Road test: the 4 1/2-litre Daimler Majestic Major

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A large luxury saloon that can hold its own with sports cars

Comfort, ease of control, a top speed of 123 m.p.h., and standing-start 1/4-mile acceleration in under 17 1/2 seconds, blended with excellent controllability and braking in a Coventry-built motor car, of long-established make

Old-fashioned, yet able to “play bears” with many sports cars. Spacious, yet looking compact, and simplicity to drive. A modern V8 disc-braked luxury car which is dignity personified, yet possesses qualities of handling, ride, braking, acceleration and top speed that are as outstanding as they are unexpected. That sums up the Daimler Majestic Major saloon, and how anyone who can spare the purchase price of £2 1/2-thousand can resist this fine car I find it difficult to comprehend. For it must surely be agreed that the aforesaid qualities in combination add up to all that is desirable in a motor car of any type.

This modern Daimler ably carries on the tradition of the old Coventry Company, the oldest motor manufacturer in the World, yet is not only right up to date in the vital matters of suspension and weight distribution, but has such “out-of-keeping” performance—a maximum speed of over 120 m.p.h. and acceleration up to good sports-car standards—that to anyone with an impish sense of humour, or merely in a hurry (time perhaps representing money) it becomes an irresistible proposition. Once again, Sir William Lyons quietly displays his knowledge of what the customer will like!

There is something outstandingly dignified about this wide but not too long Daimler, and for all its excellent handling and truly high performance, it costs but £2,623 0s. 9d., purchase-tax paid, with power steering. (The least-expensive Rolls-Royce costs £5,516 11s. 10d.)

A sensible automatic transmission

I have put the superlatives first in this road-test report, whereas I often lead up to a car’s performance and road habits after describing its controls and equipment details; the Daimler Majestic Major is such a splendid all-rounder that details seem of less moment than the overall impression it makes on a driver and its five or six passengers.

However, details should not be ignored, but before describing them, let me comment on the sensible arrangement of 3-speed Borg-Warner automatic transmission to which the Majestic Major’s 220-b.h.p. V8 power unit is coupled—it is entirely appropriate that this make, which pioneered the fluid flywheel to conjunction with a pre-selector gearbox, should have such a gearbox. It is not, in fact, available with a manual gear-shift.

Normally the automatic upward change from 2nd gear and torque convertor to direct drive occurs at 2,000 r.p.m., equal to an indicated 23 m.p.h., but this can be over-ridden by the usual accelerator kick-down, which defers the change up to 5,000 r.p.m., or an indicated 80 m.p.h. In addition, by putting the short neat right-hand steering-column lever into “LOW” it is possible to hold this ratio to maximum r.p.m., which is 5,500 r.p.m., a high speed for an engine of 4,561 c.c., and equal to an indicated 38 m.p.h. There is also a slightly inaccessible flick-switch on the facia enabling 2nd speed to be held to valve crash point at 5,800 r.p.m., 5,500 r.p.m. being equal to a speedometer 85 m.p.h., which is useful for rapid overtaking, being even quicker than kicking fully down on the accelerator, and more sparing of fuel, while it obviates those tiresome upward/downward changes which the gremlins otherwise indulge in. If full automation is employed the car goes into top early, as I have said, but the changes are quite smooth, if not quite up to Some American-car standards.

The deep facia is of beautifully polished walnut veneer, used also for the door cappings. There is practically no sill between it and the windscreen, and no crash-padding except for the soft vizors, of which the passenger’s has a vanity mirror. The centre panel of the facia is impressively instrumented, and is flanked on the left by a deep lined, lockable glove box (lock inoperative on the test car), on the right by a smaller open cubby-hole. There are also arc-topped flat pockets on both sides of the scuttle, with press-stud fasteners, and a very large and useful wood map-holder below the facia on the near-side.

