structural; if they rot, the nose can flex leading to the bonnet opening as the car is being driven.

A caring previous owner will have fitted a safety latch; if this hasn’t been done, it’s well worth investing in one for £70 asap; they’re available from SP250 specialist Bryan Purves.

The steel wheels can also give problems as they’re prone to cracking around the mounting holes if their securing bolts are overtightened at fast-fit tyre centres. That’s why many owners fit Miniites or wires. However, some owners substitute Triumph TR items instead if they’re keen to stick with pressed steel.

Orthodox tuning to the engine yields good rewards; heads and camshaft are available to allow a nice and useable 160bhp while the engine can be rebored to 3-litres if Triumph Bonnaville bike pistons are used. The similar 4.5-litre V8, used in Daimler saloons, is worth at least 220bhp but while it looks identical isn’t a straight fit. Even if you keeps your Dart standard, ditch the quirky ‘twin points’ ignition for a modern electronic one.

With any newfound power, the addition of anti-tramp bars to control rear axle movement comes recommended – ditto a rack and pinion steering conversion. On the other hand, the all disc brake setup needs little upgrading. Toyota Supra five-speed gearboxes fit and there’s kits available but the Jag Mk2 manual with overdrive combo requires a lot of work. Best solution is a Triumph one which needs little adapting. Finally, if the chassis requires surgery, you might like to go further and box section the three rear chassis rails, like competition versions; typical cost is around £300 from Autotec of Essex.

What To Look For

Running gear


  • The SP250’s gearbox shares some bits with the Triumph TR, although the units aren’t interchangeable because the casings are different; the Daimler uses an integral bellhousing while the Triumph doesn’t. The non-syncho first gear struggles to cope with the V8’s torque, and if the car has been driven hard there’s a good chance damage will have resulted. Stripped gears are the usual result. If the gear has broken there will be lots of clicking; continuous whirring means the teeth have worn. Unusually for such a prestigious car, overdrive was never offered even as an option, although it’s now possible to convert without swapping the box itself, or some people fit a Toyota five-speed gearbox.

  • Although the Daimler’s transmission 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 with a pair of drain and filler plugs on the casing, whereas earlier cars had three of them.

  • It’s likely that the axle 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 (as they’re the same as on the TR3/4), the vertical links are only available on a refurbished basis and are a horrific £1350 apiece. You can check for wear by jacking up the front wheels and using a crowbar to check for play between the wheel and the vertical link; any detectable movement means new trunnions and/or links are needed.




  • The SP250’s electrical system is straightforward, but the wiring may have gone brittle and some of the connections will probably not be that great. While emery will fix the latter, a brittle loom needs to be replaced; new ones cost £275. When it comes to replacing instrumentation, switchgear and components such as light units, everything is available – but it’s unlikely to be needed as it’s all so simple and reliable.

  • The SP250’s interior is luxuriously trimmed, although it’s not as expensively finished as the saloons. That still doesn’t mean it’s cheap to retrim though, and if everything is needed you’ll be looking at a bill of around £3000 to put it all right, including a new set of carpets. A replacement vinyl soft top costs £378 from Aldridge Trimming, while a mohair covering is £568, so check that whatever is fitted is in good condition. Fitting an SP250’s hood is easier than most, so you won’t necessarily have to fork out for labour on top.
    Body and chassis


  • The key bodywork affliction is crazing of the gel coat, although the SP250’s skin is so thick that serious cracking is fairly unlikely. If the car has never been in an accident, any crazing will be cosmetic only, and it will affect the bodywork forward of the windscreen the most.

  • The steel chassis rusts, so start at the front and work backwards, examining every area; putting it up on ramps is the only way of doing this properly.

  • Front tubular cross member at the front is prone to rust; this houses the mountings for the body as well as the steering box. New crossmembers are available and easy enough to replace. Suspension turrets, also rot out when water gets in through the steering column apertures. Plating is but if the corrosion has really taken a hold (which is rare), it will be necessary to replace the entire turret.

  • There’s a chance that the welds will have cracked around the mounting brackets for the lower wishbones. Any cracks are easy to spot on a clean chassis, but if it’s caked in grime or oil you could miss them.

  • Post-1960 saw stronger chassis, extra bracing for the B-posts and stiffening beams underneath the door apertures. Susceptible to rot although all the necessary parts are available new, they can be fiddly to replace.

  • The substantial crossmember behind the diff can rust, but it’s less likely than the 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 away.




  • 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.

  • It’s quite normal for an SP250 engine to cover 250,000 miles between rebuilds, but allowing the unit’s coolant or anti-freeze levels to drop will have a dramatic effect on life expectancy. The powerplant features a cast-iron block with alloy heads, so coolant that’s too dilute will lead to the cylinder heads breaking up internally and blocking up the whole cooling system – leading to overheating and potentially causing the heads to warp. That’s why you need to check for emulsion on the underside of the oil filler cap, signalling that big bills are imminent.

  • 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, as they can get clogged up with carbon deposits; 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.


Wheels and brakes


  • Most SP250s were supplied with steel disc wheels, with wires optional – and many owners have retro fitted them. You need to make all the usual checks where the wire wheels are concerned; rusty, worn, broken or missing spokes can all strike. There’s also the spectre of tired splines to contend with, so jack up each corner and try spinning the wheel while somebody applies the footbrake. Any detectable movement means the splines are worn.

  • There are Girling disc brakes at the front and rear, without the aid of a 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 calliper pistons. The easiest way to check for all of these is to listen for untoward noises under braking while also feeling for juddering from the brake pedal. Sticking pistons will be given away by uneven braking or the brakes sticking on; fitting stainless steel pistons overcomes this issue.

  • 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. As a result it can stick on when released – although it’s nothing that a dab of grease won’t fix.

Three Of A Kind

Austin-Healey 3000
Austin-Healey 3000
You’ll have no trouble finding 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 – making the SP a bargain. 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 SP250.
Sunbeam Tiger
Sunbeam Tiger
The Tiger has never suffered from the Daimler’s indifferent image but until recently these were still seriously under-valued. Prices have risen over the past couple of years but they’re still a performance bargain thanks to the 4260cc Chrysler V8 up front. The result is explosive performance, a fabulous soundtrack and carnage if you get carried away.
Triumph TR5
Triumph TR5
The most valuable – and the rarest – of all the TRs, the TR5 offers the charming looks of the TR4 and TR4A with the fuel-injected straight-six of the TR6. With the latter being the most affordable of the ‘proper’ TRs, if money is tight it’s worth considering one of these later models as you get the same creamy smooth power delivery and glorious noise, but for half the money.


While it may not be the prettiest sporting classic, the SP250 has a huge amount going for it. Affordability and exclusivity are just two of its key attributes, but it’s also pokey, frugal and very well put together. It’s great to drive too, thanks to its willing engine, supple ride and agility through its light weight.

The SP250 is also a very easy car to own as its simplicity means it’s easily maintained while there’s also great parts back up, with just about everything available off the shelf. It’s an easy classic to upgrade too and thanks to that glassfibre bodyshell there’s no need to worry about corrosion ever striking. The Daimler can also accommodate two adults and a pair of small kids which makes it one of the most useable classic sports cars going – at any price.

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