Road impressions of the Daimler SP250

An Interesting V8-engined 2 1/2 litre Sports Car Possessing Extremely Good Acceleration, a Maximum Speed of 120 m.p.h., and an Extremely Quiet and Flexible Engine

WHEN Edward Turner, famous for his design work on Triumph motorcycle engines, was called in to rejuvenate the Daimler Company, Britain’s oldest motor manufacturer, he caused something of a sensation by designing a new 76 x 69.8 mm. V8 power unit which was installed in a glassfibre-bodied sports 2-seater of 2 1/2 litres capacity, which constituted an extremely fast and accelerative car.

At first called the Daimler Dart, this name was dropped in deference to an American manufacturer who had thought of it first, and the Daimler came on the market as the SP250. It is common knowledge that the earlier models were not altogether satisfactory, chiefly because the glass-fibre body work was crude in the extreme and such dire happenings as doors flying open while the car was being driven fast did nothing to enhance the reputation of the new Daimler.

This has since been corrected and the test car which Motor Sport tried over a considerable mileage last month was a very well-finished car, now manufactured by the Jaguar Company and living up to the latter’s tradition of offering extremely high performance for a very modest financial outlay. The V8 push-rod-overhead-valve 2 1/2-litre engine is the best part of this Daimler sports car. It is an extremely quiet and smooth power unit which it is a delight to sit behind. It is quite ridiculously flexible, the car being able to accelerate away from 500 r.p.m., representing 15 m.p.h. in top gear, and from there of going straight up to its maximum of 120 m.p.h. This type of treatment is in no way detrimental to this remarkable power unit, which peaks at 6,000 r.p.m. but develops its maximum power at 5,800 r.p.m. Admittedly not much power is developed below 2,000 r.p.m. and the Daimler does not really get going until its engine is turning over at 4,000 r.p.m. but for those who like to hang on to top gear, and in this they are encouraged by the unfortunate deficiencies of the Daimler gearbox, such flexibility represents a very attractive feature of the car. Not only is the engine able to pull away from these extremely low speeds without protest, but it is inaudible when idling and is pretty quiet generally, apart from the suck of the S.U. carburetters as it is opened up. Geared to run at 21 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear, 80 m.p.h. is a ridiculously easy cruising speed for the SP250. By taking the engine up to .6,000 r.p.m., which is easily reached in the indirect gears, genuine speeds of 42, 69, and 96 m.p.h. are available. Although the SP250 will go up to an indicated 120 m.p.h. very easily, it is pleasantly high-geared, so that at 8o m.p.h. the silken engine is turning over at an effortless 4,000 r.p.m. This ability to cruise effortlessly at these high speeds is accompanied by acceleration of the kind which makes passing other vehicles a very easy task, even without changing out of the comparatively high top gear. In terms of sober figures, the SP250 will reach 0-60 m.p.h. in 9 sec., 80 m.p.h. from a standstill in 15.4 sec., and will dispose of a standing-start quarter-mile in 17 sec. It will also go from 40 to 60 m.p.h. in the 3.58-to-1 top gear in 7.8 sec. Thus one can feel no dissatisfaction with the very high performance offered by this inexpensive sports car and as its speed and acceleration are matched by Girling disc brakes on all four wheels the Daimler is a fast and easy-to-drive car from the point of view of high average speeds from point-to-point.

The Daimler is a typical sports 2-seater, with bucket seats for driver and passenger, behind which is a seat that one adult or two children, preferably the undernourished progeny of dwarfs, can occupy in some discomfort on short journeys. The backs of the bucket seats fold forward to give access to this rather pointless rear seat, which, however, is better than having no back seat. The main seats hold the occupants firmly in a rather upright position, and their cushions remain comfortable after a full day’s drive. The test car had a hard-top, so that with the glass side-windows wound fully up, saloon-car comfort was available. This hard-top fitted well and was rain and draught-proof but a disconcerting feature was the fact that the securing clips would automatically work loose and would then detach themselves and shoot past the occupant’s ears with the velocity of bullets, before depositing their screws and washers on the floor.

