There is no denying that for those who appreciate quality-car motoring of the more sedate kind, usually in closed-car comfort, a Rolls-Royce is the ultimate. No other make fascinates to quite the same degree, because prestige, legend, engineering craftsmanship, nicety of control, known history and the written word and photographic record are collectively more readily available for the Derby- and Crewe-built cars than for any others. But Rolls-Royces do tend to be rather expensive these days.
It was with this in mind that I tried some time back to find our readers who might be interested, an alternative. I concentrated on straight-eight Daimlers of various models (Motor Sport, May, 1966). But I have to confess that, although I did not drive the postwar 5½-litre DE36, on the whole the thing did not quite add up—Rolls-Royces are superior to pre-war multi-cylindered Daimlers. But being tenacious, I refused to give up and so had been thinking recently again in terms of Daimlers. Not the ones that look like Jaguars dressed up in fluted bonnets or that ugly great limousine with the racing engine, but six-cylinder Daimlers some 18 years of age. Which seemed to call for a deal with Sportscar Garages in North London, who specialise in such things.
Having surmounted at last the one-way systems in this depressing district, driven past boarded-up building sites announcing that guard dogs were on patrol and had a stone thrown at the Rover by one of many small coloured boys (these days all I am permitted to do is to congratulate him on his accuracy of aim), I arrived at the archway beyond which various old Daimlers are stabled. The cars we are considering are 2½-litre models of the immediate post-war period. The DB18 saloon was developed into the Barker-bodied Consort saloon by 1949, recognised by a curved instead of a flat radiator grille and for which 80 m.p.h. and 22 m.p.g. were claimed when new. On the same chassis Daimler offered, as a substitute for the deceased DB18 Barker d.h. coupé, the Barker Special Sports coupé, using an alloy head, twin S.U.s and a worm-drive instead of a hypoid back axle, to give striking appearance coupled with some 85 m.p.h. and 23-30 m.p.g. There was i.f.s. by coil springs and substantial swinging arms. The body is light alloy, with bolts instead of screws for the door hinges, and steel front wings and bonnet. By 1953 these Barker-bodied Daimlers gave way to the Conquest range, of which the saloon used body pressings shared with the Lanchester 14. Today Consorts offer dignified if sedate motoring and are available in a price range of roughly £250 to £400, depending on body type and condition. *It would be imprudent to bid much higher for this class of car. (*An average of those in last month’s Motor Sport advertisements, from DB18s to BSS, comes to about £293.)
What Mr. Martin Reid of Sportscar Garages had done was to fix me up, not with a car from their stock, but to borrow for me an Oxford-registered Barker Special Sports of about 1951/2, which they sold some time back to a satisfied customer who will not part with it. Consequently, there is no point in describing in some detail the condition of the car and how much tread remains on the 6.00 x 16 Dunlop Gold Seal tyres, etc. But some notes may interest prospective purchasers of such cars. You get mostly what you pay for in this World, and this particular Daimler, very smartly repainted in two contrasting shades of brown, with unblemished plating and original beige upholstery and hood, the interior in getting-tatty condition, is valued in the region of £550.
So, with the sun shining, I drove off in open-car exhilaration and visibility, to re-learn the niceties of operating a fluid-flywheel and preselector transmission. That on this Daimler was functioning splendidly, except for an occasional reluctance to take bottom until the pedal had been kicked hard, and is a pleasantly nonchalant method of changing gear. The r.h. gear-selector lever is marked R-N-1-2-T-O, as the box has an overdrive top. In this “O”-ratio the car wafts along at 50 m.p.h. with the engine running at a mere 2,000 r.p.m., or some 800 r.p.m. less than in top.
Indeed, this Daimler, while it can by no stretch of imagination be called a sports car, runs very silkily and quietly, exhaust noise not evident with the hood down. It is long but it is also narrow (15 ft. 7½ in. x 5 ft. 4½ in.), which helps in congested traffic, especially as the extended fairings of the wing-mounted sidelamps act as sights.
You sit in a comfortable leather armchair, looking down on Minis, 500s and suchlike, and on to the typically Daimler alligator bonnet which, because it props up from the front on its sliding strut, gives reasonable engine accessibility without recourse to ugly centre hinges. The big, plated, fluted grille with dummy filler cap codes up high in front, giving a further reminder that this was one of Coventry’s fine motor-carriages, and could be anything from a Conquest saloon to a Royal limousine.