The 140-m.p.h. 5-in. Smiths speedometer on the extreme right incorporates trip with decimal and total odometers, a non-dazzle main-beams light, and dynamo light. On the extreme left of the panel there is a matching 5-in. Smiths tachometer, reading to 6,000 r.p.m. with a single red line at 5,500 r.p.m. It incorporates the two direction-flasher lights, arrowed l. and r. Criticism has been levelled at the remote location of the tachometer and these indicator lights but as engine speed is only of interest when the automatic transmission is held in “LOW” or 2nd speed, this remote location is of little moment and does give a symmetrical instrument layout. The flashers’ indicators are non-aural but even so, their distance from the driver is of little importance. Four small dials, from l. to r. a Smiths clock (that gained some five minutes a day), a fuel gauge, a water thermometer (normally reading 70.° C.) and an ammeter, fill the top row between the bigger dials. The clock is slightly larger in diameter than the other dials, which I suppose is permissible in Coventry but might not pass muster at Crewe.

Below, four big neatly labelled flick-switches look after the single-speed heater fan, 2-speed wipers, lamps (foot dipper) and panel lighting. Between these switches, centrally, is the washers’ button, below which is the ignition-cum-starter key. This single key locks everything on the car, which could be indiscreet, however convenient.

Pull-out knobs, lettered, control Lucas fog and spot lamps, hand-throttle, and mixture enrichment of the two S.U. carburetters. There is a luminous cigar-lighter, a petrol reserve switch incorporating a bright warning light, warning lights for low oil pressure and handbrake left on/brake fluid level getting low, two large, clearly lettered knobs select degrees of demisting and interior heating, there is a drawer-type under-facia ash-tray, and rather inaccessible knobs on the scuttle-sides bringing in a fresh-air supply. The bonnet-release toggle is down on the near-side of the scuttle.

The gear control lever is clearly labelled “PARK,” “NEUTRAL,” ”DRIVE,” “LOW” and “REVERSE” but was unilluminated. The curved-handle handbrake is well located on the right below the facia but its release can pinch the fingers, and if the driving seat is set forward it may catch one’s foot when one alights. The two main pedals are well placed, the accelerator a slim treadle. A small switch on the steering-wheel hub operates the flashers, the horn switch being in the wheel centre, sounding genteel but powerful twin blended-note horns.

You neither step up into nor down into the well-proportioned steel 4-door, 6-light body, entry and exit being very comfortably achieved, while there is scarcely any transmission hump to obstruct the floor in the front compartment. The big hide-upholstered separate front seats (a bench-seat is optional) have high squabs and individual arm-rests. They are moderately comfortable but the cushions could be better formed. The back seat has a central arm-rest and all doors possess good curved arm-rests. Dual interior lamps in the back compartment have courtesy action from the doors, while two push-button switches bring in brighter reading-filaments. The doors shut nicely; they have good push-button external handles but normal, push-forward-to-open internal handles. There are metal “pulls.” The front doors have to be individually locked. The “keeps” for these heavy doors could be more effective.

The front quarter-lights have no pips or gutters; the rear quarter-lights have very good toggle-catches. A very sumptuous loose nylon rug overlay is provided for the occupants of the lounge, and there are fine pile carpets, rubber-enforced on the driver’s side. Polished wood tables let down from the backs of the front seats.

The boot lid locks automatically and is self-propping, like the bonnet. Luggage space is sensible rather than enormous. There as a boot-light (inoperative on the test-car) and the spare wheel is below the floor.

Needless to say, foot- and head-room is especially generous, with foot-wells beneath the front seat cushions. The head-lining is washable. Just over two turns lower fully the front window glasses; the glasses in the rear doors do not drop fully, the handles taking 1 1/4-turns.

The dignified frontal aspect of the Daimler Majestic Major is not ruined by blatant dual headlamps. Instead, small Lucas 700 headlamps are set off by V-motif grilles and the radiator grille is plated to match the fluted shell. There is a quick-action filler cap for the 16-gallon fuel tank! The odd-shaped sidelamps seem to have been stuck on the wings as an afterthought but have the merit of possessing “tell-tales.”

