Until now, and the car in question is this 1960 Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’; a car with a solid reputation as something of a flop, in both senses. As Daimler struggled to shift luxury cars in the austere ‘Fifties it cast an envious eye at the likes of MG and Triumph that were enjoying huge sales in America with their sports cars. The Daimler name carried a lot of kudos worldwide, and the States was no exception, so a Daimler sports car had a lot of potential.
Although it appeared to be a rather staid company, Daimler had a tradition of innovation when it was needed and, realising that it couldn’t really afford to tool-up for a new model, it made the SP250 with a glass fibre body. Power came from Edward Turner’s masterful 2.5-litre hemi-head V8 while the transmission and the basic structure of the cruciform chassis came from the Triumph TR3.
The plastic body meant that the SP250 weighed well under a ton while the 140 V8 horses teamed refinement with class-leading performance. But the legend says that the TR3 chassis and Daimler’s first attempt at non-metal bodywork wasn’t a happy marriage. The chassis suffered from horrendous flex and the body didn’t have the strength to make up for the weak underpinnings, leading to huge amounts of scuttle shake and, in the long term, cracking. In extreme cases the doors and bonnet would pop open on extreme cornering. This, coupled to the SP250’s rather crude running gear (rear leaf springs and a steering box) left many owners scared to deploy the performance available and the goodwill the car carried quickly evaporated.
ON THE ROAD
So why is this one so good to drive? It’s certainly had a lot of work – a full restoration in the ‘Eighties and, more recently, over £10,000 spent on upgrades and keeping up appearances, the most significant being the rack and pinion steering conversion. It’s also a ‘Spec B’ car, introduced in 1960 when Jaguar took over Daimler and quickly instigated a round of changes to the SP250, including some strengthening sections in the chassis and bulkhead.
Whatever the reason – whether it’s the actual spec of this car, its excellent condition or the non-standard upgrades – if I had not heard or read anything about the SP250 I would immediatley consider it to be a wholly excellent car. The engine was always immune from criticism but when freed from the need to have several hundredweight of metal, wood and leather in tow it is not only smooth and refined, but also delicously punchy and you can savour every aspect of that brilliant noise. The pick-up is instantaneous and the power delivery is broad and seemingly limitless, helped by the Triumph gearbox which has a beautifully weighted and snappy change. There was no scuttleshake to speak of and all the doors remained closed at all times.
The one blemish was the steering, which despite now being via a rack and pinion, was still a bit numb. The responses were nice and quick, but it lacked the degree of intuitive feedback that is such a big part of making a good sports car.
That aside, the SP250 thoroughly overturned all the expectations I had of it, and in the best possible way. The prices commanded by the good examples imply that there is more to the car than self-opening doors but I had always assumed that was down to rarity. But if they can be this good (or be made this good) I can absolutely understand why they have their followers.
TOP SPEED: 127mph
0-60mph: 9.1 secs
GEARBOX: 4-spd, man