White Elephantitis-encounter with a silent knight

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There is the crack about a Daimler that, unless they are Royalty, most people ride in one only twice in their lives, to their wedding and at their funeral, one the sequentiality of the other. In spite of this unkindness the Daimler was, and is, a grand marque, rivalling a Rolls in the affection of Dukes and Duchesses. In the early vintage days any great occasion had Daimlers as well as Rolls-Royces in attendance, but the latter predominated, possibly because, if my lady disliked the faint whirr of a Lanchester Forty as it glided up to the red carpet, she was equally adverse to the faint blue haze that inevitably followed her everywhere as she rode in her Daimler. . . .

, Nevertheless, Daimler of Coventry built fine cars (in as astonishingly a variety of models as Sunbeam and Armstrong Siddeley) during the vintage era, all having double-sleeve-valve engines—the ” Silent Knight.” Ever since King Edward VII ordered his first car in 1900 our Royal Family has remained staunch to Daimlers and cars of this make brought King George V from Balmoral to Buckingham Palace in 1926 at the time of the General Strike and took him to Bognor for convalescence after his illness in 1928.

I had hoped to include a Daimler Double Six in this series but none appears to remain in running order—down the years diesel or Bedford engines have all too often been substituted for the original VI2 Knight engines, a modification which has also thinned the ranks of the six-cylinder models. I did discover a 50-h.p. Double Six in Surrey, although only by chance—that I had seen it running about only a few years before and that it was in a town only a few miles from home, shows how elusive vintage cars can be that” go to ground “!—but its sleeves had seized solid. So I had to content myself with going out in a 35/120, which is the biggest of the more recent six-cylinder sleeve-valve Daimlers. This one was languishing in a Hampshire emporium, mighty relic of an age now past, discreet unidentifiable crests still visible on its doors. It stood on rather sorry Dunlop ” Fort 90″ 7.00 x 20 tyres; discs covering its wire wheels; the body was a still-presentable Hooper 6-light limousine with folding occasional seats, a little window in the roof, and a discreet microphone for communication with the professional chauffeur away up in front. A just-vintage model, first taxed in 1930, this great Daimler had front brakes, vane-type transverse hydraulic front shock-absorbers, and ½-elliptic suspension front and back, although the rear dumb-irons curved to meet their springs in such a way that one was at once reminded of the ¾-elliptics of earlier cars of the same breed. Moreover, the fuel tank retained those slats which followers of hearses know so well and the petrol filler was a discreet vertical tube on the near side of this huge reservoir.

Under a typically plain untapering broad three-piece bonnet the six separate cylinder barrels of the 97 X 130 mm. (5,764 c.c.) engine rose from the big alloy crankcase, the plug leads vanishing mysteriously into the bowels of each cylinder head. An absurdly small Stromberg carburetter (12 m.p.g.) on the off-side fed via an aluminium six-branch manifold with square-section off-takes, and on the opposite side a ribbed exhaust manifold possessed a muff the hot breath from which actually passed through a inlet tract. A six-branch alloy water off-take pipe united the cylinders, cooling being by pump and fan. Low down on the near-side there should have been a magneto but some vandal had removed this, relying on a modern coil, and a modern petrol pump had replaced the Autovac.

Climbing aboard, I found a quite modern facia layout, with a small 80 m.p.h. Jaeger speedometer, a Rotax panel with a petrol gauge calibrated in litres as well as in gallons (” nothing new,” Lord Rootes!), lidded cubby-hole, clock, Ki-gas pump, reserve petrol tap control, nice lights and ignition switches, and very large warning lights for ignition on or low oil pressure. However, Daimler tradition was seen in a five-spoke steering wheel, push-on r.h. brake lever and the unusual gear locations for the 24-in.-long ball-gate central gear-lever, second being above bottom, third below top gear, reverse ” round the corner ” beyond bottom gear. A big quadrant above the wheel carried levers for hand-throttle, advance-and retard and ” auxiliary petrol,” the last-named meaning mixture strength. Twin horn-buttons were provided on a r.h. extension and the starter button was on the floor. The single-pane screen opened on outriggers, there was a Sensible patent glass panel at the base of the driver’s window, providing a signalling aperture when required, and surprisingly small, plated headlamps were stayed to the front wings and the 3-ft-deep fluted radiator. The centre one of three big rubber-covered pedals was the accelerator. The old car was in poor fettle, emitting quite a smoke screen and tending to come to rest with fuel starvation, but the smooth light clutch, steering and gear-change made it extremely easy to drive, in spite of the back-seat occupants being about as remote as the Kremlin, and separated from their paid-drivers by a glass partition with silk blinds, nor did this huge limousine, bigger than a Phantom Rolls, wallow on slack back springs as ancient white elephants, suffering from old age, usually do.

I am aware that sleeves, both on the road and beach, have gone out of fashion, but I liked this Knight-engined Daimler enough to want to drive another, either earlier or bigger, vintage model. Are there any about ?—W. B.

Previous articles in this series have dealt with a 5-litre Siddeley Special (June 1959), 8-litre Hispano Suiza and 7.3-litre Isotta-Fraschini (September 1959) and 6.8-litre Duesenberg (August 1960).

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