If the appearance of this big Daimler is old-fashioned, or shall we say conservative, it looks surprisingly compact from most angles, only the big 7.00 x 16 Dunlop nylon RS 5 tyres hinting that it has an overall length of 16 ft. 10 1/2 in. The wheelbase is not unduly long, at 9 ft. 6 in., but the luggage boot overhangs considerably.

The Daimler’s V8 engine

The V8 “over-square” engine that propels the Daimler Majestic Major is the work of motorcycle engineer Edward Turner. This Type D.Q.450 power unit was introduced at the 1959 London Motor Show. It has part-hemispherical combustion chambers, with the valves operated by short push-rods from a central high-set camshaft. The heads are of sand-cast LM4 aluminium alloy and light alloy is used also for valve covers, tappet blocks, inlet manifolds and sump. The block is an iron casting, the crankshaft has five main bearings and a torsional vibration damper, and this large but compact unit weighs only 498 lb. dry. A huge Cooper air filter with two pairs of silencing tubes serves the semi-downdraught HD8 S.U. carburetters. 282 lb./ft. torque is developed at approximately 2,700 r.p.m., with 153 lb./sq. in. b.m.e.p. at this speed. Lucas developed for this fine engine a special 20D8 type BS 8-lobe ignition distributor, which is mounted vertically at the back, between the cylinder banks. Basic spark timing is 10° before t.d.c. The inlet valves have a head diameter of 1.8125 in., the exhaust valves a head diameter of 1.6875 in.

This engine functions quietly and entirely without effort, the crankshaft speed being 3,500 r.p.m. at 80 m.p.h. and 4,385 r.p.m. at 100 m.p.h. in the 3.7-to-1 top gear, giving a degree of silence that enables some road-wheel noise and a few slight body creaks, rather than rattles, to intrude. At normal speeds it is possible to be in “hold 2nd” under the impression that one is in top gear; this is a car in which 80 like 60, and 100 like 80 m.p.h. in high-performance cars of lesser breeding. It always started, again quietly, without recourse to the mixture control; indeed, the exhaust smelt somewhat rich. There was some “pinking” on normal premium fuels.

I have already stressed the very high performance available, acceleration being particularly good for traffic overtaking from 40 m.p.h, onward, from this big luxury car. This can be appreciated from study of the following figures, the average of several runs, obtained on a test track, using an electric speedometer driven by a fifth wheel:—

Acceleration:
0-30 m.p.h. – 3.4 sec.
0-40 – 5.2 sec.
0-50 – 7.0 sec.
0-60 – 9.6 sec.
0-70 – 13.1 sec.
0-80 – 16.3 sec.
0-90 – 22.0 sec.
0-100 – 28.7 sec.
s.s. 1/4 mile – 17.4 sec.

Speed: Low gear – 49 m.p.h.
Intermediate gear – 80 m.p.h.
Top gear – 123 m.p.h.

The suspension is soft at low speeds, absorbing road irregularities with a somewhat floating motion, the nose dipping under the brakes, rising as the pedal is released. Yet as speed mounts the springing seems to stiffen up, providing sports-car handling with a well controlled, modest degree of roll on corners. The cornering tendency is virtually neutral but the tail can be broken away if desired, the engine having power to spare, in spite of the automatic transmission, so that the back wheels can be spun on wet roads without recourse to the “LOW” gear hold.

The power steering is excellent, retaining a normal degree of “feel,” yet being finger-light for slow full-lock turns, and offering very gentle return-action. There is no shock-playback through the big spring-spoke wheel, only very slight vibration. It takes four turns, lock-to-lock, plus a small amount of free movement. Although this is not low gearing, a rather higher ratio would be appreciated in view of the high cornering speeds of the car. Certainly the power steering is well worth the extra price charged for it, although that of a Citroen DS is even lighter for parking while being equally sensitive in “feel,” although it is, of course, a lighter, less heavily-shod car. The Daimler’s turning circle is under 40 feet, highly commendable for such a big car.

