1959-1964 Daimler SP250

The 1959-1964 Daimler SP250 sports car could be likened to a dog walking on its hind legs -- it was not done well, but most people were very surprised to have seen it done at all.

Since the Daimler marque is largely unknown or misunderstood in the USA, a word of explanation might be in order. Beginning in the 1890s, the German Daimler company authorized production of its vehicles under license in other countries, and that is how the British Daimler automobile came to be.

black sp250 ragtop
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Taking a covetous look at the success of MG
and Triumph, Daimler decided to enter the
sports-car field in 1959 with the SP250.

However, by the early 1900s all links with Germany had been severed, and in 1910 Daimler merged with BSA (of motorcycle fame). Daimler cars were, and still are, built in Conventry.

For many years, Daimler turned out mainly middle-class cars, along with a limited number of upper-class luxury limousines. The latter enjoyed British Royal patronage for more than 50 years. Then, in the 1950s, the product line went through a traumatic period.

Chairman Sir Bernard Docker, aided and abetted by his flamboyant wife, Lady Norah, not only introduced a series of over-decorated show cars but began to take Daimler down-market in the quest for volume sales.

The 2.2-liter Conquest and Conquest Century series were partially successful, but the 1.6-liter Lanchester Sprite of 1956 (Lanchester had been a Daimler-owned marque since 1931) was canceled at the last minute after all the tooling had been completed.

As a result, Sir Bernard and Lady Norah were ousted in 1956. Jack Sangster became chairman in his place, and Edward Turner of BSA joined the management team to strengthen design and engineering efforts.

In 1957-1958, Turner set about developing two new V-8 engines while his engineers began drafting new cars to accept them. In one of the most amazing policy changes ever adopted by such an old, established firm, Daimler had elected to enter the sports car market.

maroon sp250 convertible with wire wheels
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
SP250 buyers had a choice of soft or hard tops, disc or wire wheels.

The decision amazed most everyone, because Daimler had never before built sports cars and had no experience marketing them either. It was a big change, much like the introduction of the daring 1953 Chevrolet Corvette into the staid Chevrolet passenger car line.

The corporate reasoning, however, was easy to analyze -- British sports cars were selling well all over the world, especially in the U.S. The “Big Three” consisted of the MGA, Austin-Healey 100 Six, and Triumph TR3A. Clearly, management thought, here was an opportunity to be exploited.

With no sports car experience to fall back on, Daimler engineers looked to existing sports cars for inspiration. Since the TR3A was also built in Coventry, they started out by copying many of its features, as one look at the SP250’s chassis, mechanical layouts, and front suspension will confirm.

Although the new car was due to go on sale in the autumn of 1959, Daimler rushed ahead and exhibited a pre-production car at the New York Auto Show in April, where Chrysler executives were astounded to see that it carried the model name “Dart.”

It was quickly pointed out that Chrysler had rights to the name via the 1957 Ghia-built Dodge Dart “dream car” and that Dart would be used that fall on 1960-model Dodge production cars.

Daimler had to back down; henceforth, the sports car was known by its project code -- SP250 -- where SP stood for SPorts car, and 250 meant that it used a 2.5-liter engine.

Go to the next section for details on the design of the 1959-1964 Daimler SP250.

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