Daimler SP250 1959-1964
The SP250 (or "Dart" as it was originally intended to be named) was the first true 120mph British Sports Car and a huge risk for a company known for its staid, comfortable saloon cars. Aimed squarely at the booming market in the United States, it never reached its full market or development potential and after the company was purchased by Jaguar, production was curtailed as soon as possible without causing too much embarrassment.
Today, the SP250 is an icon of the genre of British Sports Cars and recognised as having an engine of truly inspired design and is highly sought after by enthusiasts throughout the world.
100000 – 100005 Prototype chassis.
100010 Pre production car exhibited at the
New York Motor Show and subsequently dismantled.
100011 – 100569 Production LHD batch, the
vast majority of which went to America.
Built between Sept 1959 and June 1961.
100570 – 100759 Production RHD batch.
Built between October 1959 and June 1960.
100760 – 101324 Production LHD batch.
Built between June 1961 and August 1962.
101325 – 101509 Production RHD batch.
Built between June 1960 and January 1961.
101510 – 101585 Production LHD batch.
Built between August 1962 and July 1964.
102510 – 102834. Production RHD batch.
Built between July 1960 and June 1961.
103710 – 104456. Production RHD batch.
Built between June 1961 and September 1964.
Number of cylinders 8 in V formation
Capacity: 2548 c.c. / 152.56 cu.in.
BHP: 140 at 5,800 r.p.m.
R.A.C. RATING: 28.8 h.p.,
COMPRESSION RATIO: 8.2 to 1
Firing order: 1L, 4R, 2R, 2L, 3R, 3L, 4L, 1R
Sparking Plugs: Champion N8
Cooling system capacity:
22 imp. pints/26.5 US pints/12.5 litres
Engine oil capacity:
12 Imp Pints/14.5 US pints/ 6.8 litres
1st ....... 2.933 to 1
2nd ....... 1.742 to 1
3rd ....... 1.0232 to 1
Top ....... 1 to 1
Reverse ... 3.771 to 1
Rear axle ratio 3.58 to 1
Turning circle 33’ 6”
Track front 4’2”
Track rear 4’0”
Overall length 13’ 5”
Ground clearance 6”
Kerb weight 2218lbs.
1 1/2 pints, 1 3/4 U.S. pints, 0.85 litres
1 1/2 pints, 1 3/4 U.S. pints, 0.85 litres
12 gals, 14 U.S. gals, 54 1/2 litres
5.90 x15 crossply.
Pressure: Front 22psi, rear 24psi
Pressures not specified.
Road Test dates
June 1959 Modern Motor “Daimler’s Dashing Dart”
23/9/1959 Motor “ Daimler SP250 Sports”
2/10/59 Autocar “Daimler V8 SP250”
Mar 1960 Road and Track “Daimler SP250”
15/6/60 Motor “The Daimler SP250 Sports”
26/8/60 Autosport “The Daimler SP250”
March 1961 Sports Car World “Devastating Daimler SP250”
May 1961 Motor Sport “Road Impressions of the Daimler SP250”
June 1961 Cars Illustrated “Who Wants a Turbine”
August 1963 Wheels “Daimler’s Sizzling SP250”.
Cars are often referred to as “A”, “B”, or “C” spec but it is not always that easy. Cars exported to the States were never so identified. It is easiest to refer to the earlier cars as “Basic”. 1924 basic cars were produced, although after April 1961 every car which left the factory had “B-spec” chassis upgrades.
Pure “B-spec” started leaving the factory in December 1960 starting with chassis 102731. A total of 474 “B-spec cars were built . 256 “C-spec” cars were produced from February 1963, starting with chassis 104162
SP250 History. Glyn Overy
In the mid 1950s, Daimler, under the chairmanship of Sir Bernard Docker, was in serious financial trouble with too few examples of too many different models being sold.
Jack Sangster, who had been appointed a director of B.S.A., Daimler’s parent company in 1953, led a coup which resulted in him, Sangster, replacing Sir Bernard as chairman of the B.S.A. board. At the same time, Edward Turner, then Managing Director of Triumph Motorcycles was appointed to the B.S.A. board and, shortly thereafter, made Managing Director of B.S.A. Automotive Division which, as well as Daimler, included Ariel, B.S.A., Sunbeam and Triumph motorcycles.
Edward Turner, M.D. of B.S.A. Automotive Division
(Pictured in the 1950s)
Soon after his appointment as M.D., he was asked to design an entirely new V8-engined car to give the Daimler Company the modern image it so desperately needed.
Back in his own office, he mentioned this to Jack Wickes, who had been his P.A. for many years and whom Turner frequently referred to as “my pencil”. Wickes suggested using a Cadillac engine as a good starting point, whereupon Turner produced a Cadillac manual and parts catalogue from his desk drawer!
All this led to what would become the Daimler Dart although the “Dart” part of the name was very short lived. The Chrysler Corporation had already claimed the name for a forthcoming model from its Dodge division and threatened legal proceedings.
Instead the SP250 designation was adopted, the official project number allocated to the car. Despite this, the Dart name is still frequently applied and everyone knows what car is being referred to!
Jack Wickes, Edward Turner’s P.A. referred to by E.T. as “My pencil”
(Pictured in 1957)
photo courtesy Veloce Publishing
The “bottom end” of the new engine followed Cadillac practice while the top was pure Turner with a single camshaft mounted in the “V” operating unequal length pushrods for inlet and exhaust valves via four rocker shafts. Although the name Turner is synonymous with the SP engine, a great deal of detail work was undertaken by Cyril Simpson and Doctor John Tait and their names should also be remembered in this context.
The first engine was available for test by August 1957. Various carburetor arrangements were tried including twin-choke Solex and eight Amals of a type used on Triumph Thunderbird motorcycles before a twin S.U. arrangement was settled upon.