The Dunlop disc brakes on all wheels, vacuum servo applied, 12 1/2 in. at the front, 12 in. at the back, retard this car, which weighs over 2 tons when laden, so well from 100 m.p.h. or more that a passenger remarked that on dry roads it would seem possible to wear flats on the tyres! Yet light pedal pressures suffice. At lower speeds the action is sudden rather than progressive and the feel of the pedal tended to vary from very light to heavy—however, although the brake-fluid level never fell dangerously the warning light came on frequently, so no doubt servicing was called for. There is, however, no question of these brakes not being fully able to cope with the Majestic Major’s astonishing performance, in spite of the free-wheel effect of the automatic transmission on the over-run, except when the “LOW” gear hold is engaged.

The view over the not-unduly-long bonnet, the flutes on the off-side just discernible, endorses the dignity of this Daimler; Daimler fluting is evident also on the luggage-boot handle. Both front wings and sidelamps are in view, but the screen pillars are somewhat thick. The steering column provides some adjustment. The rear-view mirror gives an excellent, panoramic view, but of the “diminishing” type which makes the car’s acceleration seem even more impressive than it is, but which I consider dangerously misleading.

The fuel consumption, checked over a long, hard day’s varied driving to Yorkshire and back, came out at 15.8 m.p.g., which is very reasonable. The tank is said to hold 16 gallons, so even when putting up average speeds which on deserted but winding roads, can approach 60 m.p.h.. the range is around 250 miles. The reserve supply could be increased three-fold with advantage, however. The fuel-gauge needle swings about, but records with fair accuracy. During the time we were in possession of the Daimler it covered 1,087 miles and after 800 miles the engine required five pints of Shell X-100-30 oil. There was some thump at an idling speed of 400 r.p.m. It was, however, not a new car, the odometer indicating 40,000 miles. A little water was also necessary. The test car was equipped with a Radiomobile radio but a “short” in the region of the very long extensible aerial had rendered this inoperative. A loudspeaker change-over knob is provided beneath the facia.

This Daimler V8 Majestic Major is a car that can dispatch the miles in the most effortless manner, and which is enjoyable to experienced sports-car drivers as well as being nicely suited to aged Dukes and Duchesses.

It is a car that proves that democracy will never work, for it noticeably impresses the proletariat, but I was glad to find the accusation that café proprietors charge Majestic owners double, vide last month’s Shell advertisement, did not apply in my case! I hope that Coventry will go on manufacturing and profitably selling this essentially British automobile of this very famous make for many years yet.

The Jaguar Mk. X, a full road-test report on which we hope to publish next month, will have to be a very good car indeed to prove more desirable than this Daimler Majestic Major, which is also available in full limousine form for £3,309 14s. 1d.; the least-expensive Rolls-Royce limousine costs £8,827 8s. 5d.—W. B.

The Daimler V8 Majestic Major saloon

Engine: Eight cylinders in 90° vee formation, 95.25 x 80 mm. (4,561 c.c.). Push-rod-operated overhead valves. 8.0-to-1 compression ratio. 220 (gross) b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: Automatic gearbox. 1st, 8.7 to 1; 2nd, 5.41 to 1; top, 3.77 to 1.

Tyres: 7.00 x 16 Dunlop nylon RS 5 on bolt-on steel disc wheels.

Weight: Not weighed. Maker’s figure: 37 3/4 cwt. (kerb). weight).

Steering ratio: Four turns, lock-to-lock.

Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (including one gallon in reserve). (Range approximately 250 miles.)

Wheelbase: 9 ft. 6 in.

Track: 4. 9 in.

Dimensions: 16 ft.10 1/2 in. x 6 ft. 1 1/2 in. x 5 ft. 3 1/4 in. (high).

Price: £2,113 6s. 6d. (£2,554 3s. 3d., inclusive of p.t.). As tested, with power steering and radio, £2,668 0s. 9d., inclusive.

Makers: The Daimler Company, Ltd., Coventry, England.

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