Before the driver are a Smiths 140-m.p.h. speedometer and a tachometer reading to 7,000 r.p.m., with a red line at 6,000 r.p.m. These instruments incorporate indicator lights for direction flashers, main-beam, and ignition lights; the speedometer has trip and total mileage indicators. There is a neat metal-turned central panel which contains four dials all the same size which indicate, from left to right, fuel contents, water temperature (normally 175 F.), oil pressure (40 lb./sq. in.), and dynamo charge. A row of switches and a knob below these dials, neatly labelled, look after lights, panel lighting, ignition-cum-starter switch, mixture enrichment, and windscreen wipers. The last named work only with the ignition switched on but the horn can be blown when the ignition is not on. Before the passenger there is a lockable cubby-hole with a well padded lid, this being lined and having quite a respectable capacity. The doors possess good pockets. Below the facia is the horizontal quadrant lever controlling the efficient heater, its settings again clearly labelled. On the left side of the heater control is a tiny button which actuates the electrically-operated screen washers, and on the other side a button, labelled ” A,” which opens a fresh-air vent under the scuttle. The windows wind fully up with three turns of the handles, behind the gear-lever is a lidded ashtray, and the door handles pull up to open the doors, which constitutes a safety factor. There is crash padding along the whole of the facia and its top rail, but the catches for the front of the hardtop would be vulnerable to the occupants’ heads in the event of an accident. Reverting to the windscreen wipers, these self-park effectively, but fail to clear the extremities of the screen. It is satisfactory to find that the windscreen is Triplex plate safety glass. The aforesaid flick switches for lights and panel lighting are set rather close together, which can cause dangerous confusion at night.

The driving position of the Daimler is generally satisfactory, both the front wings being visible, although the central mirror is apt to impede vision to the near side. The front wings have the sidelights in panels above them although, curiously, no sidelamp ” tell-tales ” are incorporated in these extensions. The threespoke sprung steering wheel has the horn button in its centre and the central hand-brake is of the fly-off variety. The direction flashers are operated from a control on the hub of the steering wheel and the speedometer and rev.-counter needles are easy to read and remain very steady, while they move in the same plane.

It is rather remarkable to find that not only is it impossible to dim the panel lighting, but no proper interior light or map light is provided in a car which can be expected to be used by rally competitors. The pedals are properly placed, with plenty of room for the clutch foot to rest away from the pedal; the accelerator is of pendant type placed rather high up from the floor. In keeping with its sporting demeanour the Daimler is provided with a very short, rigid central gear-lever, but unfortunately what appears to be an efficient means of changing gear in practice turns out to be a considerable disappointment. One of the troubles is that the gear-lever is provided with a rubber knob, which is not only unpleasant to the hand but gives to the lever a degree of flexibility which in no way improves the action. The lever also catches up on the gate, care is needed when changing from and to 3rd gear or the lever will spring back towards 1st, and when at rest bottom gear is difficult to engage unless the very heavy clutch is fully extended. Indeed, the stiff action of this gear-change makes rapid movement of the lever a very tiring undertaking, and while it might be argued that the flexibility of the Daimler is such that the car is virtually a top-gear machine, no driver of a car of such a sporting aspect will willingly accept this. Unhurried gear-changes are passable, but in general the pleasure of driving a Daimler is very largely marred by the shortcomings of its gearbox. Nor is the chassis in keeping with the outstanding engine with which it is endowed. When cornered fast, the SP250 exhibits ovcrsteer tendencies, with a considerable amount of roll, and it teeters between over and understeer on the faster bends. The suspension becomes particularly lively on rough roads and the back axle plays its part in promoting up-and-down motion. Coupled with this, the car has a tendency to weave at speed and consequently it is more pleasant to bring the speed down before corners with the very efficient disc-brakes, and then make use of the aforesaid extremely good acceleration out of the bends, than to enjoy fast cornering in a car which one would have expected to be better able to cope with this aspect of driving.