Jack Wickes penned the initial body design and one was constructed in metal by Carbodies (also part of the B.S.A. empire). This car came to be known as “The Red Car”. It was involved in a major accident at MIRA and was subsequently rebuilt with a second, somewhat modified, body again made by Carbodies.
The second prototype, known as “The Black Car” was a more makeshift affair and, after much testing and development work had been carried out with it, it was dismantled and scrapped.
Roger Garnett (L) and John Box (R), two of the engineers responsible for testing and developing the SP250.
(Pictured in 2009 at the 50th Anniversary celebrations)
Four more prototypes were built. Chassis 100002, a very close to production car, became the press demonstrator and, after a long sojourn in Canada, is now back in the UK in the care of Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust. Chassis nos. 100003 and 100005 were bodied as SP252s, the planned successor to the SP250. Eventually one car was made of the two, and that is also currently on loan to JDHT.
The first real production car, 100010, was completed in time for the public launch of the car at the New York Motor Show in April 1959. After the Show it went on a States-wide tour to generate publicity where it performed faultlessly, but the car was subsequently scrapped.
The first car off the production line for public purchase was 100011, a LHD car, the first of such a batch largely destined for the United States.
An early sales brochure prepared for for the American market after the dropping of the name “Dart” .
Early cars gained a reputation for excessive body-flex when cornering, allowing the doors to fly open as the photographer was able to illustrate during the 1987 Classic Monte Carlo Rally! (below left).
Photo courtesy of Haymarket Publishing
This tendency was rectified with the introduction of the “B-Spec” cars in December 1960 which had added metal bracing in the scuttle area, and additional longitudinal outriggers to the chassis side members, running between the front and rear axles.
Some 130 cars were returned from the States to the factory to have this modification retro-fitted.
A further batch, designated “C-Spec” cars had various hitherto “extras and accessories” fitted as standard.
One of the Australian Geoghegan brothers finding the limits of the early door latches. (above)
1960 saw the purchase of the Daimler Company by Jaguar Cars Ltd. Sir William Lyons was no fan of the SP250, considering it inferior to “his” E-Type. Sales of the SP250 were slow and never reached the figures envisaged in the original feasibility study.
Production ceased in 1964 although a re-worked version of the engine was used in a “Daimlerised” version of the Mk.2 Jaguar until July 1969.
Other bodybuilders liked the attributes of the SP250 and David Ogle designed a beautiful coupe on the SP chassis. Two cars were built, one being exhibited at the 1962 Earls Court Motor Show. Both cars still exist.
The fate of a coupe built by Hoopers and shown at the 1959 show was less happy. When Sir William Lyons saw it, he was appalled and the project was scrapped.
One-off modifications were also made.. Gustav Bigorie, a French sculptor and artist, designed and carried out his own alterations to the front and rear bodywork.
Left and Right: The Bigorie Special
Antony H Croucher Precision & Prototype Engineering Co. Ltd. developed a power assisted retractable hardtop.
The Croucher car, sometimes referred to as “The Fishtank”
And then Sir William Lyons penned his own version of what it should look like—the SP252– sadly, never to go into production.
The SP250 engine alone attracted the attention of other sports car manufacturers.
The engine from an insurance write-off car was used in the Tornado Talisman V8; one, possible two, were used in an MGB with the intention of running it at Le Mans but that never came to fruition. At least one A.C. Aceca was fitted with an SP engine and the V8 was also fitted to a Peerless.
From its earliest days, the sporting abilities of the SP250 had been recognized. In the U.K., Trevor Crisp raced one extensively and Adrian Boyd rallied one in Ireland. Duncan Black, in the U.S.A. took the SCCA class E National Championship in 1960.
In September 1962 Leo and Iain Geoghegan won the Bathurst 6-hour Classic in Australia.
Its use in sporting events has continued to the present day with cars being regularly entered in classic car races and rallies in many parts of the world. With this history behind it, it is little wonder that the SP250 has such an enthusiastic following.
The engine was also used in hillclimb cars – the Cooper-Daimlers and Felday-Daimler.
Peter Westbury won the 1963 RAC Hillclimb Championship in his Felday.
Russ Carpenter used a supercharged engine fuelled with a nitro-methane/methanol mix to take all the relevant dragster records.
The motor boat fraternity was not to be left out and, in particular, Norman Buckley was extremely successful in the Simmonds Ski-boat on Lake Windermere using a marine version of the engine.
The Simmonds ski-boat
Admittedly, its looks fall into the “Marmite” category with it once being described as one of the world’s ugliest cars. However, its engine has always had praise heaped upon it. It is eminently usable in modern-day traffic with a top speed well in excess of any national limit, acceleration on a par with many present day models and retardation by four-wheel disc brakes. However, the need to grease the front suspension every 1000 miles might be seen as a bit of a chore!
Social touring in SP250s is an extremely enjoyable experience and groups regularly embark on such trips. Its generous boot space is more than adequate for a trip of several weeks and its good fuel consumption (in the region of 30mpg) helps keep costs manageable. Just remember to pack the grease-gun!
Cars spelling out the model’s name at the 50th Anniversary celebrations in June 2009 at The British Motor Museum, Gaydon, Warwickshire, UK
And finally, the Late Greats (Sir) Stirling Moss and Graham Hill in the Clark of the Course’s car at Warwick Farm, Australia, February 1963
60th ANNIVERSARY MEET RAGLEY HALL, UK JUNE 2019
And if that has whetted your appetite, for further reading, see:
Daimler V8 SP250 2nd. Edition by Brian Long . published by Veloce Publishing PLC ISBN 978 1 904788 77 5
Edward Turner by Jeff Clew. published by Veloce Publishing PLC ISBN13 978 1 84584 065 5