In spite of its designation, this is not the kind of car I wanted to press in the gears, or take performance figures with, at all events after some 18 years’ usage; although the mileometer read only under 36,000. But it got along faster than I expected, 60 to 65 m.p.h. being a nice ambling gait, with some shimmy, and the acceleration surprising for a 33¼ cwt. car. And, some ladies might note, in spite of the truly fool-proof transmission, this 2½-litre car is so flexible that it can be started in top if there seems point in so doing. The unpolished light wood facia carries a range of instruments comprising 100 m.p.h. speedometer and tachometer reading to 6,000 r.p.m. with a red line at 4,500 r.p.m. (although the 69 x 110 mm. 2,522 c.c. engine peaks at 4,200, when it gives 85 b.h.p.), ammeter, water thermometer (normally at 175°F.), fuel gauge and clock. Oil pressure is left to providence, or more accurately a warning light, but should be 40 lb./sq. in. Surprisingly, these dials are of AC manufacture and have the cream faces and shaded figures favoured by Daimler. The clock and trip-odometer were not working. Discreet knobs scattered about look after things like petrol reserve, spot-lamps, heater, throttle setting, mixture strength, starter, panel illumination and cigar lighter. The handles for the rear-hinged doors, lamps switch, r.h. “umbrella-handle” handbrake, wipers which have big knobs and can be parked below the screen rail, and the big spring-spoke steering wheel, with horn push control for the self-cancelling semaphore-arm trafficators on its boss, are typical of a car of this period. Good wing mirrors and a Motorola radio were fitted.
The Daimler Special Sports has some endearing items of its own. The front seats are separate, but three can occupy them in some intimacy, while behind them is an occasional seat set transversely, which can be mounted on either side of the body, depending on whether the person who sits there prefers to converse with the driver or the front passenger. There is an interior lamp in the folding hood, the latter quite easy to erect and stow in its bag, although the n/s catch tended to come undone. Chassis lubrication is automatic, on the ingenious Luvax Bijur thermal system, which simply means that heat from the exhaust manifold expends the lubricant and sends it on its way. Jacking is by the D.W.S. built-in system, the winding handle, spare wheel, etc., being revealed when the rear number plate panel is hinged down. The spare wheel lives in a cavernous but shallow boot with self-popping lid and the back wheels wear spats; tyre pressures are normally 28 and 30 lb./sq. in. One key suffices for all locks, including cubby-hole, fuel cap and n/s door. There are leather trimmed vizors. The hood has top rails and, with the wind-up glass windows, makes a snug closed car, or would have done had there not been a gap at the top of the n/s window. The “keeps” for the heavy doors were inoperative.
When new the recommended top speeds in the gears were 33, 53 and 80 m.p.h. at 4,500 r.p.m. (I got indicated readings of 25 and 50 m.p.h. at 4,500 r.p.m. in the two lower gears, and The Motor a true 48 in 2nd, 78 in 3rd from a new car in 1950), and maybe there would be a few more m.p.h. to come in overdrive, the Special Sports having ratios of 14.57, 7.97, 4.85 and 3.55 to 1, whereas the single-carburetter Consorts use normal four-speed epicyclic gearboxes of 17.54, 9.97, 6.71 and 4.30 to 1.
I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how well the car cornered, in spite of some play in the fairly heavy steering, which is geared just under 2½ turns, lock-to-lock. This may be attributable to the rigid boxed chassis, although bad roads set up steering shake and made the doors rattle. The brakes, which are Girling hydro-mechanical at the front, mechanical at the rear, with 11 in. drums, were more than adequate. The fuel tank holds 14 gallons, and cheap petrol seemed in order with a 7-to-1 c.r.; no fuel check was made but at least 23 m.p.g. should be obtainable. The clean push-rod o.h.v. engine boasts a detachable Tecalemit oil filter on the n/s. The engine commenced readily from cold and idled at 250 r.p.m. Night driving was a bit fraught, because the headlamps seemed to extinguish on (foot) dip and, although there are very penetrating Lucas spot-lamps which can be used only with the sidelamps, they had tree-inspecting dazzling beams. Moreover, the wipers went u/s and had to be hand-operated.
But this Daimler was an interesting and thoroughly practical car, which, when it left the premises of Everest & Sheldrake of Henley-on-Thames as a new car, had servicing facilities all over the place, including Daimler House at both London and Edinburgh. The point I want to get over is that I consider it the equal in silence and driving charm of many of the older and smaller Rolls-Royces of like age, for which appreciably higher prices are being asked.—W. B.