The steering, too, is disappointing. Although it is satisfactorily high-geared, requiring only 2 ,rd turns from lock-to-lock, the turning circle being extremely small, it is spoilt by some free play and a ” dead ” feel, although there is useful castor-return action and no particular tendency to kick-back over bad roads. It is, however, excessively heavy for parking. From the foregoing it will be appreciated that the main charm of the Daimler SP250 is its V8 engine. To those who like an engine with this cylinder formation giving a ” waffle-waffle ” note as it accelerates, it will be extremely acceptable, and apart from some power-roar, it is a very quiet and smooth, as well as being a very flexible, power unit. From the aspect of petrol economy it proved more partial to fast main-road motoring than to traffic work. The overall fuel consumption came out at 22.7 m.p.g.,

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but motoring in London reduced this to 15.6 m.p.g. Also, when driving in heavy traffic the water temperature rose rather alarmingly towards boiling point although, in fact, only about a quart of water had to be added to the cooling system in a total of 1,000 miles. In this distance the engine required half-a-gallon of oil to restore the level on the accessible dipstick. The finish of the glass-fibre body is commendable, and there is little indication on first acquaintance that a metal body is not used, although the driver’s door tended to sag slightly and when the bonnet and bixit lid are raised the glass-fibre finish is very evident. It is necessary to prop up by hand both bonnet and boot lid and the bonnet prop is rather difficult to clip back into place. The luggage bout lid shuts with commendable ease and the luggage space, if shallow, is quite generous for a car of sporting demeanour. The spare wheel is accommodated under the floor, so that the luggage space is unobstructed. There is quick-action fuel filler cap situated in the centre of the tail, and the boot is lockable. It is pleasing to find centre-lock wire wheels, those on the test car being shod with Dunlop Road Speed RS 5 nylon tyres, which made no protest however fast the Daimler was taken through corners.

Under the bonnet the unusual engine has a commendably high finish, the valve covers being polished, while it was amusing to find a polished plate over the Lucas dynamo bearing the word ” Daimler ” in the traditional lettering, while the fan-belt also bore this illustrious name. All the engine accessories and components.are accessible, as is the battery, but the throttle linkage is not very professional. With the car comes a typical Daimler instruction book, very beautifully produced and also usefully instructive to the owner.

Since the SP250 first came on the market the front end has been considerably tidied up by the Daimler stylists, and the front bumper no longer looks as though it was hung on as an afterthought. But the front number-plate is hung very low, and so is vulnerable when driving towards kerbs, flower beds and the like.

The fuel gauge is extremely pessimistic, reading less than zero when rather more than a gallon of petrol is in the tank; in fact, the fuel range is 285 miles under normal fast-driving conditions. The car gave no trouble in a four-figure mileage, although there was a tap in the engine, audible at idling speeds, which probably emanated from the timing chain.

To sum up this interesting, likeable, sporting 2-seater, its best aspect is undoubtedly its V8 power unit, its worst feature its gear-change, which apart from the shortcomings previously enumerated has a remarkable action, inasmuch as when moving from 2nd gear into neutral the lever moves through two notches on the gate, giving the impression of neutral before one is there, which is one more factor the driver has to remember when using this ill-conceived gearbox. When all is said and done, however, the Daimler SP250 offers the usual remarkable Jaguar value-for-money, inasmuch as it has a maximum speed of a genuine two-miles-a-minute, acceleration which makes light of driving in present-day traffic conditions, and withall performs with remarkable smoothness, silence and flexibility In conjunction with these features the appearance is acceptable and even considered sensational, judging by the amount of attention the Daimler created, and the specification includes not only centre-lock wire wheels but excellent disc-brakes on all four of them. At its price of under £1,400 it is difficult to think of a car providing more performance in such an acceptable form as the SP250 and could it be endowed with a chassis better suited to its performance capabilities, and a gearbox less insulting to keen and skilled drivers, it would indeed be a car worthy of the great Daimler tradition and of the Company that is now marketing it.—W. B.