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Big Healeys vs Daimler SP250

Big-engined British sports cars were commonplace 50 years ago and their allure is as strong as ever.But has the hairy Healey a n Published: 17th Feb 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Big Healeys vs Daimler SP250
Big Healeys vs Daimler SP250
Big Healeys vs Daimler SP250
Big Healeys vs Daimler SP250
Big Healeys vs Daimler SP250
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Think of a classic sports car and thoughts instantly turn to something that’s big, fast and hairy. In non PC times they would have been deemed a ‘man’s car’. Ignoring the fact that, Sir Stirling’s sister, Pat Moss won rallies in a Big Healey!

This sports Austin has been the king of hairy-chested heroic sports cars for decades and when it was killed off in the late 1960s we thought we’d never see the likes again. Perhaps we haven’t but the muscular Healey wasn’t the only macho machine out there – what about the V8-powered Dart of the same era?

This dowdy looking Daimler was an attempt by a dignified straight-laced car maker to become all hip and trendy – and it failed miserably! But 50 years after the SP250 was dropped by parent company Jaguar, can the Dart score a bulls-eye as a classic sports car?  Let’s find out…


Either of these fine cars will give you huge pleasure, being proper classic sports cars that will create a great deal of satisfaction. The SP250 is on the move price wise and could well catch the Healey up in the not too distant future even though this iconic Austin is still appreciating strongly. To buy the best of either you are going to have to pay £40k plus but if bought wisely either will be a shrewd investment. The undeniable benefits of the Healey lie in its heritage, character old school handling and lazy but lusty performance.

Biggest downsides are the very high cockpit temperatures making the car very uncomfortable in summer and the low ground clearance making the exhaust extremely vulnerable – although both traits you can live with.

Purists like the leaner 100/4 best but the 100/6 and the 3000 replacement are better developed plus also have the benefit of four-speed transmissions. The 3-litre Healey 3000 came in several iterations with larger, lustier engines ranging from 124 to 150bhp and increasing cockpit opulence in the seven year life culminating in wooden dashboards and leather upholstery. The last Healey 3000 Mk 111 BJ8 is arguably the best of the bunch to own.

After so long in the doldrums, Darts are flying high now and they perform much better than those odd old fashioned looks would have you credit. There’s that wonderful V8 of course but don’t forget all-round disc brakes and better steering than the A-H.

The SP250 was launched in a hurry as Daimler was in trouble and wanted to copy the success of the Healey, TR, and Jaguar XK in the USA. It showed because the original was badly executed suffering from many ills that only came good on later B and C spec cars thanks to Jaguar’s ownership of Daimler by


Bryan Purves of Surrey is one of the UK’s longest serving SP250 specialists and he’d take the Dart over a Healey because, he says, it’s the better driving choice, with a nicer engine, tauter chassis and lightness thanks to that fibreglass bodywork. “A good usable classic”, he proclaims. They are popular in Europe – 30 in Ireland alone claims Bryan, and he exports parts to France, Spain, Switzerland, Norway as well as the United States 1960,  B-specification cars featured extra outriggers, a strengthening hoop between the A posts (many original cars were so converted) and an adjustable steering column. The leather trimmed seats were also improved as was the general fit and finish and full-width bumpers with over-riders were fitted.

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 of these were made.

The Daimler is a much rarer beast with only 2650 produced against nearly 70,000 Austin-Healeys, making the Austin the safer choice which, if pristine, will probably be easier to sell if you have to. The majority of either car went abroad where they are still popular. Darts are all across Europe as well as the US. With just 560 left on the DVLA computer, the Dart’s rarity could mean that it will rapidly overtake the Healey’s value given time – but can you live with those looks? Well, they won’t fall out of fashion because they were never in, which could be an advantage long term.


By the time the rather makeshift Daimler Dart or SP250 to give it the official moniker, was launched in 1959 the Healey was on fourth iteration and was very well developed. Having said that the Daimler certainly had a better, more modern engine and disc brakes all round against the Healey’s disc/drum set-up.

By 1959, the year the Dart was launched, the Healey 3000 Mk1 sported 124bhp and 162lb/ft of torque against 140bhp and 155lb/ft for the Daimler which means the latter is the quicker car although the Healey’s torque comes in at lower revs making it the more relaxed car to drive. Motor magazine tested both in 1960 and the Dart achieved a most impressive 0-60mph in 8.9 secs against the Healey’s rather sluggish 11.7 and 124mph maximum against the Healey’s 115. Unusually, the faster car was also the more economical with 25mpg against the Healey’s 21mpg.

The cars became much more evenly matched once the Healey’s power was upped to first 132bhp and then just shy of 150bhp.

Engineers based the Dart’s design on the Triumph TR with the same front coil springs and ‘A’ arms and similar four-speed gearbox. It should come as little surprise to learn that the SP250 feels quite TR like to drive albeit with more smoothness and zest although the floppy nature of the original quickly called for a stiffer chassis on B Spec, which was expediently done by simple bracing. The later cars were stiffer and certainly drove better and, across the Cotswolds on a Saturday morning any standard Healey would struggle to keep up with the Dart, which thanks to a better cockpit is the more comfortable choice.

Both cars are typical of the sixties and are similar to drive with a tendency to oversteer if really hurled along which can be fun on a (deserted m’lud) country road. The Healey makes you work harder however.

Ride is similar on both which thanks to the much higher profile tyres is much better than today’s sports cars. Both cars were available with overdrive and it really is worth having to makes cruising more relaxed.


Despite the fact that interest and support for the Daimler is ever growing, the fact is that a Big Healey will always remain the safest buy. Parts and specialist back up is extremely good (Think Rawles, Bill Rawles, A Head for Healeys and SC Parts Group Ltd) and virtually everything you need (including bodies and chassis frames) are available off the shelf. The car used a mix and match of Austin mechanicals (chiefly Westminster) and the design is not much more complex than a Morris 1000. That said, restoration work doesn’t come cheap, especially if the body and chassis need attention where despite its age and straightforward design restorations need an expert touch who knows Healeys.

As the Daimler was little more than a rip off of the Triumph TR3 at the time, maintaining one is scarcely any harder. That V8 is both sturdy and simple to service and repair and thanks to the tireless efforts of specialists such as David Manners, Bryan Purves, Autotec and Barry Thorne parts supply is excellent for such a low volume classic. And the body can’t rust!

And The Winner Is...

Applying cold logic to this pair ensures an easy winner – the Big Healey. It’s more a known quantity, is better served in the aftermarket, there’s more to choose from and is universally well loved. But – thankfully – logic takes back seat when choosing a classic which is why the Daimler has to be given serious consideration. Indeed, applying some lateral thinking conjures an interesting thought; as the SP250 was TR-derived but V8-powered, what we have here is an ‘early TR5’ but with a much nicer power plant? There’s no clear winner here, it depends on your personal choice. And of course, whether you could live with the Daimler’s looks will always be a sticking point.

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